Longtime Second Amendment advocates are well aware of Father Michael Pfleger, the Chicago priest and pastor of St. Sabina’s Church who’s been a vocal gun control activist for decades. Pfleger has fought to shut down gun stores in Cook County, backed a ban on commonly-owned firearms, attacked the NRA and other pro-2A groups, and has generally portrayed himself as a force for righteousness in his fight against “the gun lobby.”
On Tuesday, however, that armor of righteousness was punctured by allegations that Pfleger sexually assaulted a minor decades ago. The allegations became public when it was announced that Pfleger was being removed from his post at St. Sabina’s while an investigation into the allegations takes place.
Cardinal Blase Cupich announced “the difficult news” in a letter to the St. Sabina community Tuesday, saying he has “asked Father Pfleger to step aside from ministry following receipt by the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review of an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor more than 40 years ago.”
Cupich said Pfleger agreed to his request and will live away from the parish during the archdiocese’s investigation. The allegation has also been reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, Cupich said.
Pfleger, 71, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday evening.
Obviously an accusation is not proof of guilt, and several parishioners have publicly announced their support for Pfleger, calling the allegations against him “unfounded” and vowing to stand with him during the investigation. Others who’ve known Pfleger for years say they’re shocked and dumbfounded by the accusations.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has marched and appeared with Pfleger at events for decades, said late Tuesday he was in prayer after hearing the allegations.
“I’m in shock,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he hadn’t spoken to Pfleger but described him as a civil rights leader and transformer.
Wendy Wade, who has been a parishioner at St. Sabina for 35 years, stopped outside the church to say a quick prayer Tuesday night. She said she was “appalled” by the allegations and refused to believe them, saying this is the first she’s heard of any such behavior.
“I don’t believe it in my heart and soul that he did this,” Wade said. “He’s always been giving kindness to the community, not just the church but the entire community.”
Filmmaker Bob Hercules followed Pfleger for four years while producing the documentary, “Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger.”
During his time on the film, Hercules said he never heard rumors or allegations of misconduct. “I only saw a man who was deeply committed to his parish, parishioners and the community,” Hercules said.
That may be, but it seems likely that there’s at least some cause for concern, or else Cardinal Cupich would probably not have taken the step of asking the anti-gun priest to step aside while the investigation takes place. Let’s not forget that there have been plenty of abusers who flew under the radar for years or decades without any suspicions whatsoever. The fact Bob Hercules never heard any rumors of misconduct doesn’t mean that no misconduct took place, and even the most ardent defenders of Pfleger should steel themselves to the possibility that the reverend was abusing at least one of the children he was supposedly fighting for.