Parishioners, choir alumni demand Rev. Michael Pfleger be reinstated

Parishioners from St. Sabina Church gathered outside the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Chicago on Thursday morning holding posters made by schoolchildren demanding that the Rev. Michael Pfleger is brought “back home” — even as the investigation of a sexual abuse claim against him continues.

“We want him with us, at his parish, for the holidays,” said Pamela Bosley, founder of Pain Over Purpose, an organization made up of parents who have lost children to gun violence with the guidance from Pfleger.

Last month, Pfleger was forced to step away from his ministry while under investigation by the archdiocese for a decades-old sexual abuse allegation — the second one in less than two years.

Parents and alumni of the church’s choir demanded the archdiocese expedite the investigation after eight alumni of the choir presented sworn affidavits stating that the alleged abuse could not have happened based on the strict rules they had during rehearsals and performances, according to Andrew Stroth, an attorney for The Soul Children of Chicago and choir director Walter Whitman.

During any rehearsal or performance, there was always a parent or a chaperone present, said Stroth and Sam Williams, one of the alumni who submitted an affidavit to the archdiocese in hopes of helping to speed up the investigation.

“We couldn’t freely walk around in any facility where we rehearsed,” said Williams. “There was always and still is a consistent (and) rigid discipline to make sure that we were always in decency and in order.”

Sam Williams, an alumni of the church choir, center, speaks as community leaders and members of the St. Sabina parish rally in support of the Rev. Michael Pfleger during a news conference outside the Archdiocese of Chicago on Nov. 17, 2022.

In the latest allegation against Pfleger, a man in his late 40s filed a claim with the archdiocese alleging the renown advocate and South Side priest sexually abused him at St. Sabina Church in the late 1980s while he was a member of the Soul Children of Chicago choir.

According to the man’s attorney, Eugene Hollander, his client was a minor, between the ages 13 and 17 at the time and the alleged abuse occurred on two occasions in the church rectory. The choir rehearsed at St. Sabina once or twice a week, the attorney said.

In an email statement Hollander, attorney for the alleged victims, responded to Stroth’s public statements saying that “Mr. Stroth is using the media to interfere with the archdiocese’s investigation and make baseless allegations against my clients and myself designed to intimidate and silence alleged victims.”

Hollander said that his client has “purposely” avoided reporters so as not to interfere with the investigation. The attorney also said, “There has been additional corroboration beyond that by another alleged victim who says he was sexually abused by Father Pfleger shortly after he turned 18.” No more details were provided.

“Contrary to what Mr. Stroth has represented, we have now presented an abundance of compelling evidence of alleged childhood sexual abuse by Father Pfleger against three different victims,” Hollander wrote.

Manny Gonzalez, a spokesman for the archdiocese said in an email statement: “The archdiocese does not comment on pending or current litigation. The archdiocese takes every allegation seriously and a thorough and impartial process serves everyone’s interest.”

Community leaders and members of the St. Sabina parish rally in support of the Rev. Michael Pfleger outside the Archdiocese of Chicago on Nov. 17, 2022.

Stroth, who said he has represented the choir for over 20 years, said that the allegations are not only harming Pfleger, but also harming the acclaimed choir that has been around for more than four decades.

Pfleger supporters at the news conference also said that his absence has halted the church from hosting and carrying on annual community service events that benefit those most in need during the holidays. Others said that some benefactors have halted their donations until the case is resolved.

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“We are working with the archdiocese, Dr. Walton interviewed for over an hour and a half with the investigator from the archdiocese and talked about how this could not have possibly happened,” Stroth said.

Pfleger was first removed from his ministry for several months in early 2021 after two adult brothers filed claims accusing him of decades-old abuse. The pastor returned five months later after a review panel found “insufficient reason to suspect” that he was guilty of the allegations.

Though Pfleger did not attend the news conference Thursday, Bosley, who has kept in touch with him, said that the pastor is angry and frustrated.

“While he loves the support, he has so much work to do and he is angry that he has been put on hold, and that the process is going slow,” Bosley said.

Pfleger has been a part of St. Sabina since 1981 and is a prominent activist in the fight against gun violence.

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