Dozens rally at St. Sabina in support of Pfleger, as accusers remain steadfast in allegations of decades-old abuse

Madeline Buckley and Christy Gutowski, Chicago Tribune
·4 min read

Supporters of the Rev. Michael Pfleger rallied Monday outside St. Sabina Church to back their beloved activist pastor as he faces allegations that he sexually abused two brothers beginning nearly five decades ago.

More than 50 people gathered outside the South Side church where Pfleger long has ministered and crusaded, often rejecting traditional priestly decorum while becoming an outspoken advocate for the city’s Black community.

Supporters wore shirts reading “We stand with Father Pfleger.” Some held Bibles. Some speakers spoke angrily about the accusations, while others appeared deeply shaken.

Christopher Jones Jr. said Pfleger had baptized him and that he recently graduated from DePaul University in part because the priest helped him secure a scholarship. “I’ve never seen or heard anything bad about his character or reputation,” he said.

The rally took place hours after the Tribune and WBBM-Ch. 2 reported separately on interviews with two Texas brothers who said Pfleger molested them dozens of times over several years. They said the abuse began in the 1970s after they joined the choir of Precious Blood Catholic Church near their West Side childhood home.

The brothers, who have asked not to be publicly named, said they were victimized in Pfleger’s rectory bedrooms at three churches including St. Sabina, where the priest has been assigned since his May 1975 ordination.

The older man, 63, a former police sergeant and U.S. Air Force veteran, said he also was abused at St. Mary of the Lake, a Mundelein seminary. Pfleger was a young seminary student, serving as choir director, when the brothers met him. The brothers, who are Black, said they were in their preteens when the abuse began.

The Chicago archdiocese asked Pfleger to step away from ministry temporarily after receiving a complaint from the younger of the two men earlier this month; the older brother’s complaint was filed Friday.

Pfleger, 71, has remained silent about the allegations except for a few social media comments. His private attorneys said the claims are false, concocted out of greed in hopes of receiving a financial settlement.

Kimberly Lymore, an associate minister at St. Sabina, called on the archdiocese to investigate the allegations swiftly so Pfleger “can return to the community.” She referenced a letter the younger brother sent that sought $20,000 from Pfleger, which she said “certainly seems like extortion.”

The men’s lawyer, Eugene Hollander, called such comments “outrageous.”

“(They) failed to discuss the other contents of the letter where my client expressed his intense anguish of keeping this dark secret bottled up inside for four decades,” Hollander said. “My clients have a simple request for Father Pfleger — tell the truth about what happened.”

At a news conference Monday in Hollander’s West Loop office, the older brother told reporters: “I was there. (Pfleger) was there. We were the only two in the room. His lawyer can say anything he wants. ... I’m not here because I want to be. I’m here because it’s the right thing to do.”

Now 61, the younger brother said he struggled with years of drug addiction, leading to a “revolving prison door,” but is now a licensed substance abuse counselor.

The man said he viewed the request for $20,000 as a potential way to prove Pfleger had abused him. What motivated him to finally come forward, he said, was that he hit his 12-year sobriety mark and wanted to be honest about his own past traumas while counseling others in recovery.

The idea of accusing the well-known priest gave the younger brother pause, he said. Still, after surviving a difficult past and overcoming addiction, he said: “If I could get through all this, I could get through anything.”

Outside St. Sabina on Monday, longtime parishioners spoke of the mentorship and spiritual guidance Pfleger has offered them over the years.

Blair Matthews, a Northwestern University law student, credited the St. Sabina community with helping him achieve academic success. He said the allegations against Pfleger don’t fit with “what I know about him,” though Matthews said the claims are serious and should be investigated.

“I hope this is a big misunderstanding,” he said, growing emotional.

mabuckley@chicagotribune.com

cmgutowski@chicagotribune.com