By Jermont Terry

CHICAGO (CBS) — Father Michael Pfleger is stepping away from St. Sabina due to a sexual abuse allegation of a minor more than 40 years ago.

The Rev. Pfleger’s name and that of St. Sabina Parish go hand-in-hand. But on Tuesday night, the vocal priest was no longer calling the rectory home.

Pfleger is said to be cooperating in the investigation, according to a letter from Cardinal Blase Cupich.

In a letter to St. Sabina parishioners, Cupich wrote: “I write to share some difficult news about your senior pastor, Father Michael Pfleger. I have asked Father Pfleger to step aside from ministry following … an allegation of sexual abuse more than 40 years ago.”

The letter did not provide any further details about the allegation, adding that the Illinois Department Of Children and Family Services and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office have been notified. The church has also contacted the victim to offer support and has begun its investigation.

According to the timeline, the incident would have happened before Pfleger arrived at St. Sabina.

Pfleger has long been a vocal priest – advocating for the underprivileged and against violent across Chicago. He has also stirred up controversy – in 2008, he was suspended for mocking Hillary Clinton as she ran against Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primary.

The Sabina family has always stood in support of Pfleger, even when the Archdiocese tried to reassign him.

Early Tuesday evening, the Cabinet of the Faith Community of St. Sabina said it believes the accusations are unfounded.

“(W)e boldly stand behind the integrity, passion, work, and ministry of our Sr. Pastor, Rev. Michael Pfleger. His ministry spans over 45 years and he has maintained his mission of Luke 4:18, ‘to proclaim the good news to the poor, proclaim freedom to the prisoners, sight to the blind, and set the oppressed free,’ reaching thousands of citizens in the city of Chicago and worldwide,” the cabinet said in a statement.

The cabinet said it understands that there is a protocol and process the Archdiocese must undertake, but believes Pfleger will be “fully exonerated.”

Father Pfleger, 71, was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago on May 14, 1975. In 1981, at the age of 31, he became the youngest full pastor in the diocese when he was appointed pastor of Saint Sabina. Since 1968, Father Pfleger has lived and ministered in the African-American community on both the west and south sides of Chicago, according to his bio on St. Sabina’s website.

Pfleger did not speak out – only reposting St. Sabina’s letter online. Comments on the post overwhelmingly encouraged Pfleger to stand strong.

St. Sabina is located at 1210 W. 78th Pl. in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood.

FULL LETTER:

Dear members of the Faith Community of Saint Sabina and the Saint Sabina Academy Community,

I write to share some difficult news about your senior pastor, Father Michael Pfleger. In keeping with our child protection policies, I have asked Father Pfleger to step aside from ministry following receipt by the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review of an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor more than 40 years ago. Allegations are claims that have not been proven as true or false. Therefore, guilt or innocence should not be assumed.

Father Pfleger has agreed to cooperate fully with my request and will live away from the parish while this matter is investigated. Your pastor, Father Thulani Magwaza will serve as temporary administrator of Saint Sabina Parish and will attend to the needs of the parish and school community.

Moreover, as is required by our child protection policies, the allegation was reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Cook County State’s Attorney. The person making the allegation has been offered the services of our Victim Assistance Ministry and the archdiocese has begun its investigation.

In the days and weeks ahead, members of the archdiocese’s Office for the Protection of Children and Youth will be available to answer any questions you may have and provide you with support during this challenging time.

It is crucial that you know nothing is more important than the welfare of the children entrusted to our care. The Archdiocese of Chicago takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and encourages anyone who feels they have been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee to come forward. Complete information about reporting sexual abuse can be found on the archdiocesan website at www.archchicago.org.

Please know that you are in my prayers. We will do our best to keep you informed of developments as they occur.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago

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