CHICAGO, May 25, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Following a decades-old allegation of child sexual abuse that removed him from his role as senior pastor in January while an investigation was conducted, the dissident “famous as a rock star” priest Fr. Michael Pfleger has been reinstated by Cardinal Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago.
Cupich announced the news in a letter to St. Sabina Catholic Church where Pfleger has served as pastor for almost 40 years. The archbishop explained how following the allegations, and in accordance with the policies of the archdiocese, an investigation was conducted by an established Independent Review Board assisted by the archdiocesan Office of Child Abuse Investigation and Review, along with outside investigators.
“The Review Board has concluded that there is insufficient reason to suspect Father Pfleger is guilty of these allegations,” Cupich wrote. “Having given careful consideration to their decision, which I accept, I now inform you that I am reinstating Father Pfleger to his position of Senior Pastor of the Faith Community of St. Sabina, effective the weekend of June 5-6, 2021.”
During a Monday press conference on the steps of St. Sabina Church, surrounded by many friends and supporters, Fr. Pfleger said, “The nightmare is over.”
“This has been the most difficult and challenging time in my entire life,” he explained. In reference to his experience of being depressed, frustrated, angry, and discouraged, Pfleger said, “I’m a man of faith, but I’m also a human being who hurts and who bleeds.”
“I’ve wanted to give up, and to be honest with you, there was sometimes I would have given up, but I love this church too much to walk away from it,” he emphasized to the cheers of appreciation from his supporters.
“This conclusion is the strongest statement of innocence that the Archdiocese can make under their rules and regulations,” explained Pfleger’s attorney, James Figliulo.
On January 5, Archbishop Cupich announced the “difficult news” of the 40-year-old allegation against Pfleger, and the necessity of putting him on leave while the matter was being investigated.
Cupich clarified at the time that “[a]llegations are claims that have not been proven as true or false. Therefore, guilt or innocence should not be assumed.” He had also conveyed that “Father Pfleger has agreed to cooperate fully” with the investigation.
In a written response the same day, the St. Sabina community’s “Cabinet” pledged their full support for their longtime parish priest, stating they “believe that these accusations are unfounded” and they “boldly stand behind the integrity, passion, work and ministry” of their “Sr. Pastor, Rev. Michael Pfleger.”
Over the years, Pfleger has run afoul of foundational Catholic social justice priorities, including when, in 2007, he became the most high-profile Catholic supporter of pro-abortion presidential candidate Barack Obama, praising him as “the best thing to come across the political scene since Bobby Kennedy.”
For such advocacy on behalf of the future president, Cardinal Francis George sanctioned the priest, requiring him to take a “temporary leave of absence” to “contemplate his controversial remarks,” which violated the “discipline common to all Catholic priests.”
Pfleger also handed over the pulpit at St. Sabina to several pro-abortion figures over the years, such as singer Harry Belafonte, who criticized former president George W. Bush for threatening a “woman’s right to abortion,” as well as former pro-abortion Democrat presidential candidate Al Sharpton.
In the theological realm, Pfleger caused controversy among Catholics by expressing doctrinally dissenting views in advocacy for female “priests” and an end to priestly celibacy.
In 2011, Cardinal George suspended the priest again for combative remarks indicating he would prefer to leave the Catholic Church over his parish, when the archdiocese planned to transition him to a new pastoral role at a nearby high school. After Pfleger apologized, George restored him to his parish.
Cupich’s rehabilitation of Pfleger offers a stark contrast to his treatment of Fr. Frank Phillips, head of a community of tradition-minded priests celebrating both the traditional Mass and a very reverent “ordinary form” Mass at St. John Cantius in Chicago.
Cupich had removed Phillips as pastor of St. John Cantius and superior of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius for “credible allegations of improper conduct with adult men,” according to the cardinal’s signed letter read to parishioners at Mass in March 2018.
“The Review Board has concluded that Fr. Phillips has not violated any secular criminal, civil or canon law,” the group’s statement said. “Fr. Phillips, having been exonerated thusly, and this in turn confirmed by the votum of The Rt. Rev. Gene Szarek, C.R., Ph.D. Provincial Superior of the Congregation of the Resurrection upon receipt of the Review Board Report. We now prayerfully await the response of His Eminence, Blase Cardinal Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, for the return of our pastor.”
Cupich continues to prevent Phillips from exercising public ministry.