Father Benoît Wailliez, a priest of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), recently circulated a written defense justifying his behavior in the face of Church Militant's Spotlight investigation showing he endangered children by allowing a pedophile priest access to boys he abused under Wailliez's watch.
Wailliez makes a number of claims easily countered by the facts — among them, his gratuitous slur against Church Militant calling us "gutter media" that "doesn't care about victims but only cares about 'scoops.'"
The two families of the victims — the Peeters and the Webers — who first went public in our Spotlight, strongly object to this slur. In fact, Viktoria Weber (whose two sons Richard and Edmond were abused by Fr. Abbet) calls Wailliez a "dangerous coward" whose conduct more appropriately fits the description "gutter."
"I do not recognize Church Militant by this 'gutter' characterization," wrote Weber. "It rather fits your behavior. ... Please stop playing the innocent and ignorant one. ... You consciously took the risk for granted, children becoming victims, over and over again."
The relative of a victim of Fr. Philippe Peignot, whose story Church Militant covered in the article "SSPX Gave Pedophile Repeated Access to Boys," also weighed in:
So CM doesn't care about victims ... but SSPX does, is that right??? Unbelievable! While the SSPX says it stands by the victims, Church Militant ACTS in support of the victims. Actions speak louder than words. Honestly, I was out of my mind when reading this under Fr. Wailliez's pen. Given what we know about his actions, how does he dare to lecture you about helping victims?! He'd better take a low profile and shut his big mouth. He's in no position to speak about supporting victims!
By contrast, Michael Voris personally knows the Webers and feels strongly about their sons, and Christine has included an appeal to contact the prosecutor's office in [Fr. Peignot's victim's] case, and the Fully [Switzerland] authorities in the Peeters' and Weber's case. Yet they were under no obligation to do so. By contrast, Fr. Wailliez was under an obligation to help the victims and he failed them.
Abbet came to the Brussels SSPX priory in 2006 on order of then-superior general Bp. Bernard Fellay, living under the same roof as Our Lady of Holy Hope School, where several boys were then boarding.
The Brussels SSPX compound consists of three contiguous houses connected by a common hallway on two levels (effectively three houses merged into one), with a shared courtyard. Once someone enters the compound, it's essentially impossible to keep him from entering any other house within the compound. Thus, Abbet had direct and easy access to the boys' dorm by simply walking from his door through a short corridor and up the stairs to the boys' sleeping quarters — which he did throughout the years of 2010-11, abusing boys in the night.
The transfer by Fellay was in direct violation of a 10-year ban on Abbet from being around children, imposed by an SSPX tribunal only two months earlier.
While the tribunal had acquitted Abbet of sex abuse based on lack of sufficient evidence (it was the alleged victim's word against the priest's), it was not a declaration of innocence; the court decree explicitly stated that "there remains the suspicion of a crime," leading to a number of restrictions imposed on Abbet, including, most significantly, a decade-long prohibition on Abbet being around children.
Fellay violated the prohibition within two months, relying on the assurance of two psychologists who (wrongly) diagnosed Abbet as not having pedophilic tendencies.
The canonical court ruling did not say the superior general was free to lift restrictions based on the word of psychologists, whether two or 200. The court had imposed a ban on being around children for a decade, with no exceptions. In short, Fellay abused his power and violated the ecclesiastical court's order.
Fellay claims he was unaware at the time that the Brussels priory had an adjoining boarding school, but this is hardly believable. Boys had been boarding there since at least 1999 — fully seven years before Fellay assigned Abbet to live there. And Fellay traveled to Brussels and stayed at that very priory, thus making him aware of the school.
Granting Fellay the benefit of the doubt and taking him at his word that he did not know, this still does not exonerate him; it was the superior general's job to do the requisite research before transferring an accused pedophile to a new assignment. Fellay failed to do so.
Fellay also understood the demands of Wailliez's job and that it would have been impossible to supervise Abbet. Wailliez was district superior of the BeNeLux region (which combines Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg), which would have required frequent travel between Brussels, Antwerp and the Netherlands, with lengthy absences from the Brussels priory. His work made it impossible to supervise Abbet. Fellay knew this, yet he assigned Abbet to live there anyway.
The fact that Fellay clearly failed to take Abbet's case seriously led to the grievous injuries suffered by several boys in Brussels. Thus Fellay's criminal negligence (along with that of Fr. Jürgen Wegner and Wailliez) can be blamed for these young boys' abuse.
A 2017 letter from SSPX Secretary Fr. Christian Thouvenot confirms that Fr. Wailliez had been made aware of the ban on Abbet when Wailliez became prior of the Brussels chapel in August 2008.
Wailliez claims he was unaware of the underlying reasons for the ban — but the ban speaks for itself. Abbet was forbidden to be around children. Such restrictions wouldn't be imposed unless Abbet were a danger to kids. This is what in common parlance is known as a "no-brainer." Wailliez's attempt to reduce his culpability on this score falls flat.
Wailliez also appears to congratulate himself for moving Abbet from a bedroom below the boys' dorm (where he had been living during Fr. Jürgen Wegner's time, in direct violation of the ban) to the priest's quarters down the hall.
While on its face this move appears commendable, if Wailliez had had integrity and conviction and true care for the children in his charge, he would've called up Fellay and insisted that Abbet be assigned in a remote priory, miles away from children, rather than merely moving him a few yards away, which ultimately proved worthless in preventing abuse.
It also appears that Abbet continued to use the bedroom beneath the boys' dorm into 2011. According to Viktoria Weber, when she went to the school to gather her son Richard's belongings, as they had withdrawn from the school, she asked her son where Abbet had abused him. Richard pointed to that very room beneath the boys' dorm, which included an office with an attached bedroom. The boys had always referred to it as "Abbet's room."
A handful of parents slept in quarters on the same floor as the boys' dorm — but the reason they did not know about Abbet's abuse (which took place at night, while they were sleeping) is because Abbet was permitted to erect a brick wall cutting off the boys' dorm from the parents' quarters and the rest of the rooms.
Abbet began construction of the wall around the summer break of 2010, and reportedly paid for the construction himself. Everyone at the priory was aware of the construction, as it took some time and of course involved noise, dust and all the regular interference involved in construction work.
Wailliez has never explained why he permitted Abbet to build this wall, nor did Abbet provide a satisfactory reason as to why the wall was needed.
It was only after the abuse was discovered in April 2011 that parents realized the purpose of the wall was to cut off the parents' direct access to their children at night in order for Abbet to abuse them freely and undiscovered.
Again, this can be laid at the feet of Wailliez's negligence, who failed to exercise supervision over his own priest.
One of the most damning indictments against Wailliez is the fact that he put Abbet in charge of catechism lessons for children at the SSPX chapel in Namur, 44 miles away from Brussels — again, in direct violation of the ban imposed on Abbet from working with children. Wailliez, of course, never mentions this fact while he's busy defending his conduct. But this is consistent with his track record, according to the victims' families, in which he only offered information when he had to and never volunteered it on his own.
Worse, when Abbet's abuse came to light in April 2011, the parents of the abuse victims asked Wailliez to inform the parents in Namur and conduct an investigation there to ensure the priest had not harmed children in that chapel. Wailliez said parents would be informed and an investigation conducted — but parents in Namur later confirmed this was never done. They were kept entirely in the dark about the pedophile who had been teaching their children.
Parents eventually learned by word of mouth about the abuse in Brussels. This incident so shocked and outraged the Namur community that it led to a mass defection from the SSPX to the Resistance (led by Bp. Richard Williamson). The move only confirmed their long-running distrust of Fellay, whom they believe not only sold out to Rome but also deceived them with regard to this case of horrific sex abuse.
In a strange twist, after joining the Resistance, parents asked for a new priest to be sent to teach their children. The priest sent was none other than Fr. Philippe Peignot, newly joined to the Resistance after an SSPX canonical tribunal found him guilty himself of sexually abusing young boys. After the Namur community found out about Peignot's background, they had him dismissed from their chapel.
Wailliez appears to congratulate himself for going to police as soon as he learned of Abbet's abuse in April 2011, without being told by the victims' parents. But Weber counters that the reason parents did not ask is because during their April 7, 2011 meeting with Wailliez, he told them at the start of the meeting he'd go to police. Thus, there was no reason to ask, as he had already assured him he would do so.
Besides, reporting the crime to Belgian authorities was required by law and the minimum expectation of any individual in this situation. For Wailliez to hold this forth as if it were a laudatory thing rather than the minimum basic requirement in the case of child sex abuse is revealing.
Worse, based on Wailliez's recent written defense, there's the possibility that Wailliez may never have gone to police at all if Fellay had not told him to go. Thus, without his superior general's order, he may never have even met this bare moral and legal minimum.
Wailliez claims he flew all the way from Sri Lanka to testify at the appeal in 2017, with Fellay's permission, as if he is to be congratulated for this — while leaving out the significant detail that he withheld key information and evidence from authorities for six years.
In fact, Wailliez was mocked in court by attorneys for Fr. Abbet and for the Peeters for suddenly growing a conscience and deciding to testify. If Wailliez's behavior had been as upstanding as he seems to insist, the lawyers would have warmly thanked him for his cooperation, rather than mocking him for finally deciding to testify — six years after the fact.
Regardless of Wailliez's protestations, it remains the case that the prosecutor thundered in the courtroom: "The SSPX should've been put on trial!" and not just Abbet.
It remains the case that the panel of judges accused the SSPX of "criminogenic behavior," meaning fostering pathologically criminal conduct by repeatedly endangering children.
And it remains the case that three European victims' rights groups issued a joint statement harshly condemning the SSPX and contradicting the SSPX's claims that it "cooperated with authorities." (Full statement available here)
Wailliez obtained audio recordings of Fr. Abbet from April 7, 2011, in the immediate aftermath of the abuse allegations. During that meeting Abbet made significant admissions:
Father Wailliez was questioned no fewer than six times by police during the pre-trial investigation in the Abbet case. Not once during did he mention the incriminating audio recordings. Nor did he mention Abbet's prior abuse allegations in Switzerland and the 10-year ban imposed on the priest. He withheld both crucial information and key evidence for six years.
The Peeters also informed Church Militant that Wailliez was initially hesitant to bring forward the audio recordings, and in fact made up excuses not to do so, claiming at one point he could not come to court because he had a prior engagement (a retreat or something similar). The Peeters were so outraged and frustrated that they wrote him a strongly worded letter demanding that he appear in court on the next available date.
The Peeters also asked Wailliez whether he was stalling because he'd been forbidden to come to court by Fellay.
Wailliez eventually brought the recordings to court.
In comments to Church Militant, Florence Peeters said, "I think he had to choose between the truth and obedience to Fellay."
Learn more about the case of Fr. Abbet by watching Spotlight: 'He's a Good Liar.'