The Illinois Department of Children & Family Services has determined that a report of "suspected child abuse or neglect" related to Rev. Michael Pfleger is "unfounded," the agency wrote in a letter to the long-time St. Sabina minister on Feb. 23, 2021.
DCFS said the determination was made after a "thorough evaluation."
"This means that no credible evidence of child abuse or neglect was found during this investigation," the letter states, "and that your name will not be listed as a perpetrator of child abuse or neglect on the State Central Register."
"This does not necessarily mean that an incident did not occur," the letter continued. "An incident may have occurred but the evidence did not rise to the level required to indicate for abuse or neglect as dictated by state law and DCFS Administrative Rule.
The Archdiocese of Chicago said the finding does not reflect an investigation by DCFS of allegations made against Rev. Pfleger earlier this year by two adult brothers "and therefore should not be viewed as a judgment as to his guilt or innocence in those matters."
Earlier this year the Archdiocese asked Father Michael Pfleger to step aside from his ministry following an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor received by the Archdiocese’s Office of Child Abuse Investigations and Review.
Later in January, a second allegation of sexual abuse of a minor was reported against Rev. Pfleger. An archdiocese spokesperson said at the time that the second allegation came from a sibling of the minor who made abuse allegations earlier this year.
According to a letter from Cardinal Blase Cupich, the allegation stems from an incident that occurred more than 40 years ago.
“Father Pfleger has agreed to cooperate fully with my request and will live away from the parish while this matter is investigated,” Cupich said in a letter to parishioners earlier this year.
An investigation is reported to be ongoing, and the Archdiocese has not issued a final determination about Pfleger's return to ministry.
Pfleger’s counsel forcefully responded to the second allegations in January, calling them “false” and accusing the brothers of trying to “shake down” Pfleger in the case.
In a letter sent to NBC 5, Pfleger’s attorneys said that one of the brothers involved in the case sent a handwritten letter to the priest in late 2020 asking for $20,000. The attorneys alleged that the man alluded to settlements made by the church in other abuse cases in his letter to Pfleger.
“Over the last 45 years, the brothers, who are from out of state, say they never told each other or anybody else about the alleged abuse until this month after they hired a lawyer,” the response from Pfleger’s lawyers read, in part. “The allegations by these two men are false. Unfortunately, these salacious allegations are being given publicity that is causing irreparable damage to Father Pfleger’s reputation.”
Eugene Hollander, who represents the brothers, said the agency’s findings are unimportant.
“DCFS’ findings have no bearing on the legal proceedings involving my clients or whether the Archdiocese of Chicago will remove Father Pfleger from his ministry,” Hollander said in a statement. ”Father Pfelger himself knows the truth of these allegations.”
The Archdiocese said the allegation was reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County State’s Attorney, in accordance with church policy.
“The Archdiocese of Chicago takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and encourages anyone who feels they have been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee to come forward,” Cupich said at the time.
The church asked parishioners and Chicago residents to remember that the claims of abuse “have not been proven as true or false,” and not to assume guilt or innocence in the case.
Pfleger, 70, has been the pastor of Saint Sabina Church in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood since 1981.
He has won wide praise for turning a struggling parish into one of the most thriving in the nation’s third-largest city. Over the years he has garnered headlines for his activism and protests. He has been arrested while protesting at stores that were selling drug paraphernalia and for smearing red paint on billboards advertising cigarettes in his neighborhood.