By Chinta Strausberg
Despite bone-chilling weather, scores of supporters for Father Michael Pfleger attended a press conference, which was held on Monday, January 25, outside of the Saint Sabina Church. Supporters are angered after the original accuser now claims Father Pfleger also abused his brother more than 45 years ago—all for $20,000 they call “extortion.”
Announcing their “unequivocal and unwavering” support, a group that included Deacon Leonard Richardson, a member of Saint Sabina for more than 60 years; Joseph Saunders, a youth leader, who has known Father Pfleger since 1978; State Senator Jacqueline Collins, Reverend Saeed Richardson, Reverend Will Hall, restaurateur Josephine “Mother” Wade, and Minister Kimberly Lymore, an associate minister at Saint Sabina, flanked Father Pfleger.
“Father Pfleger has been consistent, and his character and reputation have never been questioned,” Lymore said. “He has been a voice to the voiceless and has unashamedly spoken out against the city and even at times against the Archdiocese of Chicago,” he said.
“His critique against violence, racism, neglect of the poor, and even the role of women in the church has resulted in a myriad of enemies in government, church and the general public, but that has never stopped his ministry to the least of these.”
Deacon Richardson, who has been a member of Saint Sabina since 1965 and is a father of eight children who attended the church, said, “I am one of those who helped decide he would be the pastor back in 1981. I just don’t believe any of this mess. Father Pfleger is the reason I became a deacon 37 years ago.”
Reading Isaiah 41:10-13, Isadore Glover said he has known Pfleger for 30 years, and his younger child attended the Saint Sabina Academy. “I came to this parish because of Father Mike.” When he heard the allegations, Glover said, “It hurt my heart because I know this man.”
After working in the private and public sector for over 35 years in human resources, “I think I know the character of certain individuals,” Glover told a cheering crowd. He called the allegations “ridiculous” and said he will pray for Pfleger’s accusers “because that is what Father Mike taught us to do.”
Father Pfleger’s supporters were reacting to a CBS Chicago news interview of two brothers who claimed both had allegedly been abused by Pfleger more than 45 years ago. On January 5, one of the brothers said he had allegedly been abused by Father Pfleger during the same time period.
The brothers had reportedly been flown in from Texas by their lawyer to talk about the alleged incidents. The brothers claimed they never talked about these incidents during the 45-year period.
Minister Lymore said that the brothers’ “allegations were also preceded by a handwritten letter mailed to Father Pfleger that requested a $20,000 payment. While this may or may not be illegal, this request certainly seems like extortion,” she said to a cheering crowd.
“As a cabinet, congregation and community, we will not allow these malicious allegations to deter the work of Saint Sabina Church, the programs to our community or our efforts to speak truth to power,” Lymore told reporters. “At the forefront, our faith remains strong, our goals remain crystal clear and our purpose in this community, city and country is to continue to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before our God.”
A member of Saint Sabina for all of his life and someone who has known Father Pfleger for 45 years, Fitzgerald Craan, associate director at the Catholic Charities Saint Sabina site, said, “I went to Saint Sabina Academy. I worked at the rectory. I spent plenty of nights at the rectory because Father Pfleger’s oldest son, Lamar, and I were best friends at the time. We’ve gone on vacations together. I’ve been around this man for 45 years and never has he ever touched me inappropriately,” Craan told reporters.
“This man has done nothing but give love to everyone, and that is the only thing he is guilty of having a great, big heart. Unfortunately, when you have a huge heart, people take advantage of that,” Craan said. “This man has done nothing but love on everyone he comes across.” Craan said Father Pfleger “is perfect in my eyes, and he’s done nothing wrong.”
Blair Matthews, a sophomore law student at Northwestern University and a member of Saint Sabina, said his grandfather was a member of Saint Sabina.
“Forty years is a long time ago, but I’ve known Father Pfleger my entire life, and these allegations are not consistent with what I know about him…. I trust that the investigation will shed light on the truth.
Baptized by Father Pfleger when he was born in 1998, Christopher Jones Jr., who recently graduated from DePaul University majoring in sports journalism, said, “Being around him all of my life, I have never seen or heard anything bad about his character or reputation. I know Father Mike personally. I have never seen anything that would make me question this man’s character…. I never got a chance to see Dr. King. I don’t care what anyone says, he has been the closest thing to him in my eyes.”
Jones said Father Pfleger helped him get a scholarship that saved him $40,000 in tuition. To Father Pfleger’s accusers, Jones said, “I pray for you because Proverbs 19:9 says a false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish.
“We have a right to be angry with the accusers, but we have to find the kindness in our hearts to forgive them because they are sick on the inside…sick enough to try and damage a faithful man’s reputation for $20,000, but we shouldn’t be surprised because even Jesus was betrayed by someone he helped.”
Jones had a few words for the archdiocese, who asked Father Pfleger to step aside from his ministry while this investigation continues. “These recent weeks, I have been ashamed to call myself a Catholic. I understand you guys say this is your procedure, but in this country, I thought a man was innocent until proven guilty. So why is Father Pfleger asked to leave his home?”
He went on to question the archdiocese’s investigative procedure because of the unknown accusers. Jones said, “People can see anything without proof,” and he questions why the archdiocese allowed “this story to run free without any defense. It makes no sense to me that you asked Father Pfleger to keep quiet.” After watching the CBS segment with the accusers speaking freely with no proof, Jones said, the accusers have “lying tongues.
It was Saint Sabina’s youth leader Saunders who brought tears to the eyes of Wade, co-owner of Josephine’s Cooking Restaurant where Father Pfleger often eats. Saunders called Pfleger his father, his dad and lifting a verse from the bible, he looked around at the supporters and said, “You should know a tree by its fruits, so all you see are the fruits of Father Mike’s fruits. This is good fruits.
Having known Father Pfleger since 1996, Saunders said, “Father Mike’s character is golden. He has shown himself true.” Being a man, Saunders said he would have picked up on any homosexual behavior. “With Father Mike, I didn’t pick up on any of that. Since 1996, with all the young brothers he has helped,” Saunders said there was never a complaint against Father Pfleger about inappropriate behavior
Saunders read part of the letter one of the accusers wrote Father Pfleger on December 31, 2020, where he asked for $20,000. Saunders said if he had been violated, the last thing he would be looking for would be $20,000. He would be looking for justice.
“They are coming for Father Pfleger’s name,” Saunders added. “Who stays in the Black community getting death threats, hating on all of his life. Who does this, except it is for love? We are standing with Father Mike. We ain’t going nowhere….When you mention Father Mike’s name, know that you are talking about love…justice, hope. I don’t want to hear none of these allegations mentioned in my father’s name. I ain’t having it. We ain’t having it,” Saunders said to a cheering crowd
While Saunders was speaking, tears welled in Wade’s eyes. On the way home, she said, “I cried when Joseph called Father Pfleger his dad. Father Pfleger has been there for us, but when I looked around at the crowd, I have to wonder where were all of those he has helped over the years.
“These allegations ain’t nothing but some mess…just some false allegations just to get some money,” said Wade. Father Pfleger’s lawyers agreed. In a statement his lawyers, James R. Figliulo and Michael D. Monico, co-counsel, said, “It is our understanding that two brothers in their 60s have made a claim that Father Pfleger abused them more than 45 years ago. Father Pfleger has never abused them or anybody else. These allegations are false and are simply being made for money. This is a shake down.”
Pfleger’s lawyers said one of the brothers has been “in and out of prison more than a dozen times and has a history of drug abuse” and that he “sent a handwritten letter to Father Pfleger dated December 31, 2020.”
They quoted from the letter that reportedly stated, “I am asking for a one-time payment to help me move on in this troubled and confused time in my life. I did not want to put a price, but I must. I am asking for $20,000 to be sent to my ZELLE (account)….”
The accuser also refers to having “done my research,” and he stated, “They [the Archdiocese] have made settlements that have changed men’s lives forever.” The lawyers said the brothers’ allegations “are false” and also added, “unfortunately, these salacious allegations are being given publicity that is causing irreparable damage to Father Pfleger’s reputation.”
Saying Pfleger has worked “tirelessly to serve the Saint Sabina community for over 40 years, and his leadership has reached far beyond his parish,” the lawyers stated that Pfleger has “mentored and inspired thousands of young men and women over the past several decades with honor, decency and dignity. He has earned the esteem and respect of the people he has served.
The lawyers also added: “It is so very disheartening to witness such false attacks on Father Pfleger, which are motivated by greed. Father Pfleger is a good and decent priest and does not deserve to have his reputation destroyed by such false allegations.”
Having taken 760 letters of support to the Archdiocese last week, Minister Lymore urged others to click on [www.saintsabina.org], download a copy of the letter of support, sign it and bring it to the church, 1210 W. 78th Place.