CHICAGO (CBS) — Longtime St. Sabina pastor Father Michael Pfleger said he is “devastated, hurt and yes angry,” after he was asked to step away from ministry as the Archdiocese of Chicago investigates a child sex abuse claim against him from more than 40 years ago.
“I can’t possibly respond to the hundreds of Texts, emails, and calls that I have received from all across the nation since yesterday,” Pfleger wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday morning. “I am devastated, hurt and yes angry, but I am first, a person of Faith, I Trust God. Please keep me in prayer and the Faith Community of St. Sabina. I have been asked by the Diocese not to speak out at this time. I am Blessed with good leadership and amazing members, whom I love.. Pray also for the person, my life is more than a 40 year old accusation, and on that and my Faith I will stand…The Lord is my Shepherd….. I love you..”
Cardinal Blase Cupich asked Pfleger to step aside from the ministry on Tuesday as he announced the “difficult news” that the Archdiocese is investigating a claim that Pfleger sexually abused a minor more than 40 years ago.
“Father Pfleger has agreed to cooperate fully with my request and will live away from the parish while this matter is investigated,” Cupich wrote in a letter to the St. Sabina community.
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, 71, arrived at St. Sabina.
Wednesday morning, several supporters of Pfleger planned to gather outside St. Sabina to demand his reinstatement.
A group of community activists said their focus right now is character, and they know Pfleger’s character, which is why they stand with him.
They also said his activism and work to end violence in the Chicago area is still needed.
“We need people like Father Pfleger, who has been a pillar in Chicagoland, and nationally. We need his presence right now,” said Tio Hardiman, president of Violence Interrupters Inc.
“We believe wholeheartedly that he will be exonerated fully, and he will be right back here pastor here soon,” said activist Ja’Mal Green.
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.”
Pfleger 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.
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