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Some Auburn Gresham residents welcome the Rev. Michael Pfleger’s return

Citing his influence in the South Side neighborhood, some residents said Monday they were happy to hear the Rev. Michael Pfleger will soon return to St. Sabina parish.

Rev. Michael Pfleger joins well-wishers outside St. Sabina Church on Monday after the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that he will return to his role as senior pastor at the church.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Bobbie Rawls has attended St. Sabina Church for more than 50 years, watching as the Auburn Gresham community around it has changed over that time.

Rawls, 82, who lives near the church, thinks the Rev. Michael Pfleger was instrumental in changing the area — for the better — around the church, pointing to a nearby small park.

“As long as I’ve lived here, I’ve never heard anything bad about him,” she said. “He’s a good influence on this community.”

Hours after the Archdiocese of Chicago announced Monday that it had cleared Pfleger of decades-old allegations of sexual abuse against minors, some community members like Rawls said they were happy to hear the outspoken pastor would return to the church next month.

Rawls said she has returned to in-person services at the church as restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have loosened. To her, it seemed like the church was surviving in the months since Pfleger was asked to leave pending the internal probe.

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s the best,” Rawls said. “He’s been good to me and my family.”

Reginald Washington, 63, attended the St. Sabina Academy as a child, and his family lived in the neighborhood. Like Rawls, Washington said he thinks Pfleger has helped bring resources to the community. He said Pfleger has managed to have good communication with everyone in the area, even being able to talk to people affiliated with gangs.

“They need him in this neighborhood,” Washington said.

Washington said some believed there was a conspiracy behind the investigation to remove Pfleger and hurt the neighborhood.

James Anthony, 50, who was sitting at Renaissance Park — near St. Sabina — said he doesn’t attend the church, but he had heard about the allegations against Pfleger.

He said the allegations stem from an era when many people didn’t speak up about sexual assault. Still, he believes Pfleger was innocent because there weren’t more recent allegations that surfaced in the past couple of months.

“I’m glad he’s back,” Anthony said.

On nearby 79th Street, Jeneva Johnson, 23, said she knew Pfleger was removed from the church, but she didn’t know all the details surrounding the allegations. While she is not a member of the church, she has attended some of their events in the past.

“I’m happy he’s back,” said Johnson, who was selling snow cones. “He has brought a lot of good things to the community.”

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.