(Jan. 27, 2021) A 61-year-old Texas man and his 63-year-old brother have accused a famous Catholic priest of clergy sex abuse. The younger brother filed a lawsuit complaint in Jan. 2021 that alleges that he was sexually abused by the Rev. Michael Pfleger in the 1970s. A Chicago resident, Rev. Pfleger first gained nationwide fame as a spiritual adviser to former president Barack Obama.
The Texas brothers grew up in an impoverished neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. The boys’ mother insisted on their attending church to help them avoid drugs and gang activity.
The brothers joined the Precious Blood Catholic Church choir in their pre-teen years. They were drawn to a friendly young seminarian, they said, who directed their musical performances and gave them pizza.
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Today, the two men say their former choir director, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, molested them dozens of times over several years. The abuse survivors said they were sexually abused beginning in the 1970s. They allege abuse occurred in Pfleger’s rooms at three churches, beginning at Precious Blood and including St. Sabina on Chicago’s South Side, where Rev. Pfleger has been assigned since his 1975 ordination.
The Texas men said the abuse was a secret they had not revealed even to each other, until Jan. 4, 2021. That’s when the younger brother filed a complaint against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. The next day, the archdiocese announced that Pfleger had agreed to be removed from ministry while the church investigated the allegations.
When the man who filed the case told his older brother days later that he was the person behind the complaint against Pfleger, the older man said that he then revealed, for the first time, that he also had been victimized by Pfleger.
The 61-year-old brother who filed the Jan. 4 complaint works as an addiction recovery support specialist. His lawsuit names as defendants the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Rev. Michael Pfleger. It alleges that Pfleger began sexually abusing him at age 13 in the early 1970s while the man was a seminary student living at a West Side church near the brothers’ childhood home.
The Chicago Tribune reported that in a nearly three-hour interview last week in the men’s lawyer’s office, the two men grew emotional at times when they accused Pfleger of abusing their trust. They said they saw him as a role model.
“I go back in my young mind, and I say to myself, ‘What’s happening here?’” said the older brother, a 63-year-old former police sergeant and U.S. Air Force veteran. “(I) ask myself, ‘What do I do, you know, other than freeze?’ You lay there and you hold your breath and hope for the best.”
The men have asked not to be publicly named. They want to protect the privacy of relatives who still live in Chicago, they said, and they also fear possible fallout from Pfleger supporters. The older brother filed his complaint with the archdiocese last week.
Rev. Pfleger denies Abuse Allegations
The Chicago Tribune reported that Rev. Pfleger’s legal team said the brothers’ allegations are false. They said the younger brother wrote a letter to Pfleger late last month that sought $20,000 “to help me move on in this troubled and confused time in my life.” They said the letter noted past archdiocese settlements unrelated to Pfleger that have “changed (men’s) lives forever.”
“Father Pfleger has never abused them or anybody else,” said his lawyer’s statement. “These allegations are false and are simply being made for money. This is a shakedown.”
The younger man acknowledged in last week’s interview with the Tribune that he had written a letter asking the priest to give him $20,000. He said he planned to use the payment as proof of his abuse. He retorted that if his motivation were purely financial, as Pfleger’s attorney alleges, he would have acted years earlier while he was battling addiction.
The allegations threaten the legacy of the popular white minister who heads Chicago’s largest Black Catholic parish. The Tribune reported that Pfleger has crusaded against racism and poverty throughout his high-profile priesthood. While the matter is being investigated, Cardinal Blasé Cupich is requiring the 71-year-old Pfleger to live away from the parish.
The archdiocese said in a statement following the initial allegation: “Allegations are claims that have not been proven as true or false. Therefore, guilt or innocence should not be assumed.”
No Priors for Pfleger
For the defense side, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has reported that this is the first time it has received a sex abuse complaint involving Rev. Pfleger.
“I have never seen or heard anything bad about his character or reputation,” said Christopher Jones Jr., who said Pfleger baptized him in 1998 and also helped him obtain a college scholarship.
Another St. Sabina member, Blair Matthews, told the Chicago Tribune that the claims didn’t fit what he knew about Pfleger. “I hope this is a big misunderstanding,” he said.
In social media posts, Pfleger has thanked his supporters and said he is hurt, devastated, and angry, but reminds himself others are suffering. “I cannot feel sorry for myself,” he wrote. (The) pain in our world is real.”
The Brothers’ History
The Tribune reported that the older of the two plaintiffs retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2003 when he was honorably discharged after a nearly 25-year career, according to his military paperwork. He earned various medals for his service, and later worked as a Texas police officer. He rose to the rank of patrol sergeant before becoming a senior project management consultant.
The man’s younger brother struggled with drug addiction for years. He served prison time in Illinois and Texas for non-violent, burglary-related crimes, and was released from parole about 14 years ago. Since then, he explained he has maintained sobriety for a long while.
Following two years of college, he became a licensed substance abuse counselor.
The 61-year-old younger brother said that a televised Nov. 28 interview with Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory helped motivate him to notify the Chicago archdiocese. In the interview, Gregory spoke of the Catholic Church’s failures in the crisis of child sex abuse in the church.
The brothers said they had met or seen Gregory several times, after he started working in the Chicago archdiocese around the same time Pfleger did. Archdiocese records show the two men were assigned to the same Glenview church for a short time. In a statement last week, Gregory said he did not remember the brothers’ family but was confident the archdiocese would conduct a thorough investigation.
The younger brother said his career choice had also inspired him to come forward. He spoke openly about his past drug addiction and crimes, and said he is proud of how far he has come. However, he said, it has bothered him that as a recovery specialist he has been asking others to do what he has been too ashamed to face himself.
“How can I tell someone to tell the truth and open up and empty themselves when I hadn’t myself?” he asked. “That’s when I first decided to do this. My 12 years (of sobriety) was coming up, and I said it’s about time for you to free yourself from yourself.”
The man said that in addition to writing a letter to Pfleger (to which Pfleger did not respond), he decided on New Year’s Day to reach out to a Chicago attorney for help.
“I said enough is enough,” said the younger brother. “I said, ‘I’m not carrying this burden. Not one more year.’”
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by Matthews & Associates