CHICAGO (WLS) -- Father Michael Pfleger spoke candidly about his return to Saint Sabina Catholic Church after being cleared of sex abuse allegations and the months he spent away from his congregation and his ministry while those allegations were investigated.
"Yesterday was great. First of all, I was nervous because I haven't celebrated mass here in five months," Pfleger said. "But as soon as I was out that door and people just started clapping and shouting, and you know, I felt at home."
After five months away while the Archdiocese of Chicago investigated allegations of misconduct decades ago, Pfleger celebrated his first mass on Sunday after he was cleared of those accusations.
"I worked to say I'm going to forgive, I'm going to let it go, I'm going pray for them and all the others who were taking delight in this," Pfleger said regarding the allegations and his accusers.
Pfleger said he struggled with isolation, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. He shared his most vulnerable moments as part of what he said is a transparency to help others.
"Yeah, I'm depressed. Yeah, I feel abandoned. Yeah, I feel lonely. Yeah, I wonder if life is worth living. I wonder all these things, then process it, talk about it, vent it," Pfleger said. "Never let temporary situations determine eternal thinking about you and your life."
The Catholic priest who was appointed to the Auburn Gresham parish in 1981 acknowledged he was even mad at God for a time. When he was advised to not comment publicly during the investigation, he said he was overwhelmed by letters of support. He leaned on trusted friends and advisors, he journaled, listened to Dr. King's sermons and he had his 9-year-old cocker spaniel named Justice by his side.
"I don't regret anything," Pfleger said. "I'm not going to live my love differently than who I believe I am, because of the vulnerability it creates or the opportunity for someone to take advantage of that."
Even though his outspokenness has made him a target of criticism, hate, and even assault, Pfleger said he is fully focused on what's ahead, like vaccinating those who are hesitant and ending the violence that has claimed so many young people's lives.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can reach out to the National SuicidePrevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.