Father Mike’s return to grace

An allegation of sexual abuse can be so difficult to substantiate, no matter how true, and so difficult to refute, no matter how false.

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Father Michael Pfleger hugs a supporter outside St. Sabina Church Monday afternoon after the Chicago Archdioces announced that Pfleger will return to his role at  at the Auburn Gresham church.

Father Michael Pfleger hugs a supporter outside St. Sabina Church Monday afternoon after the Chicago Archdioces announced that Pfleger will return to his role at at the Auburn Gresham church.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The Rev. Michael Pfleger is returning to St. Sabina Catholic Parish, and we wish him well. May he again be a powerful crusader for social justice.

We have long respected Pfleger, and we were stunned into silence in January when he was removed from active ministry after being accused of sexually abusing a minor more than 40 years ago. We found it hard to reconcile this with the Pfleger we thought we knew but we weren’t about to dismiss any accusation of sexual abuse, no matter how old. More troubling, there soon were three accusers.

We would wait. And, in a brief editorial, we urged others to wait. Let the investigations play out before passing judgment.

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In March, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services concluded that any allegations that Pfleger poses a risk to children today were “unfounded.”

And on Monday, Cardinal Blase Cupich announced that an independent review board of the Chicago Archdiocese has concluded “there is insufficient reason to suspect Father Pfleger is guilty of these allegations.”

An allegation of sexual abuse can be devastating and pernicious. It can be so difficult to substantiate, no matter how true, and so difficult to refute, no matter how false. When all is said and done, the deciding consideration — in the court of public opinion, if not in a court of law — may simply be the overall character of the accused, which in the case of Father Pfleger has been demonstrably good for a long, long time.

We don’t know of another priest — certainly not in Chicago — who has worked longer or more effectively to uplift the poor and empower the powerless.

Pfleger is to return to work on June 5.

“The weekend he will return,” Cupich wrote in a letter to the parishioners of St. Sabina’s, “is the Feast of Corpus Christi when we celebrate that we are one in the Body of Christ, sharing each other’s joys and sorrows. It is in this spirit that I ask you to welcome back Father Pfleger, thereby helping him take up again the ministry that has distinguished St. Sabina in the archdiocese and beyond.”

Should be quite a sermon.

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