Five months after being falsely accused of sexual misconduct. Fr. Pfleger returned to the pulpit Sunday afternoon at St. Sabina Church on the city’s southside. In January, the Archdiocese asked Fr. Pfleger to step down after two brothers accused him of assaulting them decades ago. While an investigation by DCFS declared the allegations unfounded in February, the Archdiocese did not reinstate the Southside pastor until the end of May. In the May 2021 letter addressed to the Faith Community of St. Sabina, Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Cupich, said, “The Review Board has concluded that there is insufficient reason to suspect Father Pfleger is guilty of these allegations. Having given careful consideration to their decision, which I accept, I now inform you that I am reinstating Father Pfleger to his position of Senior Pastor of the Faith Community of St. Sabina, effective the weekend of June 5-6, 2021”.
The jubilant energy could be felt from the moment you entered the church doors, as Pfleger was welcomed by hundreds of parishioners excited to hear their pastor speak. Filmmaker Spike Lee flew in to support the southside pastor. The St. Sabina community has fiercely defended their pastor, often challenging the archdiocese. During the last five months, parishioners and church staff organized phone and letter-writing campaigns and threatened to withhold monthly fees due to the Archdiocese, believing they delayed Fr. Pfleger’s reinstatement. Before beginning his sermon, Fr. Pfleger read a statement reiterating his innocence, thanking his supporters, and reflecting on the attempted assassination of his character and ministry over the last 5 months. Calling it a “painful nightmare”, he stated in January he was given 2 hours to find a place to live, a lawyer, and vacate the St. Sabina premises. With his voice quivering, he spoke about hearing his name assassinated around the country and how it felt to be unable to defend himself. Calling them “false accusations that began with an extortion letter, Pfleger stated his only purpose during his 40+ year career was to fight on behalf of the people.
“For the past 46 years, I have sought to use my name to help people dealing with discrimination, housing issues. I have sought to use my name to fight against racism, poverty, violence, and guns… and now I saw that name being assassinated and I was only able to say I was innocent. I couldn’t’ say what I knew about the accusations or the individuals.”
He credited his family, friends, the staff, and the Faith Community of St. Sabina for supporting him through this ordeal and stressed his faith, while tested, stood firm over the last five months. Fr. Pfleger also spoke on the need for healing especially for members of the faith community who were disillusioned, hurt, and upset at the way the Archdiocese handled this investigation and the continued disrespect of Fr. Pfleger and one of the largest Black Catholic communities.
“I commit to you today to bring healing to our church where so many were hurt and angry over these past 5 months”, Fr. Pfleger said. He also promised to reach out to those who have supported the St. Sabina community’s much-needed neighborhood programs through funding but ceased financial support due to his absence and mistrust of the institution of the church.
During his first sermon titled “Lessons from the Storm” at the pulpit, Pfleger spoke at times through tears about his five-month ordeal. Known in the community as a staunch and passionate anti-violence activist. Fr. Pfleger reiterated his commitment to fighting gun violence in the community saying he was more focused than ever. “Whether you like it or not, I got back up and the fight is still on”, Fr. Pfleger said to cheers from the congregation.
He offered continued prayers for his accusers and those who wished for his demise but promised even more activism to fight gun violence and build up the Auburn Gresham community.
“I commit to aggressively working against the violence and proliferation of guns in our community”. I am determined to demand the government, federal, state, and city; just as we said we are all in to fight COVID-19, Well, Dammit, get all in to fight the killing of our children in the streets of Chicago and around this country”, Fr. Pfleger said with a fiery passion.
Fr. Pfleger announced a summer of programs, starting with the reinstatement of the weekly food giveaways beginning Thursday, June 10 at noon at St. Sabina along with free Pfizer vaccinations also beginning this Thursday.
Stating he is a realist, Fr. Pfleger acknowledged those who took joy in his attempted demise but cautioned them not to celebrate yet. “For some, I know my name will be damaged for the rest of my life, but most of that is by people that hated me anyway. There are people watching today that are not happy that I’m back. But take off your party hat and blow out the candles. I’m back.”
Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living in Chicago. Find her on Twitter @DanieSanders20.