Accused priest makes triumphant return to Chicago parish

priest makes triumphant return

The Rev. Michael Pfleger made a triumphant return to his Chicago parish following his reinstatement after an investigation cleared him of decades-old sexual abuse allegations.

“It’s good to be home,” the 72 year old Pfleger told a raucous congregation at St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham.

The audience included director Spike Lee and acting Chicago Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt.

Pfleger was removed from active ministry at the Auburn Gresham parish in January after he was accused of sexually abusing a minor more than 40 years ago.

Later that month, the brother of Pfleger’s first accuser came forward with his own allegations.

Then in March, a 59-year-old man came forward to bolster the brothers’ claims, alleging Pfleger molested him in the rectory at St. Sabina when he was 18.

Following an investigation into the claims of child sex abuse involving the brothers, Cardinal Blase Cupich sent a letter to St. Sabina’s congregation May 24 announcing the independent review board of the Chicago Archdiocese “concluded that there is insufficient reason to suspect Father Pfleger is guilty of these allegations.”

Gene Hollander, the brothers’ attorney, called it “unfathomable” that Pfleger was cleared to return to St. Sabina, claiming the evidence against the priest was “overwhelming.”

“You had three victims attesting to sexual abuse with independent corroborating evidence,”

Hollander said on Sunday. His clients, however, still haven’t decided whether to file a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Pfleger told churchgoers he’d continue to pray for both his accusers and those who revelled in the controversy.

He claimed the “false accusations began with an extortion letter” and resulted in a traumatic whirlwind in which he was pulled away from his home and his church.

“The last five months have been a painful nightmare. They’ve been the most extended period of pain in my life,” he said, noting there was little he could do but profess his innocence.

But on Sunday, Pfleger was reinvigorated, vowing to recommit to the community organizing and advocacy for social justice and gun violence that has made him a folk hero.

Pfleger was met with a hero’s welcome, and members of the congregation were overjoyed about his return.

Joyce Matlbia, who lives in Flossmoor and has been a member of the congregation for 11 years, said it’s “so awesome to have him back.”

“He just cares,” Maltbia said, noting that Pfleger runs a food distribution program and that St. Sabina will soon become a COVID-19 vaccination center.

“Watching him be him helps me to be a better me.”

After greeting a stream of parishioners after the service, Pfleger told reporters it was “a blessing to be back and to be with people who stayed with you, walked with you, believed in you.”

“I see this as coming back to begin anew,” he said.


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