Cardinal Removes Pfleger From St. Sabina as Child Abuse Complaint is Investigated

The Rev. Michael Pfleger appears on “Chicago Tonight” on Sept. 19, 2019. (WTTW News)The Rev. Michael Pfleger appears on “Chicago Tonight” on Sept. 19, 2019. (WTTW News)

Cardinal Blase Cupich asked the Rev. Michael Pfleger to step down Tuesday as senior pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church while the Archdiocese of Chicago investigates an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor more than 40 years ago. 

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In a letter to the St. Sabina Church and school community, Cupich said Pfleger “has agreed to cooperate fully with my request and will live away from the parish while this matter is investigated.”

The Auburn Gresham parish will be led by its pastor, the Rev. Thulani Magwaza, according to the letter.

“Allegations are claims that have not been proven as true or false,” Cupich wrote. “Therefore, guilt or innocence should not be assumed.”

Pfleger responded to the allegations Wednesday morning on Facebook.

"I am devastated, hurt and yes angry, but I am first, a person of faith, I trust god," Pfleger wrote, adding that the archdiocese asked him not to speak publicly. "Pray also for the person, my life is more than a 40-year-old accusation, and on that and my faith I will stand."

Pfleger led St. Sabina for more than 40 years, becoming one of the most high-profile religious leaders in Chicago. In 2011, former Cardinal Francis George removed him from St. Sabina after he rejected George’s assignment to lead Leo High School.

An outspoken advocate for gun control, Pfleger said George acted under pressure from the National Rifle Association and suggested he would leave the Catholic Church rather than accept the post at Leo High School.

Several months later, George agreed to allow Pfleger to remain at St. Sabina. Typically, priests serve for no more than six years at a time as pastor at a church.

In 2015, Oscar-winning director Spike Lee based a character played by John Cusak on Pfleger in his movie “Chi-Raq.” Lee called Pfleger, who is white, “a living saint” for fighting gun violence while leading a nearly all Black church on Chicago’s South Side. 

Pfleger once again seized Chicago’s political spotlight in 2018 by leading a march that shut down the Dan Ryan Expressway to protest gun violence with former Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

Known as a showman who often preached alongside a band, a choir and dancers, Pfleger has been arrested dozens of times while protesting everything from guns to tobacco ads and the way grade-school athletic conferences reinforced segregation.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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