His life on a “pause button” and “a living hell” for 139 days, Father Michael L. Pfleger on Monday, May 24, said Cardinal Cupich and the Archdiocese Independent Board of Review officially concluded he is not guilty of alleged sex abuse claimed by two African American Texas brothers.
Before the press conference began, Rev. Lamar Johnson said after five months of a living hell, Father Pfleger came out “pure gold” and is ready to continue his fight for social justice. At times, during the prayer, Pfleger wiped away tears.
Flanked by supporters and two of his four lawyers, Michael Monico and James Figliulo, Pfleger held a press conference on the steps of Saint Sabina, 1210 W. 78th Place, where he announced the charges have been dropped by the Archdiocese.
He chose the church as his backdrop to break the long-awaited news. Ordained a priest on May 14, 1975, and the youngest priest appointed to pastor a church in 1981, Pfleger said, “I am innocent of those charges. He had celebrated his 72nd birthday on May 22.
After a five-month investigation, Pfleger said the Independent Review Board and the Cardinal have determined that, “There is no sufficient reason to suspect that I am guilty of these allegations by these brothers from Texas, and that I am being restored as the senior pastor at St. Sabina.”
That conclusion, his attorney, Figliulo, said, “Is the strongest statement of innocence that the Archdiocese can make under their rules and regulations. There is no sufficient reason to suspect Father Pfleger of sexual abuse,” he told reporters as supporters cheered.
Asked about his accusers, Pfleger said, “All I can do for them is to pray for them. Forgiveness is not only by them. It’s about me. That is all that I can do. I am going to go forward. I have been on a pause button for five months.”
After 139 days of being banned from his church and unable to speak out on behalf of his own innocence, Pfleger said he was helpless in defending himself. People from around the world including Africa reached out to him, but he was forced to remain silent while headlines screamed of the sex charges. Pfleger said he was guilty until proven innocent.
The Cardinal said he would be restored to Saint Sabina as the senior pastor effective June 5, 2021. Pfleger will conduct the 10 a.m. Sunday, June 6, worship service—his first since he was banned by the Cardinal from being on the Saint Sabina campus. As of Monday, Pfleger was back living at the rectory.
He will use the next two weeks to figure out how to “heal all the hurt” his separation has caused a lot of people, ways to execute his 2021 social justice “invasion” projects, like fighting the soaring violence and reaching out to vendors and supporters to try and regain the lost or withheld funds due to the investigation.
When asked by this reporter if the two Texas brothers should have charges filed against them for filing false police reports, attorney Figliulo said Pfleger is not interested in filing charges against the 60- and 63-year-old brothers or a third man who all claimed Pfleger sexually abused them more than 45 years ago.
Last December the 60-year-old brother sent a letter to Pfleger demanding $20,000 or he would go public with his alleged sexual abuse allegations. Pfleger’s lawyers called that “extortion,” but the brother said he was trying to bait Pfleger to prove his accusations were true.
“I forgive them,” Pfleger said. Pfleger also told a bevy of reporters that the seclusion “was hell,” adding that he’s pushing the play button and is ready to “kick satan’s butt.”
Thanking those who remained faithful to his ministry and who “stood with me…unwavering in your knowledge of my character and in your belief in my innocence” and those who believed he would be reinstated, Pfleger made it clear, “I am innocent of those charges” and thanked all for their prayers.
He also thanked his lawyers, his staff, leadership and cabinet who kept the church and its programs going in his absence.
Bishop Tavis Grant, the national field director for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said the declaration of Pfleger’s innocence “is long overdue. We stood with Father Pfleger from the very beginning. We knew him. We knew his background, work and his integrity. Whenever we shine as light in a dark place, everybody can see what you can see.”
But the isolation was difficult for Pfleger. “This has been the most difficult and challenging time in my entire life,” he told reporters. “I have always kept my faith even during the most painful of times. I have been frustrated, angry, depressed and discouraged at times, but your support and love and my faith have kept me going. I am so relieved and so glad that this nightmare is over.”
Coming out of seclusion, he told his supporters, “I promise you that I will return to you with renewed energy and a deepened commitment to Saint Sabina, to the city of Chicago and to the community we serve.
“This had been a humbling experience but one which I believe will allow me to emerge stronger in faith, more understanding of the suffering of others and more committed than ever to serving you.
“I will be devoted to healing our church and continuing our fight against violence, racism and poverty,” he vowed. “We have much to do. The violence in the city is out of control.”
Reflecting on Tuesday’s, May 25, first anniversary of the death of George Floyd, Pfleger said, “Racism, injustice, unemployment and food insecurity continue to reign in our country. I am ready to get back to work.”
Forced to leave the Saint Sabina campus by orders of the Cardinal until the investigation was concluded, Pfleger gave thanks to a friend with whom he had been living in a one-bedroom apartment a block from ABC TV and that he went through a rollercoaster of emotions from anger, depression and loneliness while being secluded from his church, friends, members and supporters.
“I have worked 12-14 hours a day, every single day, seven days a week,” he said. “I am a people person. To take away my ministry was very painful.”
Pfleger thanked those who brought him food and his nephew, with whom he watched American Idol. He said the “wrong person” won that contest.
Father Pfleger is not granting any additional interviews on his return until after he talks to his church family.
Thanks to the generosity of funding provided by The Field Foundation of Illinois, Inc. in producing this article.