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Following a familiar trend, supporters rally around Fr Pfleger

In a pattern unfortunately quite familiar within the US Church, an accused priest is receiving unfettered support from his flock—unlike the possible victim.

In the wake of a sexual abuse allegation, Chicago's Saint Sabina Catholic Church is launching a coordinated campaign in defense of their embattled pastor, Fr Michael Pfleger.

Following Cardinal Blase Cupich’s January 5th announcement of Pfleger’s removal from the parish pending the completion of an investigation, the parish has issued a pro-Pfleger statement each day—beginning on the day of the revelation itself.

“We believe that these accusations are unfounded,” the parish ‘cabinet’ said, “and we boldly stand behind the integrity passion, work and ministry of our Sr. Pastor.”

As many of his supporters have done in recent days, the cabinet went on to cite the length and strength ministry, quoting Luke 4:18 to drive the point home.

No mention was made concerning the possible victim.

The next day, however, Pfleger posted to social media asking for prayers for “the person”, noting that the archdiocese asked him “not to speak out at this time” but that his “life is more than a 40-year-old accusation”.

The parish sent out a notice the same day, making clear that they had no involvement with an upcoming pro-Pfleger rally outside St Sabina later that day and noting that interested parties should stay tuned to their website and social media.

Sure enough, yesterday brought a press release from the parish, noting that Pfleger’s “45 years of ministry speaks for itself”. Again, the issue of the individual who may have been harmed apparently did not merit attention.

What the statement did include, however, was a schedule of 5 “official events” in support of Pfleger—including two marches (the first of which is occurring tonight), a press conference, a prayer vigil, and a service event.

On social media, the church did not post the statement but did send out a graphic listing the upcoming events, as well as a hashtag (which appears to have only been used since by the parish's community center).

Reactions to the allegations among the public have been wide-ranging, with Pfleger’s most supportive voices coming from among those who admire his overarching ministry and ethos. His longtime critics, on the other hand, seem to be seizing the current moment in the way one might expect. And, of course, a great many onlookers are taking no side at all prior to the completion of an investigation.

With many priests—including friends of Pfleger—having been found guilty of abuse after decades of ministry, and with the reality that even credible allegations are sometimes difficult to prove, there indeed seems to be reason for extreme caution.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder of Black Catholic Messenger, a priesthood applicant with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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