CHICAGO -- A Catholic priest who gained national fame as an activist has been asked to step away from his ministry while allegations that he sexually abused a minor decades ago are investigated.
The development came a little more than a year after another probe cleared the priest, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, of allegations that he sexually abused children.
In a letter sent Saturday, Cardinal Blase Cupich said Pfleger was asked to relinquish his duties at the church, Faith Community of Saint Sabina, after allegations were made that he sexually abused a minor decades ago.
Pfleger “has agreed to cooperate fully with this request,” Cupich said, adding that the archdiocese has notified the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and law enforcement officials as required by archdiocese policies.
The accuser is a man in his late 40s who said Pfleger on two occasions abused him in the late 1980s during choir rehearsals in the Saint Sabina rectory, according to a statement released by a spokesperson for the man’s attorney, Eugene Hollander. The attorney did not elaborate on the allegations.
In his own statement to the parish on the city's South Side that he has led for decades, Pfleger said he had done nothing wrong.
“Let me be clear - I am completely innocent of this accusation,” he wrote, telling his parish he was confident that the allegation would be “determined to be unfounded" and that he would be reinstated.
Pfleger, who is white, leads a Black church in Chicago’s largely Black and low-income Auburn Gresham neighborhood. His activism captured the attention of film director Spike Lee, who based a character played by actor John Cusack in the 2015 film “Chi-Raq” on Pfleger.
Pfleger has made national headlines for his activism on an array of issues, opposing cigarette and alcohol advertising, taking on drug dealers and stores that sell drug paraphernalia, and leading countless protests. He has even been sued for his activism and once said it “has resulted in jealousy, attacks and hate.”
In May of last year, four months after Pfleger was asked to step aside from his duties while similar allegations involving a minor more than 40 years earlier were investigated, he was reinstated by the archdiocese after the probe found "insufficient reason to suspect” he sexually abused children.