CHICAGO, Ill. — Outspoken activist priest Father Michael Pfleger will return to the pulpit, after a Chicago archdiocese investigation concluded there was “insufficient reason” to suspect he was guilty of allegations of sexual abuse.
Cardinal Blase Cupich announced the decision in a carefully-worded statement on May 24, saying, “The Review Board has concluded that there is insufficient reason to suspect Father Pfleger is guilty of these allegations.” Earlier this year, Fr. Pfleger had been accused of sexual abuse by three alleged victims, including by two brothers.
Cardinal Cupich said the Independent Review Board, along with the archdiocesan Office of Child Abuse Investigation and Review as well as outside investigators, conducted “a thorough review” of the allegations in accord with archdiocese policy.
The cardinal said he gave “careful consideration” to the review board’s decision, which he accepts. Fr. Pfleger will be reinstated as senior pastor at his parish, St. Sabina Church, effective the weekend of June 5-6.
“I have asked Father Pfleger to take the next two weeks to prepare himself spiritually and emotionally to return, realizing that these months have taken a great toll on him. He has agreed to do so,” said the cardinal.
He thanked the parishioners for their “patience and prayers” during Pfleger’s absence.
After the cardinal announced his decision, Fr. Pfleger again declared his innocence.
“I am innocent of those charges and accusations and I cannot tell you how grateful I am to God and all those who supported me and prayed to me during this time,” Fr. Pfleger said at a Monday afternoon press conference, WGN 9 News reported. “This has been the most difficult and trying time of my life. I have been frustrated, I have been angry, I have been depressed and I have been discouraged.”
Fr. Pfleger was removed from ministry at St. Sabina Jan. 5, after a man came forward and alleged that he was abused by Fr. Pfleger as a child more than 40 years ago. Since then, two other men, including one who is the brother of the first accuser, have said that they too were sexually abused by Fr. Pfleger.
On May 24, the attorney representing the two brothers who accused Fr. Pfleger said that his clients “provided detailed accounts of the sexual molestation as well as information that only these victims would be aware of.”
He said the two clients corroborated each other, and this alleged sexual abuse was “corroborated by a third victim who was in no way connected to the brothers.”
Cardinal Cupich had asked Fr. Pfleger to step back from ministry after the abuse allegation.
“Allegations are claims that have not been proven as true or false. Therefore, guilt or innocence should not be assumed,” Fr. Cupich said in January.
In the cardinal’s announcement that Fr. Pfleger would be reinstated, Cardinal Cupich noted that the priest will return to public ministry for the Feast of Corpus Christi. This is “when we celebrate that we are one in the Body of Christ, sharing each other’s joys and sorrows,” he said.
“It is in this spirit that I ask you to welcome back Father Pfleger, thereby helping him take up again the ministry that has distinguished St. Sabina in the archdiocese and beyond,” said the cardinal.
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