In response to James Baresel's July 24 article titled "Is the SSPX Sheltering a Sexual Predator?" published on Church Militant, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) has issued a response accusing Church Militant of "slanderous" information about the priest in question.
The subject involves Fr. James McLucas, a diocesan priest whom the SSPX admits "occasionally helps the Society of Saint Pius X."
McLucas was sued in 2012 by a young woman, Maureen Nysewander, who alleged he took sexual advantage of her when she was seeking counseling from him for a serious eating disorder and self-esteem problems.
In spite of the SSPX's defense of this priest, McLucas has never denied that he engaged in sexual relations with her.
In fact, Cdl. Timothy Dolan of the archdiocese of New York, where McLucas formerly served, acknowledged as much in an August 2018 statement:
Fr. James McLucas was alleged to have sexually abused a 14 year old girl. However, we have an affidavit from the woman involved who states that a sexual relationship did not begin until she was in her 20's and in college. This does not excuse the behavior in any way, which is unquestionably and categorically wrong, but it is not a case of abuse of a minor. McLucas has not had an assignment since this came to our attention.
Although the sex took place when she was a young adult, he had been counseling her since the age of 14, gaining her trust during that time and presenting himself as a father figure whom she turned to for help for psychological problems she was suffering.
The fact that the SSPX deliberately leaves out mention of this in its "rebuttal" is profoundly dishonest.
The SSPX claims: "As no civil or canonical proceedings have ever found Fr. McLucas guilty, nor has he ever been charged with any crime, these accusations are profoundly defamatory."
This disingenuous statement relies on legal technicalities to exonerate McLucas.
A 2012 lawsuit filed by the woman in question, Maureen Nysewander, alleging sexual and physical abuse, ended in a settlement out of court before trial could begin. Thus the case was never tried on the merits.
Rather, McLucas' attorneys argued that Nysewander's claims were barred by the statute of limitations. When the court failed to dismiss the case based on that argument, McLucas chose to settle the lawsuit out of court instead of go to trial.
Settlements are typically the way sex abuse lawsuits are handled by dioceses, which are loath to take cases to trial, opening themselves up to the onerous discovery process, which involves depositions, witness testimony, gathering evidence, etc.. These can often be more incriminating for the defendant and can also result in much larger financial awards for the victim.
To avoid this possibility, dioceses often settle lawsuits and agree to pay the accuser a sum, while requiring that the victim sign a confidentiality agreement forbidding any public discussion of the case. This is what happened in McLucas' case. The documents, however, are freely available online on the New York court system website.
It's true that McLucas was never charged with the crime of abusing a minor, because the sexual activity took place when Nysewander was an adult. This was the reason for his objection to being named in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which only dealt with abuse of minors, not adults.
That does not absolve McLucas of the serious moral and ethical violations of breaching his fiduciary duty as a counselor, not to mention as a Catholic priest, taking sexual advantage of a young woman in his charge when she was emotionally and psychologically vulnerable. By any accounts, this is the behavior of a sexual predator.
According to the 2012 lawsuit, McLucas offered Nysewander counseling beginning at the age of 14 when she was suffering from a serious eating disorder and other self-esteem problems. Their counseling sessions continued on a weekly basis for years, increasing to every other day, and eventually every day by phone. In return for counseling, her parents offered McLucas donations.
In 2007, when Nysewander was 21, while McLucas was still offering her daily counseling sessions by phone, the priest allegedly confessed romantic feelings for her and persuaded her to get involved in a sexual relationship.
He reportedly told her, "I am a priest and I would tell you if it was not right," and "the church rejected me so I am free to have sexual relations." Believing him as a priest, as her counselor and as an authority figure, she began engaging in sexual relations with him in 2007, continuing through 2009.
The lawsuit states that McLucas convinced her parents to fly her to New York in 2007 to visit him for counseling. In spite of telling her parents she'd be staying at his home with his mother, he reportedly took her to the Marriott Hotel in Poughkeepsie, where he spent five days engaging in sexual relations with her "as he convinced her it was therapeutic."
While she was a student at St. Anselm College, McLucas reportedly visited her on a weekly basis and engaged in physical relations with her.
He continued to attempt to engage in sex with Nysewander up until 2011, when Nysewander cut off the relationship and sought counseling from a different therapist, realizing that he had taken advantage or her when she was in a vulnerable state.
Church Militant confirmed with the U.S. District headquarters of the FSSP that McLucas was an associate member (but never a priest) of the FSSP in 2000, when he began counseling the 14-year-old Nysewander. McLucas left that same year and the FSSP maintained no contact with him afterward.
According to a statement by Nancy LaRoza, administrative assistant at FSSP U.S. District headquarters, "Fr. McLucas was only temporarily incorporated ad annum with the FSSP from 1997 to March of 2000, with the permission of the Archdiocese of New York. He left in March 2000 and has had no association with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter since then."
In 2007, when the abuse began, the FSSP had no contact with McLucas and did not know of his whereabouts.
Although the 2012 lawsuit by Nysewander names the FSSP as a defendant, the court eventually removed the FSSP as a defendant and the organization was not held liable for McLucas' abuse.
McLucas is also forbidden to minister as a priest in the archdiocese of New York and the diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The SSPX, however, has been content to welcome him.
James Baresal noted in his article, "SSPX priest Nicholas Stamos informed me by phone on July 18 that McLucas is still participating in the organization's work."
The SSPX asserts in its response, "Neither Fr. Stamos nor anyone at the latter priory ever heard from Church Militant. Is this Catholic journalism?"
Baresel is not employed by Church Militant, but submitted a single article for publication as a freelance writer. It was Baresel reaching out in his private capacity as a freelancer — and not as an agent of Church Militant — that he spoke with Fr. Stamos. Thus the SSPX's claim that they had not heard directly "from Church Militant" is at a minimum erroneous, if not disingenuous.
The SSPX goes on to compare Church Militant's report on McLucas to our coverage of the case of Fr. Eduard Perrone, recently placed on a leave of absence based on a single 40-year-old allegation of abuse that arose through a "repressed memory."
The cases are not remotely alike. McLucas has never denied the allegations in question, namely having sex with a young woman he had been counseling from a young age. Father Perrone, on the other hand, has categorically denied the abuse allegation and has never admitted to engaging in any physical or inappropriate relations ever as a priest, nor has he ever been the subject of a sex abuse lawsuit, nor is there any evidence he has engaged in any inappropriate behavior with anyone before or during his priesthood.
This is not the first time the SSPX has been accused of protecting sexual predators. Several cases involve abuse cover-up by members of the SSPX, including two that directly implicate former superior general Bp. Bernard Fellay.
A 2017 report from Swedish media shows Fellay lifted a ban on a priest who was eventually found guilty of abusing a minor.
According to the victim, "Andre," who grew up in a family "with strong ties to the SSPX," he was first introduced to Fr. Philippe Peignot at age 11.
"He made me sit on his lap, which became a regular thing," said Andre. "I was wearing Bermuda shorts that day, and he slid his hand along my thigh and touched my genitals."
The abuse continued for a year, even though Andre informed the priest's superior. Nothing was done, so he wrote to Fr. Schmidberger, then superior general of the SSPX.
According to the report:
Father [Peignot] was moved to a new congregation after that letter. No police report was ever submitted, but Andre and his family were assured that Father P would never work with children or young people again. But twelve years after being molested, Andre saw an invitation to a scout camp led by Father P.
Outraged that his molester was allowed to work with children, Andre wrote to the SSPX, which sent Fr. Niklaus Pfluger to investigate.
Andre preserved a secret audio recording of his meeting with Pfluger, who admits in the meeting not only that Peignot had been banned from working with children, but that on two separate occasions, Schmidburger and later Fellay lifted the ban.
"Unfortunately, children are already talking to one another, so your reputation is seriously at stake, as well as that of the priesthood's," read Pfluger from the letter to Peignot. "For this reason I have no choice but to confirm the decision set down in the letter dated 25 May, that I ban you from all apostolates, especially with young people."
That ban, as Pfluger admitted, had been lifted by Fellay.
"Once again, we made an exception, just like Father Schmidberger nine years earlier," Pfluger admits in the audio recording.
The SSPX even allowed Peignot to help lead a pilgrimage to Turkey in 2008.
After Andre took his complaint to the Vatican, the Vatican authorized the SSPX to begin a canonical trial against Peignot, which found him guilty of sex abuse.
Father Peignot left the SSPX in 2014 to join the SSPX Resistance, where he continues to offer the sacraments. Even so, the SSPX has welcomed Peignot to its events, allowing him to attend the SSPX's annual priestly ordination in Econe, Switzerland in 2016, where he took part in the procession and Mass along with other SSPX priests.
Another case involves Kevin Sloniker, given life in prison after he was found guilty of abusing seven boys aged 8–14 over the span of 10 years. The abuse took place while Sloniker served as youth camp counselor at the SSPX's Immaculate Conception Church in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho.
Police reports reveal that, in spite of being told of Sloniker's behavior, SSPX leadership failed to act against the predator. One young victim even informed SSPX priests that he had been stripped naked and whipped by Sloniker, but the SSPX failed to remove Sloniker's access to children.
In 2017, Fr. Christophe Roisnel was sentenced to 19 years in prison for rape and torture of three women. The women had been teachers at the same SSPX school that Roisnel ran, Notre-Dame de la Sablonnière, in Goussonville (Yvelines).
The victims accused him of sexually assaulting them during exorcisms, where he claimed he could "overcome evil with evil." His ploy was to get them to relive the trauma of past sexual assaults by experiencing them again through him, in order to "overcome them."
Charged and imprisoned in 2014, his sentence was increased from 16 to 19 years in 2017.
Roisnel himself admitted to engaging in sex with the women, but claimed it was "consensual."
A previous SSPX trial had found Roisnel guilty of rape, but instead of reporting him to law enforcement, Roisnel was hidden away in a Capuchin monastery in Burgundy, where he was ordered to do two years of prayer and penance before he could be restored to active ministry.
All of this was done with the knowledge and approval of then-Superior General Bp. Fellay.
The police found Roisnel at the monastery in 2014 and arrested him.
As is the case with so many bishops today, Fellay seemed more concerned with protecting the image and reputation of the SSPX than protecting victims.
In spite of the SSPX's claims that it is "committed to protecting all minors and vulnerable adults," its track record in these cases indicates the opposite. The fact that it would deliberately leave out incriminating facts about Fr. McLucas' case in an attempt to deflect blame is even more troubling, and denotes disingenuousness and dishonesty on the part of the SSPX.
In response to the SSPX's demand that Church Militant "retract its scandalous article," Church Militant stands by the report and will do no such thing, noting that the only scandal here is the SSPX's continued defense of a sexual predator.
7/25/2019: This article was updated with information on Fr. Christophe Roisnel.
7/26/2019: This article was updated to include more information about the FSSP.