CHICAGO — Nationally known activist Chicago priest the Rev. Michael Pfleger will be reinstated as the leader of his parish after an investigation found "no reason to suspect" he sexually abused children, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago announced Monday.
The archdiocese said in January that leaders asked Pfleger to step aside after its Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review received an allegation that Pfleger sexually abused a minor more than 40 years ago.
In a letter to the Faith Community of Saint Sabina, Cardinal Blase Cupich said he had accepted the finding of the office and the archdiocese's Independent Review Board and was reinstating Pfleger as the South Side parish's pastor.
Cupich said the change is effective the first weekend of June.
"I have asked Father Pfleger to take the next two weeks to prepare himself spiritually and emotionally to return, realizing that these months have taken a great toll on him," Cupich said. "He has agreed to do so."
Two brothers, now in their 60s, alleged in January that Pfleger groomed them as children and abused them at rectories in the Chicago area. They accused the priest of taking advantage of two Black boys who trusted him.
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A third man later accused Pfleger of grabbing his crotch over his clothes in 1979. The 59-year-old man said he was 18 at the time and pretended to sleep.
Leaders and parishioners at St. Sabina, a Black church in the city's largely Black and low-income Auburn Gresham neighborhood, fiercely supported Pfleger, who is white, after the allegations. Upset by the removal of their pastor, they tied up the archdiocese's phone lines, held rallies, sent letters and threatened to withhold $100,000 in monthly dues.
Pfleger, who moved out of the church rectory, maintained his innocence. His attorney, Jim Figliulo, said Monday that he was elated his client was cleared.
"This is as strong as a conclusion of his innocence as this process permits," Figliulo said. "He has said he is innocent. He is innocent."
Eugene Hollander, an attorney for the three accusers, said his clients were disheartened with the news and were considering whether to file a lawsuit.
"You had not one, not two, but three victims of alleged molestation," he said. "They are of course very, very disappointed with the findings."
While the third man, who lives outside Illinois, had been reluctant to tell his story, the brothers felt compelled to speak up, Hollander said.
"For them to move forward and complete themselves, make themselves whole, they had to tell their stories," he said.
Pfleger was ordained in 1975 and was assigned to St. Sabina Church that year. Pfleger became pastor six years later and has been credited with reviving the parish.
Nationally, the priest dubbed "Father Mike" by parishioners is known for his dramatic approach to activism aimed at chronic problems in the city, including defacement of alcohol and cigarette billboards and paying prostitutes to accept counseling.
Pfleger inspired director Spike Lee, who based the character played by actor John Cusack in the 2015 movie "Chi-Raq" on him.