With stories of the sexual misdeeds and the cover-ups perpetrated by modernist clergy an almost daily occurrence, it is easy to overlook the fact that the indulgence now being shown towards the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) by Church authorities can allow priests suspended from ministry on account of sexual immorality to function under the cover of quasi-legitimacy should they choose to associate themselves with the renegade organization.
This is not just a theoretical possibility. It is already happening in the case of Fr. James McLucas.
Ordained for the archdiocese of New York, McLucas has a history of bouncing around conservative Catholic circles without ever establishing a stable relationship with any particular organization. After time as chaplain at Christendom College and a period working with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, he returned to residence in his diocese, living privately, at times celebrating the Tridentine Mass at authorized locations and editing The Latin Mass magazine.
His editorship was marked by promotion of the more bizarre wing of "traditionalist" opinion, including publication of an article claiming that Pope Paul VI's encyclical reaffirming Church doctrine on the immorality of artificial birth control, Humanae Vitae, broke with established Church teaching on account of its failure to make explicit mention of the distinction between the primary and secondary ends of marriage.
In 2012, McLucas was sued by Maureen Nysewander, who alleged sexual and physical abuse by the priest between 2007 and 2009, when he acted as her counselor. McLucas claimed the statute of limitations had expired, and the suit was eventually settled out of court. Both parties signed a confidentiality agreement not to disclose the contents of the lawsuit, but court documents are available online.
His denial of the truth of the allegation was only technically correct. The initial accusation claimed that he had been having sexual encounters with a girl since she was 14 years old. Further investigation revealed that his relationship with the girl became sexual after she had passed the age of consent and had for several years received weekly spiritual counseling from McLucas intended to aid her in overcoming a grave psychological disorder.
McLucas' name appeared in the Aug. 14, 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report as among the 301 accused predator priests.
Suspended from his priestly functions by the archdiocese of New York, McLucas turned to the SSPX, with which he was working by October 2016. For a conservative clergyman guilty of sexual misbehavior to go off into a "traditionalist" apostolate of a disobedient or schismatic nature is not unusual, but those doing so have tended to established so-called "independent chapels" operating under no authority but their own.
Such was the case, for instance, with a certain Virgil Tetherow, who, like McLucas, went on a series of canonical wanderings, travelling from a Benedictine monastery to the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal to the establishment (under proper jurisdiction) of the now suppressed Servants Minor of Saint Francis before pleading guilty to possession of child pornography.
For a priest with McLucas' past to be accepted by the SSPX is more serious. Those actually aware of the existence of the "independent traditionalists" know that even the non-sordid among them are a group of oddballs. The size and coherence of the SSPX, the fact that Vatican documents have long maintained that attendance at its Masses is not intrinsically sinful, its ceaseless round of negotiations with the Holy See and the (perhaps unlikely) possibility that it may one day return to proper unity with the Church all give its clergy a significance that leaders of isolated chapels can never attain.
Basic vigilance on the part of the SSPX would by now have led the organization to cease its association with McLucas. To have accepted at face value his desire to join in its work without contacting his diocese to learn the facts of his case would have been irresponsible enough, but those facts have been public knowledge since August of 2018, when they appeared in several news reports.
In April 2019 his name was included in a list of accused priests published by the archdiocese of New York. Either the SSPX has failed to read over lists of priests suspended for sexual misconduct or it has dismissed the evidence. SSPX priest Nicholas Stamos informed me by phone on July 18 that McLucas is still participating in the organization's work.
The case does not seem to be an isolated one. Two years ago a Swedish news channel reported that sexual abuse by three SSPX priests and one lay volunteer had been covered up.
Making matters even worse is Pope Francis' grant to priests of the SSPX faculties to validly hear confessions and give absolution and, under certain conditions, to officiate at marriages. No mention is made as to whether or not the grant extends to renegade priests who work with the SSPX despite being canonically incardinated in a diocese or properly established clerical community (priests whom the SSPX does not consider to be among its formal membership), but at best the pope and officials of the Holy See are guilty of a serious oversight in not clearly excluding such clergyman. At worst the decision of the Holy See allows priests whose faculties were suspended in consequence of grave misdeeds to regain faculties by entering into formal disobedience.
7/23/2019: This article was updated to include information about the 2012 abuse lawsuit filed against Fr. McLucas.