Rev. Michael Pfleger reinstated at St. Sabina after review board clears him of latest sex abuse allegation

Pfleger, 73, said he would return to lead Mass on Sunday. He has staunchly denied all claims of wrongdoing and was roundly supported by parishioners.

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The Rev. Michael Pfleger speaks to parishioners Saturday evening at St. Sabina Church after the archdiocese announced he would return to his duties after being cleared by the church of the latest accusation of sexual abuse.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger speaks to parishioners Saturday evening at St. Sabina Church after the archdiocese announced he would return to his duties after being cleared by the church of the latest accusation of sexual abuse.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

Chicago’s highest-profile and sometimes controversial priest was reinstated to his South Side pulpit Saturday as archdiocese officials dismissed the latest accusation of sexual abuse against the Rev. Michael Pfleger.

The St. Sabina preacher had been sidelined from the ministry for almost two months after another man came forward saying Pfleger abused him in the rectory of the Auburn Gresham parish in the 1980s — marking the second time in the past two years that Pfleger had been benched due to decades-old accusations.

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In a letter to parishioners Saturday evening, Cardinal Blase Cupich announced the archdiocese’s review board “has concluded that there is no reason to suspect Father Pfleger is guilty of these allegations.”

“I want to recognize that these months have taken a great toll on Fr. Mike and all of you, and I am committed to do everything possible to see that his good name is restored,” Cupich wrote. “As I assure you of my prayers, I ask that you do all you can to welcome back Father Pfleger so that he can once again take up the ministry that has distinguished St. Sabina in the archdiocese and beyond.”

Parishioners react Saturday to news that the Rev. Michael Pfleger would return to his duties as lead Mass on Sunday.

Parishioners react Saturday to news that the Rev. Michael Pfleger would return to his duties as lead Mass on Sunday.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

Pfleger, 73, has denied any wrongdoing and has been roundly supported by parishioners.

“That’s fantastic,” Diane Washington, a longtime parishioner, screamed upon hearing the news outside the church. “I am elated, I am so filled with joy, hallelujah.”

Washington said she’s glad the decision came before Christmas midnight mass, something she said he’s made special for her.

Inside the 5 p.m. Mass Saturday, churchgoers broke into applause when the Rev. Thulani Magwaza made the announcement as Pfleger joined him.

“Praise the lord St. Sabina,” Pfleger said before announcing he’d keep things short in lieu of remarks he had prepared for 10 a.m. mass Sunday.

“This has been very painful,” Pfleger said. “Thank you for your love, for your support and your prayers.

“But like MJ said… ‘I’m back,’ ” Pfleger added, referring to Bulls legend Michael Jordan’s famous return to the team in 1995.

In October, Pfleger’s latest accuser — a man in his late 40s — said through an attorney that the priest abused him twice during choir rehearsals more than 30 years ago.

That claim followed others that prompted Pfleger’s first benching in January of 2021. A man had claimed Pfleger abused him more than 40 years ago, then that accuser’s brother came forward with his own allegations soon after — and yet another man accused the priest of molesting him at St. Sabina.

An archdiocese review board found “insufficient reason to suspect Father Pfleger is guilty” of the 2021 claims and returned him to Sunday service in June of 2021.

Eugene Hollander, the lawyer who has represented all of Pfleger’s accusers, said Saturday his client was “incredibly hurt” by the decision.

Hollander said he also knew of yet another man who could accuse Pfleger, but said the likelihood he would come forward was “close to zero.”

“We think that the review board’s finding that the allegations were unfounded will discourage other victims,” Hollander told the Sun-Times.

A parishioner Saturday at St. Sabina Church wears a shirt to show his support for the Rev. Michael Pfleger.

A parishioner Saturday at St. Sabina Church wears a shirt to show his support for the Rev. Michael Pfleger.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

Pfleger has served as pastor at St. Sabina Church since 1981, becoming one of Chicago’s most well-known voices against gun violence and leading annual peace marches that routinely draw hundreds of people.

Over the years, Pfleger has clashed with archdiocese officials but has managed to stay at St. Sabina, one of the largest African American churches in the city, for decades despite parish priests typically serving one or two six-year terms before being rotated to other assignments.

The late Cardinal Francis George suspended Pfleger briefly in 2008 after the priest mocked Hillary Clinton from the pulpit as she ran against Pfleger’s friend, Barack Obama. Pfleger apologized and soon was back at work.

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