The Rev. George Clements, the Chicago priest whose civil rights and social justice activism led to a television movie about his career, died Monday at the age of 87.
The Archdiocese of Chicago said Clements died at an Indiana hospital but did not give a cause of death. The Rev Michael Pfleger, though, said Clements had been in declining health in recent weeks, having suffered a stroke and heart attack.
“He was one of the first forerunners in the Catholic Church to be vocal in civil rights and fighting racism,” Pfleger said of Clements, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago, Alabama and Mississippi. “He helped build a strong, black Catholic community.”
In 1945, Clements became the first African American to graduate from the Chicago archdiocese’s Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary. He was ordained in 1957.
The pastor led the “One Church-One Child” program, created to help Catholic churches find adoptive parents for orphaned black children. In 1980, Clements became the first Catholic priest to adopt a child. He later adopted three more.
Clements also started a program for those addicted to drugs, as well as one for incarcerated people and their families.
“The priesthood is a vocation. But then along the way, one gets avocations, and mine were three: homelessness, addicts and prisoners,” Clements told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2017.
“The Father Clements Story,” a 1987 TV movie starring Louis Gossett Jr., chronicled his life and work.
Clements was accused in August of sexually abusing a minor in 1974 while pastor of Holy Angels parish on Chicago’s South Side. Cardinal Blase Cupich asked Clements to step aside from the ministry pending the outcome of an investigation. Clements denied the allegation.
A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services said the allegation was classified as “unfounded” following an investigation, the Sun-Times reported. The archdiocese, however, said the investigation “is still ongoing.”