When her teenage son was murdered outside a church in 2006, Pam Bosley contacted ministers in Chicago in the hopes that someone would help make sense of it.
Only one wrote back.
Michael Pfleger, a charismatic priest of a thriving Black Catholic community, inspired her to become an activist and recruited her to run the violence prevention office of his South Side Church.
Stories like Bosley’s keep cropping up in St Sabina’s Church, a close community that has been a center for social activism under Carers for 40 years. But the white priest’s job, his reputation in a black community that has long respected him, and the future of the community are in jeopardy because three men – two blacks and the third whose race has not been published – accuse him of sexual abuse did it decades ago.
After the first allegations surfaced in January, the Archdiocese of Chicago temporarily removed the 71-year-old priest to investigate, resulting in violent backlash from parishioners trying to clear his name. They flooded the archdiocese’s phone lines, held rallies threatening withheld monthly fees of $ 100,000, and sent 1,300 letters. They also challenged the prosecutor’s accounts.
“Father Pfleger is our family,” said Bosley. “We will not stop. We need him back. “
The allegations sent shock waves through the church in the largely black and low-income neighborhood of Auburn Gresham and beyond. Foster, who frequently bumps into archdiocese leaders, has made a name for himself using unconventional tactics, such as: B. Paying prostitutes to counsel and defacing alcohol and cigarette billboards. He also promoted neighborhood development by opening an employment center and senior housing near his Gothic-style church. He inspired John Cusack’s character in Spike Lee’s 2015 film Chi-raq.
Care’s first accuser were two brothers in their sixties who did not publicly identify themselves. They claim caregivers cared for them as children and abused them in vicarages near Chicago. Their lawyer, Eugene Hollander, said they had “gone through hell”.
Their stories prompted a third man, who was not named, to come forward this month. Through a lawyer, he claims that Pfleger grabbed his crotch in 1979 when he was 18 years old.
The brothers’ complaint led the archdiocese and police to investigate. No charges were brought, but Illinois has no statute of limitations on serious sex crimes. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services completed its review and concluded that there is insufficient evidence that caregivers pose a threat.
But the archdiocese is still investigating. Church officials said their investigation would take note of the results of DCFS, but their process should not be speeded up.
“Special treatment of a case undermines the credibility of its outcome and ultimately serves neither the prosecutor nor the defendant,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “Justice requires a thorough and impartial process, and there is no time frame in which we should make a decision.”
Pfleger moved out of the rectory and settled down during the investigation when he lived elsewhere in Chicago. He declined to be interviewed, but tweeted that he was innocent: “When this is over, which I hope it will be soon, I will have a lot more to say.”
His attorney Jim Figliulo said, “It’s really unfair that his reputation is being smeared by these false allegations.”
Pfleger was ordained a priest in 1975 and assigned to St. Sabina. Six years later, at the age of 31, he became a priest – the archdiocese’s youngest full-time pastor at the time.
He messed things up, promoted gospel music and helped teenagers get work, recalled 54-year-old parishioner Stephanie Falls-Warr.
“Back then you could see the youth, not really hear them,” she said. “He really gave us a voice.”
Congregants say they are suffering, and church officials say a cloud has hung over St. Sabina since the allegations surfaced. Associate Minister Kimberly Lymore estimates that approximately $ 500,000 of private funding and grants have been on hold until the end of the investigation.
The results of the DCFS were the focus of a rally last month in front of the offices of the archdiocese, at which, among other things, a senator demonstrated.
Falls-Warr said she never questioned the safety of her children in church. Like others, she doubts the abuse claims because they showed up late and because a brother admitted asking caregivers for $ 20,000 to help with the healing.
However, experts say neither is uncommon. According to the Survivors Network of the Abused by Priests, which was central to uncovering sexual abuse scandals in the Church, the median age of a child molestation victim is 52 years and an abuser payment request could be made for someone who is a Has suffered trauma, make sense.
Bosley believes Pfleger was founded, but she doesn’t know who is behind it. Other parishioners theorize that the abuse claims are a way for the church to harm Caregiver’s influence before it supplants him.
Pfleger has been suspended twice, including in 2008 during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign when he mocked Obama’s main opponent Hillary Clinton.
The archdiocese rejected the speculation.
“It is astonishing why anyone would believe the leadership of the archdiocese, Father Dr. Keeper’s good works would invent a trick to remove it, ”said the archdiocese.
Still, the situation has sparked conflicting feelings for some outside of the Church. Carlos Nelson, who grew up nearby, runs Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp., which works frequently with Pfleger.
“My heart went out to the alleged victims because whether this is a fake story or not, these people carry that burden with them,” he said. “Whether the burden is a lie or a truth, it is still a burden.”
It is unclear how St. Sabina would function without caretakers.
There are few black Catholic communities that are dwindling. According to a study by the University of Notre Dame and the National Black Catholic Congress, of approximately 21,000 American Catholic parishes, about 800 or less than 4% are predominantly black. Black priests are rarer, making up 250 or less than 1% of the roughly 36,500 Catholic priests, according to the U.S. Bishops’ Conference.
Parishioners say “Father Mike” has credibility when he lives in the neighborhood, with insight that even lifelong residents lack.
Due to objections from the archdiocese, Pfleger adopted two sons, including one who was fatally shot – a tragedy he speaks about in sermons.
He also has the ear of city guides who have marched next to him.
In the Carer’s absence, Rev. Reginald Williams Jr. preached to a nearby church during a black history celebration at 1,500-member St. Sabina, which operates a school and community center.
“We prayed for him. I just want to pick it up one more time. I can’t say enough about the gift from Michael Lewis Pfleger, ”said Williams. “I thank God for you. If you go down, we’ll go down with you. “
Parishioners, separated in pews and wearing masks, applauded.