CHICAGO (WLS) -- Retired Chicago priest Father George Clements, a veritable rock star in the Catholic church, now faces an accusation of sexually abusing a minor in the 1970s.
"Father Clements is an icon in Chicago," said Father Michael Pfleger. "He's the one that made black Catholics proud to be black Catholics."
Clements is an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, having marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Chicago, Alabama and Mississippi, and was arrested. He was also a powerful advocate against drugs.
"He's like a second father to me," said Collins Brown, Jr.
Clements was also the first Catholic priest to become more than a spiritual father, but also a legal father by adopting children.
Cardinal Blase Cupich has asked Clements, 87, "to step aside from ministry" pending the outcome of the investigation into the sex abuse claim, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The archdiocese said the alleged abuse occurred in 1974 during Clements' 22-year tenure as pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Bronzeville.
The Chicago Police Department learned of the complaint in June and has been working on it since then; police notified the Archdiocese in the last week or two, CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. The investigation is ongoing and Clements remains a person of interest, according to Guglielmi.
The archdiocese, in turn, alerted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and Cook County State's Attorney's Office.
"In keeping with our child protection policies, the allegation was reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. The person making the allegation has been offered the services of the archdiocese's Office of Assistance Ministry," the statement also said.
Clements told the Chicago Sun-Times the accusation is "totally unfounded" and that archdiocese has not yet notified him of the allegation.
"Here I am, 87 years old, and I don't know what this is all about or anything," Clements said. "Certainly, the cardinal has not said one word to me about this."
"For whoever is doing this to him, they need to pray and knock it off 'cause it's not true," said Leroy Ledbetter, parishioner of Holy Angels Church.
"I don't know anything about it. I'm not here to take sides," Pfleger said. "When anybody accuses anybody it's a real issue and important issue. I was just shocked and I was sad."
"What kind of damage is that going to do to his soul, he's not a young man," Brown, Jr., said.
Clements said the "atmosphere here today is so toxic. The overwhelming majority of priests have to wake up each morning wondering, 'Is this the morning that someone is going to accuse me of something negative?'"
Clements served as pastor of Holy Angels from 1969 until 1991. He retired in 2006. Clements also worked in the ministries at St. Ambrose Parish in Kenwood, St. Dorothy Parish in Greater Grand Crossing, St. Sabina Parish in Auburn Gresham, as well as ministries in Washington, D.C., and the Bahamas.
The archdiocese said since his retirement, Clements has assisted at various parishes in the area. Pastors at those churches have been notified of the investigation.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.
Retired priest George Clements accused of sex abuse in 1970s