Two brothers who accused St. Sabina Church leader Rev. Michael Pfleger of sexual misconduct say they have taken and passed lie detector tests in wake of what they described as attacks on their credibility, but Pfleger's attorneys are raising their own questions.
The brothers, who live in Texas and spoke exclusively to NBC Chicago, said they chose to take polygraph exams on their own to help quell credibility concerns sparked by members of St. Sabina Church. Such tests are not admissible in Illinois courts, however.
"We can't even get our own community to believe," the older of the two brothers said.
The brothers, who are in their 60s and have not yet publicly identified themselves, have accused Pfleger of sexually abusing them decades ago. They allege that Pfleger groomed them as children and abused them at Chicago-area rectories. Their attorney, Eugene Hollander, said they “went through hell.”
Their stories led a third man, who hasn't been named, to come forward. Through a lawyer, he alleges that Pfleger grabbed his crotch in 1979, when he was 18.
Attorneys for Pfleger in a statement called the allegations a shakedown and noted that polygraph results "are often wrong."
"Their latest efforts are merely the next step in this old-fashioned shakedown. What gimmick will Mr. Hollander and his money-seeking clients use next?" the statement from James R. Figliulo, Michael D. Monico and Ryan W. Mitsos read. "What we know is this: the accusers’ 45-year-old allegations are not corroborated by anyone or anything other than their own statements. The people who knew the accusers at the time of the alleged conduct, people who called the brothers their friends, do not believe their stories and staunchly believe in Father Pfleger’s innocence."
Kent College of Law Professor Richard Kling said courts have determined lie detector tests are "really more of an art than a science."
"There are some studies which say the science is good, there are other studies which say the science is not good," Kling said.
The Archdiocese of Chicago said it has received the polygraph exams and transmitted them to the independent review board as part of the ongoing investigation.
After the first allegations surfaced in January, the Archdiocese of Chicago temporarily removed the 71-year-old priest to investigate.
The brothers' complaint led to archdiocese and police investigations. Charges haven't been filed, but Illinois has no statute of limitations for major sex crimes. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services completed its own review, concluding there wasn’t sufficient evidence to show that Pfleger was a threat.
But the archdiocese is still investigating. Church officials said their investigation would note DCFS's findings, but that their process shouldn’t be rushed.
“Giving a case special treatment undermines the credibility of its outcome and ultimately serves neither the accuser nor the accused,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “Justice demands a thorough and impartial process and there is no timeframe in which we ‘should’ make a determination.”
The accusations sent shockwaves through the church in the largely Black and low-income Auburn Gresham neighborhood and beyond. Often clashing with archdiocese leaders, Pfleger has made a name for himself by using unconventional tactics such as paying prostitutes to counsel them and defacing alcohol and cigarette billboards. He also boosted 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 movie “Chi-raq.”
Pfleger moved out of the rectory and has laid low while living elsewhere in Chicago during the investigation. He declined to be interviewed, but he tweeted that he's innocent: “When this is over, which I hope is soon, I will have much more to say.”
Pfleger has been suspended twice, including in 2008 during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign when he mocked Obama’s primary opponent Hillary Clinton.