CHICAGO — Prominent Catholic priest and social justice activist Father Michael Pfleger said Wednesday he is “devastated, hurt and yes angry,” after he was removed from St. Sabina Church over an allegation of child sexual abuse.
Pfleger has been the pastor of Saint Sabina in the South Side Auburn-Gresham neighborhood since 1981, but stepped down from the pulpit as the archdiocese investigates an accusation of abuse.
Cardinal Blase Cupich said in a letter to the St. Sabina community Tuesday that Pfleger is facing an accusation of sexual abuse of a minor from more than 40 years ago, and was asked to step aside from ministry during the investigation.
Pfleger posted a statement to Facebook Wednesday morning, saying he has been asked by the archdiocese to not speak out at this time.
“I am devastated, hurt and yes angry, but I am first, a person of Faith, I Trust God,” Pfleger said. “Pray also for the person, my life is more than a 40 year old accusation, and on that and my Faith I will stand.”
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In addition to serving as a priest, Pfleger has worked as an anti-violence and social justice activist in Chicago for decades. A number of fellow activists who have known him for years came to his defense Wednesday.
Activist Ja’mal Green said Pfleger served as his mentor and said the South Side community knows “who he is at heart, his love for the people.”
“I have parents right now… who have literally had their children next to him. Wouldn’t trust nobody. But Father Pfleger is someone they will trust with their kids,” Green said.
Police accountability activist Eric Russell said he has known Pfleger for more than 30 years. He says the activist-priest has stood with the black community in tough times and he will have the community’s support as he faces these accusations.
“They are unfounded – because I know the man,” Russell said. “Our blue-eyed soul brother priest whom I love as a brother, he has committed his life to serving a community that is 98 percent black.”
The archdiocese said the matter is currently under investigation by church officials, and has also been reported to the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who has represented victims in more than 200 lawsuits against the Catholic church, said Pfleger was not ever “on his radar” but the church took appropriate steps while the matter is investigated.
St. Sabina officials say they’re cooperating fully with the investigation and they are standing by Pfleger as well.