PLATTE CITY, Mo. (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a historic first, the U.S. district of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is establishing an independent review board to review allegations of sex abuse committed by its clergy, following Church Militant's groundbreaking documentary exposing decades of abuse and cover-up by SSPX priests and bishops.
"As much as the SSPX wants to prevent abuse from happening in the future, it cannot neglect extending its assistance to those who are already victims," the statement reads. "The Society has been learning about the extent of this evil for years and have been in contact with the survivors of abuse."
Father Jurgen Wegner, district superior, is creating the permanent review board, which will be made up of "a married couple, a civil lawyer, a doctor and a canonist priest," the statement adding, "We reserve the right to include others on a temporary or permanent basis."
The review board will help assess allegations, assist alleged victims and help in civil or canonical procedures. It remains unclear whether the SSPX will publish the names of review board members; doing so would grant the public the ability to review the true independence of each member and whether conflicts of interest exist.
This action comes less than two weeks after Church Militant aired its April 22 Spotlight investigation, a first-of-its kind exposé on the Society detailing numerous cases of clerical sex abuse covered up by men in the highest ranks of leadership, including superiors general. The report provoked strong and polarized reactions, some supporters insisting the Society would sue Church Militant for defamation.
Instead of a lawsuit for libel, however, the SSPX's announcement of an independent review board includes an explicit admission that its clergy have sexually abused victims.
Considering the string of public statements released in quick succession days after the Spotlight aired April 22 and which were systematically removed without explanation, it remains to be seen how long this statement will remain up on the site.
The first statement, now deleted, promised the Society would respond with detailed, point-by-point responses to each abuse case featured in the Spotlight, but such responses have yet to materialize. It prompted Church Militant to respond with our own statement detailing the indisputable facts of multiple abuse cases, including a number of recent ones.
A second statement included an apology to victims and promised greater transparency — but vanished from the website within a few days.
A third statement on the SSPX's Facebook page acknowledging the Society had been inundated with emails, phone calls and messages from people demanding transparency, as well as admitting that victims had contacted the SSPX with new allegations, was also removed after several days.
Finally, a statement posted on the St. Thomas More Priory's website, which falsely claimed Fr. Pierre Duverger is not under criminal investigation and also falsely claimed an internal investigation had exonerated him, also disappeared.
The Society has not responded to queries from Church Militant or others explaining why these statements have been taken down.
Church Militant's Spotlight was followed by a series of written investigative reports explaining in greater detail some of the cases featured in the documentary — including the case of convicted pederast Fr. Frédéric Abbet, sentenced to prison in 2017 for abusing boys at the Society's L'École de Notre Dame academy in Brussels.
Abbet came to Brussels with a known history of abuse allegations and a 10-year ban on being around children — a ban that was violated by then-Superior General Bp. Bernard Fellay within two months, assigning him to live under the same roof as young boys, whom he went on to abuse.
This was followed by criminal negligence by then-district superior of the BeNeLux region, Fr. Jurgen Wegner (now U.S. district superior), who left the known pederast unsupervised for long periods of time.
Father Benoît Wailliez, prior of the Brussels chapel, was also complicit, placing Abbet in charge of the boys dorm, where he sexually assaulted at least three young victims.
Church Militant also reported on the case of convicted pedophile Peter Palmeri, a longtime parishioner and employee at St. Mary's in Kansas, headquarters of Angelus Press, the official publishing arm of the SSPX. Palmeri had abused his daughter for seven years, but when she and her then-fiancé Kyle White went to SSPX clergy for help, they were told not to report the abuse to police, even warned they would be committing a "mortal sin" if they did so.
Palmeri is now serving a 10-year prison sentence for his crimes.
More recently, Church Militant reported never-before-published details of the case of Fr. Philippe Peignot and his abuse of at least seven young victims. In spite of his known track record of abuse, both Superiors General Franz Schmidberger and Bernard Fellay lifted the ban on Peignot, allowing him to work with children and lead boy scout camps. Various districts superior of France also allowed the accused pedophile to work with boys, endangering their spiritual, emotional and psychological welfare.
Detailed reports on more cases are forthcoming.