In a bid to put pressure on the Archdiocese of Chicago, leaders at St. Sabina Church in Auburn-Gresham announced Sunday the parish plans to stop paying roughly $100,000 in monthly assessments until church officials close the ongoing investigation into sexual abuse claims lodged against Father Michael Pfleger.
During a service Sunday morning, Tonia Carr, chair of St. Sabina’s parish council, framed the decision as the church community’s “next strategic move to keep the pressure on the archdiocese to expedite the alleged abuse investigation.”
The assessments, which come from St. Sabina’s church and school, will start being withheld in March, Carr said.
Cory Williams, Pfleger’s executive assistant, further explained in a statement the withheld funds “will not be used for ministry, outreach, or any current or future programs, but will be set aside to be paid at the conclusion of the investigation.”
Asked about St. Sabina’s plan to withhold payments, an archdiocese spokeswoman referred to a previous statement, saying each investigation “is handled in a professional, impartial and consistent manner.”
“Giving a case special treatment undermines the credibility of its outcome and ultimately serves neither the accuser nor the accused,” said spokeswoman Susan Thomas. “Justice demands a thorough and impartial process and there is no timeframe in which we ‘should’ make a determination.”
St. Sabina’s move comes just two days after Pfleger released a letter from the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services stating its investigation found the allegations that he was a risk to be around kids were “unfounded.”
Pfleger has denied the allegations against him. Though he hoped DCFS’ findings would allow him to return to his church, the archdiocese made it clear Friday that Pfleger must stay away as its probe continues.
The archdiocese noted in a statement that DCFS was not investigating the allegations raised by the two brothers who accused Pfleger of abusing them over 40 years ago, when they were children. The archdiocese said DCFS’ letter “should not be viewed as a judgment as to his guilt or innocence in those matters.”
“The agency was investigating risk, not allegations of abuse that occurred more than four decades ago,” according to the statement.
Pfleger’s attorney, Mike Monico, said the findings show DCFS doesn’t believe the longtime priest is a danger to children and should be allowed to return to his parish.
However, a DCFS spokesman couldn’t disclose details of its investigation or whether it involved interviewing individuals who were around during the alleged abuse.
“The law does not permit DCFS to investigate allegations of child abuse or neglect made by an adult victim,” DCFS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. “DCFS can only determine whether there is a current child victim.”
Meanwhile, Pfleger’s accusers issued a statement through their attorney that downplayed DCFS’ findings.
“DCFS does not have jurisdiction to investigate sexual abuse claims made by adults. Further, neither of the brothers provided statements to DCFS. DCFS’ findings have no bearing on the legal proceedings involving my clients or whether the Archdiocese of Chicago will remove Father Pfleger from his ministry. Father Pfleger himself knows the truth of these allegations,” wrote the brothers’ attorney, who promised additional “troubling evidence” would soon be presented to the archdiocese and the media.
Sunday’s announcement follows a demonstration Wednesday in which about 100 Pfleger supporters gathered outside the archdiocese headquarters to demand his return to St. Sabina. The continued support for Pfleger was evidenced at Sunday’s service, where uproarious cheers broke out when the “strategic move” was announced.