Matt C. Abbott
Two accused priests and church politics
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By Matt C. Abbott
July 16, 2021

In January 2021, Father Michael Pfleger, known for his community activism and a frequent media presence, was temporarily removed from public ministry while the Archdiocese of Chicago investigated allegations by three men, two of whom are brothers, who said Pfleger sexually abused them many years ago. The accusers were never publicly named. Pfleger strongly denied the allegations.

In late May, the archdiocese announced that its Independent Review Board found “insufficient reason to suspect” Pfleger was guilty of abuse. He was subsequently reinstated to public ministry by Cardinal Blase Cupich, much to the delight of Pfleger’s parishioners and supporters. (Source)

I asked Pfleger in an email if he had any comment on his accusers, to which he replied: “Only that I forgive them and I am praying for them...”

In March 2018, Father C. Frank Phillips, CR, founder of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius – known for offering the traditional Latin Mass as well as Mass in the vernacular – was removed from public ministry by Cupich for alleged “improper conduct with adult men.” Coincidentally, in that case, there were also two brothers and a third man (unrelated to Pfleger’s accusers) who made the accusations, which Phillips strongly denied.

The Congregation of the Resurrection, the order to which Phillips belongs, formed an Independent Review Board to investigate.

In late June 2018, Phillips released a statement through his attorney, which included the following:

    Thank you to the members of the Review Board who spent hours listening to the accusers as well as individuals who gave testimony of the facts and on behalf of my character. I assure you I have done nothing that would scandalize the faithful.

    My prayers were answered when the Review Board returned its finding of no criminal violation, civil violation, or canonical violation in my case. The Review Board found me innocent of the accusations which I have vehemently denied. I am returning to serve God in any capacity under the direction of the Provincial of the Congregation of the Resurrection to build up the Kingdom of God.

    I want to express my appreciation and gratitude to all those who called me, sent me letters, made phone calls, and spoke publicly in my defense. To all those who supported me, please rest assured that I remember you daily in my prayers and my heart has swelled with knowing that you stood by me in the difficult times I have just experienced. I will always stand by you….

    I have heard there is a misunderstanding concerning my status. Currently, by decree of Cardinal Cupich my faculties are suspended only in the Archdiocese of Chicago. I am free to continue in my calling to serve God in all other geographical locations on the planet. Therefore, I will continue to say mass for you daily and petition for reconciliation with the Cardinal. (Source)

Interestingly, despite the findings of the Review Board, Cupich decided not to allow Phillips back into public ministry in the archdiocese. No specific reason for this was ever given publicly by the archdiocese. The Congregation of the Resurrection also did not give any specific reason as to why Cupich refused to reinstate Phillips, who, to my knowledge, was never publicly critical of Cupich, Pope Francis or the archdiocese.

Phillips subsequently left Chicago to reside with his order in St. Louis, where he remains to this day.

In a recent email to me, Phillips wrote that he’s “doing fine” and that “…for the present, I’m still in St. Louis, and for all practical purposes, I’m retired.”

I can’t help but think Church politics played a role in how these two priests’ situations were ultimately handled. How so? I’ll let the readers draw their own conclusions.

Is there justice in the Church today? Well, according to Stephen Brady of The Roman Catholic Faithful, the murdered Father Alfred Kunz told him no – and that was back in the 1990s. It’s not any better today, even if the corruption is far more apparent than it was 20-plus years ago.

God help us all.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 "Unsolved" podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He is mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)

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