CHICAGO (CBS) — The Rev. Michael Pfleger has long been a civil rights activist and champion of Chicago’s African-American community.'You Will Die:' Jovan McPherson Charged With Shooting CPD Officer, Kidnapping Woman In Lincoln Park
Pfleger’s attorney calls the allegations lies, with the motive being greed.
But this weekend, both of Pfleger’s accusers – two brothers – shared their story exclusively with CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov. They told her they could no longer keep their secret.
Kozlov: “How old were you when the abuse started?”
Younger Brother: “When I was 13.”
Kozlov: You carried this around with you for almost 50 years?
Younger Brother: “Yes I did.”
Now, at age 61, the native Chicagoan is finally confronting what he said was his sexual abuse by Father Pfleger. He claims the abuse began when he was a young choir boy, and Father Pfleger a seminarian at Precious Blood Church on Chicago’s West Side in the early 1970s.
“I was embarrassed,” the younger brother said. “I was to the point that I couldn’t forgive myself, because I blamed myself all these years.”
He is sharing his story, but not his identity, in part to protect family members still in Chicago from any backlash. But the first family member to whom he opened up – his older brother – brought about a traumatic revelation.
Kozlov: “When did Father Michael Pfleger start abusing you sexually?”
Older Brother: “Between the ages of 12 and 13.”
The older brother said he was a victim too. Pfleger’s attorney vehemently denies the brothers’ abuse allegations, but they say it happened.
“It’s the truth,” the younger brother said.
The brothers grew up on the West Side, raised by a struggling single mother in a crime-filled area.
“I mean shootings, stabbings,” the older brother said. “We’ve had friends killed in that neighborhood.”
They were small for their age – sometimes bulled. They sought refuge in the church’s sanctuary, and say Pfleger offered them security.
The younger brother said Pfleger got him a church job and took him places.
“Take us to different pizza parlors throughout the city of Chicago,” he said. “That was my first time ever going to an amusement park.”
The older brother said he saw Pfleger as a father figure.
“I would describe my case as a kid looking for someone who cared about him, and I think he took that angle,” he said, “and I felt he made me feel a little bit special.”
Of the abuse he alleges, the older brother said: “I don’t describe it as forceful in any way. It was kind of a slow grooming process.”
Both brothers said they had no idea – until now – that the other was being abused, and say much of it happened in Pfeger’s room in Precious Blood’s rectory, where they would often stay overnight. That is where the older brother said Pfleger first abused him.
“I was in bed, He crawled into the same bed. This is basically the routine – coming into the same bed,” the older brother said, “and it started with fondling.”
He said the assaults got worse from there.
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Older Brother: “For me, it went on from the ages of 12 or 13 through about 18.”
His younger brother said his first incident occurred when Pfleger drove him home, touching his leg.
“Now that I think about it, the look was: ‘You know not to tell anyone. You know not to say anyone,’” the younger brother said, “and then that’s when he unzipped my pants.”
Both said the abuse continued after Pfleger left the West Side parish.
“It happened at Precious Blood. It happened at the seminary. It happened at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It happened at St. Sabina,” the older brother said. “And there’s adults around all the time.”
Despite the sleepovers and attention, they said no adult or priest ever raised a question. The younger brother said one adult around at the time was Wilton Gregory, now Archbishop of Washington, who became the first African-American Cardinal after his elevation last year and was at Glenview’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help at the same time as Pfleger.
The younger man – a recovering drug addict who blames his addiction on the abuse – said he felt compelled to come forward when he saw a CBS News story about Gregory and heard him criticize the Catholic Church’s past handling of child sexual abuse.
“And instantly, tears started coming,” the younger brother said. “And my answer was, to that question to Wilton Gregory was, I wonder if you’ll go after Mike.”
He continued: “And I told myself I’m not going to go into not another year carrying this burden. I’m not going to go, not another day without telling someone.”
He said he called Pfleger, but didn’t leave a message. Then he wrote him a letter. He showed us a Dec. 30 FedEx receipt, and he admits in it, he asked Pfleger for $20,000. Pfleger’s attorney told Kozlov the younger brother asked for it to be a onetime payment.
Younger Brother: “And the $20,000 was to have to see if he would send it, because to me, then, that would be an admission of guilt.”
Kozlov: “Some, of course, would say that’s blackmail or extortion potentially too.”
Younger Brother: “But if it was blackmail or extortion, when I was in my addiction, that was the time to blackmail someone. That was the time to extort, because that’s when I really needed money.”
The next day, he reached out to attorney Gene Hollander. They filed an abuse claim with the Chicago Archdiocese on Monday, Jan. 4.
On Tuesday, Jan. 5, the Archdiocese removed the popular Pfleger from St. Sabina and active ministry pending an investigation. Several days after that, the younger brother confided in his older brother. And just Friday, Hollander filed the older brother’s abuse claim with the Archdiocese as well.
“After talking with the older brother, he gave me an incredible amount of detail about the car he was taken in by Father Pfleger, where the abuse occurred, the nature and severity of the abuse,” Hollander said. “And there’s a lot of corroboration between the stories.”
“I had put this in a closet and hoped that it would stay there. And I didn’t reach out to my brother,” the older brother said. “He came to me, and he told me his story. And I’m in this mess again.”
The older brother’s life has mostly been one of professional success – a long military career, followed by one in law enforcement and security. But there have been problems, and emotional baggage too.
“And I hate it. I hate the fact,” he said tearfully. “But I still have to live my life. So I want to put this to rest forever.”
Both men expect some people to doubt them; to voraciously defend the popular Pfleger, a revered and decades-long champion of Chicago’s African-American community. But they feel strongly about coming forward now.
“I would like people to know there is a dark side to Mike Pfleger,” the younger brother said.
“I want to say this to the people who are still questioning this – all the good he’s done for the African-American community, I’m not taking away from that,” the older brother said. “But he also pilfered the African-American community by preying on African-American kids.”
A representative of the Chicago Archdiocese said they are investigating and they take all sexual abuse allegations seriously. Meanwhile, Pfleger says he has never abused the brothers or anyone else and called this a shakedown.
Gregory, in a statement, said: “I have no memory of this particular incident or family however, I am confident in the serious and thorough process in the Archdiocese of Chicago, in accordance with their longstanding safe environment policies, to ensure this and any other claims of sex abuse are thoroughly investigated.”
Pfleger’s attorneys, James R. Figliulo and Michael D. Monico, released the following statement:
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“It is our understanding that two brothers in their 60s have made a claim that Father Pfleger abused them more than 45 years ago. Father Pfleger has never abused them or anybody else. These allegations are false and are simply being made for money. This is a shakedown.
“One of the brothers, who has been in and out of prison more than a dozen times and has a history of drug abuse, sent a handwritten letter to Father Pfleger dated December 31, 2020. The letter states: ‘I am asking for a one time payment to help me move on in this troubled and confused time in my life. I did not want to put a price, but I must. I am asking for $20,000 to be sent to my ZELLE [account]….’ He also refers to having ‘done my research,’ and he states, ‘They [the Archdiocese] have made settlements that has changed men lives forever.’
“Over the last 45 years, the brothers, who are from out of state, say they never told each other or anyone else about the alleged abuse until this month, after they hired a lawyer. The allegations by these two men are false. Unfortunately, these salacious allegations are being given publicity that is causing irreparable damage to Father Pfleger’s reputation.
“Father Pfleger has worked tirelessly to serve the St. Sabina community for over 45 years, and his leadership has reached far beyond his parish. Father Pfleger has mentored and inspired thousands of young men and women over the past several decades with honor, decency and dignity. He has earned the esteem and respect of the people he has served. It is so very disheartening to witness such false attacks on Father Pfleger, which are motivated by greed. Father Pfleger is a good and decent priest and does not deserve to have his reputation destroyed by such false allegations.”
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