Archdiocese of Chicago Pressured to End Investigation into Popular Priest Accused of Abuse
Allegations against a popular Chicago priest who has been accused twice of child sexual abuse took a unique turn this week as parish administrators publicly announced that they will withhold monthly payments to the local archdiocese until the investigation into the accused cleric is completed. This is a clear attempt to prematurely end an investigation by bargaining with what the institutional Catholic Church seems to us to hold most dear – its money.
In the era of #MeToo in which more and more stories are becoming public about the prevalence of institutional sexual abuse and the barriers that survivors face when reporting their assault, it is sad to see such an outpouring of support for the accused at the expense of the alleged victims. We can empathize with the supporters of Fr. Michael Pfleger, but all they are doing is making things harder for other victims to come forward and muddying the waters of this case. Simply put, the investigation into the allegations against Fr. Pfleger should only be concerned with uncovering the facts, not with adhering to an arbitrary timeline demanded by the supporters of the accused.
Not once in our collective, institutional memory has a parish offered to withhold payments to their diocese in support of a clerical abuse victim, whether in Chicagoland or elsewhere. Even the egregious local case of serial pedophile Daniel McCormack did not evoke anywhere close to the level of support for his survivors like that which is being shown for Fr. Pfleger. It is hard to miss the fact that all it took was for two black men to accuse a popular white priest of abuse for a parish to rise up, defend the accused, and repudiate the survivors.
Another critical element of this situation is the misinformation and misunderstanding of the process. Catholic officials at the Archdiocese of Chicago for some reason apparently chose only to report the allegations against Fr. Pfleger to the Illinois Department of Family and Child Services and the Cook County State’s Attorney. Why the matter was not referred to local police is a question for the Archdiocese, but the news that DCFS finished its “investigation” into Fr. Pfleger surely has further riled up his supporters.
It is important to understand that DCFS does not have the ability nor the mandate to investigate historical cases of sexual abuse. They exist to investigate the risk of harm to today’s children, not to determine whether harm occurred in the past. That is a job for the police, and we believe that Catholic officials in Chicago should have sent the allegations to local law enforcement, not an overworked and understaffed agency that is working every day to intervene in cases of ongoing abuse.
The fact is, only three people know the truth about what happened: the priest and the two accusers. Sexual abuse investigations are not popularity contests or political votes. We hope that the victims in this case are getting the support and comfort they need during this challenging time and we also hope that the investigation into their claims will rest on facts and process, not pressure from parishioners.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)