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The latest statement by the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) — the third so far since Church Militant released a first-of-its-kind exposé detailing the decades of abuse and cover-up in its ranks — again fails to offer a detailed refutation of any abuse case our investigation revealed.
While there is a great deal to be criticized in the statement, we note in particular the SSPX's claim that our exposé reports on several abuse cases in Europe "mostly using truncated accounts taken from newspapers or blogs."
The Society should take note that Church Militant is in direct contact with victims and witnesses in Europe, as well as other parts of the world, and thus our reliance is directly from the sources, rather than from accounts derived merely "from newspapers or blogs."
Contrary to the SSPX's attempt to paint this and other European cases of SSPX abuse and cover-up as no more than a "media trial" by Church Militant, there was an actual trial in Belgium where the prosecutor in court not only publicly accused the SSPX of complicity in endangering and harming children, he insisted the Society itself should've been put on trial.
"The Society of St. Pius X should have been in the dock [tried in court]," argued Prosecutor Stéphane Lempereur on the final day of trial of now-convicted pederast Fr. Frédéric Abbet, SSPX in 2017, sentenced to prison for abusing boys at the Society's L'École de Notre Dame academy in Brussels in 2010–2011.
"Their responsibility is frighteningly significant," he said. "We can't always be covering up matters and allowing a predator around children."
According to a 2017 Brussels report, "The entire file has shown heavy dysfunction within the Society of St. Pius X."
The most damning indictment came against SSPX priest Fr. Benoît Wailliez, then-prior of the SSPX chapel where Abbet lived — under the same roof as the SSPX school. Taped audio recordings from six years prior were produced in court, with Wailliez called as witness, revealing that Wailliez had been made aware of Abbet's predilection for boys at the time, but failed to take any steps to keep him away from children.
Wailliez was excoriated for withholding the audio evidence, which would have supported the victims' claims, in his attempt to hide his own complicity.
The audio recordings include incriminating statements made by Abbet, in which he told Wailliez, in discussing the 2005/06 allegations, "I went to see Bishop Fellay. Ever since that 2006 affair, it's as if it had triggered in me ... er ... I have temptations."
Elsewhere in the taped conversation, he made what appeared to be a confession about his abuse of three young boys at the Brussels academy: "Some things might have happened."
According to the mother of one of the boys abused by Abbet, who spoke directly with Church Militant, Wailliez actually placed Abbet in charge of the boys' dorms — not only giving him full and complete access to the students, but also giving him authority over them, a role he would use to take sexual advantage of victims as young as six.
Even worse, Abbet came to Brussels with a known history of abuse allegations and a 10-year ban on being around children — a ban that was almost immediately violated by then-Superior General Bp. Bernard Fellay.
An SSPX tribunal in Switzerland had tried Abbet in ecclesiastical court in 2006 for abuse allegations arising from a boys camp he ran in Valais some years earlier, as well as abuse charges from Abbet's time in Argentina. The tribunal was the result of the SSPX convincing the distraught parents of the victim not to go to media, promising they would "handle" the matter.
Instead, the canonical court set up what critics have called a show trial that ended up acquitting Abbet — but it was not a declaration of innocence: The ecclesiastical judge imposed a 10-year-ban on Abbet from being around children, abjuring then-Superior General Bp. Bernard Fellay not to allow Abbet around children under any circumstances for at least a decade.
What did Fellay do? Within two months of that decree, Fellay announced the assignment of Abbet to the Brussels priory — within the same compound and under the same roof as the SSPX academy, with an interior corridor linking Abbet's living quarters to the boys' dorms, which he would use to sneak into the students' beds and abuse them.
"In 2006, [Abbet] had been canonically tried for the events of 2005 in Switzerland and, despite his acquittal, the ecclesiastical judge had ordered the Superior General, Bp. Fellay, to place him 'during the said 10-year period in posts of apostolate which would keep him from all promiscuity cum pueris and adulescentibus ["with children and adolescents"]'" (canonical judgment of June 6, 2006)," according to a joint statement published by three European victims' rights groups.
"Two months later, Bp. Fellay assigned Frédéric Abbet in Brussels under the same roof as the school," it notes.
The new assigment was announced in August, to take effect in September, Fellay sending Abbet to live at Rue de la concorde in Brussels, a facility that combines the headquarters of the BeNeLux district (Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg), the local Brussels priory and the boarding school (Notre-Dame de la Sainte Espérance).
His immediate assignment after the canonical decree is evidenced in a Sept. 3, 2006 letter written by then-prior Fr. Jurgen Wegner (now the U.S. district superior) announcing the imminent arrival of Fr. Abbet to the community.
"Our patience has been rewarded!" writes Wegner, announcing the new priest in Brussels. "This will relieve me somewhat, allowing me to visit more frequently the other priories and chapels in the district."
Father Jurgen Wegner's complicity in Abbet's abuse cannot be ignored. District superior of the BeNeLux region and prior of the Brussels chapel at the time, Wegner was made aware of Abbet's track record beforehand and was told to exercise oversight over the priest.
In spite of this, Wegner allowed Abbet to hear children's confessions from day one, often leaving Abbet alone while Wegner traveled for various duties and assignments.
Such criminal negligence by the SSPX so shocked victims' rights groups that three jointly published a statement condemning the Society for its handling of the Abbet case.
Contrary to the SSPX's claim that it "fully cooperated with authorities" in the Abbet case — a claim made as recently as days ago in its second statement in response to Church Militant (a statement that has since been taken down) — its track record was one of stonewalling and putting up "roadblocks" during trial:
When the families of the Belgian victims learned from other sources of [Fr. Abbet's] onerous past, the SSPX set up roadblocks in various ways: by first refusing to put them in contact with the Swiss victim or even to give them his identity, then requiring them to go through a lawyer specially hired for this purpose — a lawyer of a very particular kind: a parishioner of the Geneva chapel of the SSPX, he behaved more like a devoté of Bp. Fellay than a lawyer, treating the Belgian families with extreme contempt and systematically obstructing their contact with the Swiss victim. We do not see cooperation with justice there.
The final court judgment also condemns the role of the SSPX in Abbet's access to children, the panel of judges accusing the SSPX of fostering "criminogenic" behavior (a term meaning the promotion of repeated criminality).
"In their judgment, the appellate judges described this contact with children as 'criminogenic' (La Capitale article, 14.XII.2017)," the statement notes. "It is therefore only by carefully suppressing the opinions of four magistrates, the King's prosecutor and three judges that the Society of St. Pius X manages to give itself the appearance of having taken proper action."
Church Militant has since learned that Abbet requested to serve out his prison sentence in Switzerland rather than in Belgium, a request granted by the court — but instead of spending a single day in prison, Abbet is wandering freely in the town of Fully, in southern Switzerland, having fled Belgium before his conviction was handed down.
On questioning the SSPX, they informed the victims' families that Abbet has been expelled from its ranks, but offered no insight as to his whereabouts.
Ever since our Spotlight exposé, not only has Church Militant been inundated with public and private messages of support, but more victims have contacted us revealing even further allegations of abuse and cover-up. These victims have thanked us profusely for finally giving them a voice, and plead with us to continue exposing the abuse and cover-up which has been allowed to fester hidden within the ranks of the Society for too long.
We are committed to doing so.
The Society itself admits it has been inundated with calls, emails, messages demanding accountability, and that new allegations have surfaced against the SSPX. In a Facebook post on the SSPX Facebook page (a post that was removed without explanation Wednesday), a note reads:
"Since Friday, the U.S. District has received a voluminous number of e-mails, phone calls, and social media posts regarding its commitment to transparency, including additional information regarding allegations of abuse," reads the post. "[T]he U.S. District is working through the information it has in order to verify its reliability while also cooperating with the appropriate legal authorities to verify which cases the District can comment on at this time."
One family member of a European victim of SSPX clergy wrote to Church Militant:
The SSPX's old game of Divides Ut Regnas ["Divide and Conquer"] is up now: It doesn't work anymore. The victims know how to use the internet and intercontinental telecoms. Victims and their relatives throughout the world are finally making contact (it's a premiere) and, as the national motto of Belgium says, L'union fait la force — which basically means the same as your country's national motto Ex unitate vires ["From unity strength"].
To this day SSPX leadership has yet to acknowledge the role it played in endangering children, whether by Fellay's immediate violation of the SSPX ecclesiastical court's own ban on Abbet, or by Wegner's actions immediately allowing Abbet to hear children's confessions and his failure to supervise the priest, or by Wailliez's withholding of incriminating evidence for six years. Instead, the Society repeats the empty boilerplate it has always asserted since the 2017 conviction: "The SSPX cooperated fully with the authorities."
The Jan. 10, 2018 statement by three victims' rights groups regarding the Fr. Abbet case is published in full here (Church Militant working translation):
After the recent conviction on appeal (December 13) of the traditionalist priest Frédéric Abbet for acts of pedophilia in Belgium, the SSPX (Society of St. Pius X) published a press release in which it congratulates itself for its role in this case. AVREF (Aide aux Victimes des dérives de mouvements Religieux en Europe et à leurs Familles), the association La Parole Libérée and the Swiss SAPEC group (Support for Abused Persons in a Relationship of Religious Authority) wish to recall a few of the documented facts.
In his indictment, the Advocate General strangled the Society of St. Pius X, going so far as to say it "should have been in the dock" (article in "The Last Hour," 24.X.2017). Let us recall that, if the SSPX provided evidence allowing the conviction of Fr. Frédéric Abbet, it was only between the first trial and the appeal that it took this step. During the investigation, it withheld information, hiding the fact that Frédéric Abbet had been implicated in Valais since 2005 for similar facts. AVREF has convincing documents on this subject.
When the families of the Belgian victims learned from other sources of this onerous past, the SSPX set up roadblocks in various ways: by first refusing to put them in contact with the Swiss victim or even to give them his identity, then requiring them to go through a lawyer specially hired for this purpose — a lawyer of a very particular kind: a parishioner of the Geneva chapel of the SSPX, he behaved more like a devoté of Bp. Fellay than a lawyer, treating the Belgian families with extreme contempt and systematically obstructing their contact with the Swiss victim. We do not see cooperation with justice there.
On the contrary, the Congregation of Écône [SSPX seminary in Switzerland] has been questioned, and it must be, for having placed Fr. Frédéric Abbet under the same roof as his Brussels boarding school, when the Society itself suspected him of abuse following this 2005 case. In their judgment, the appellate judges described this contact with children as "criminogenic" ["fostering or promoting repeated criminality"] (La Capitale article, 14.XII.2017). It is therefore only by carefully suppressing the opinions of four magistrates, the King's prosecutor and three judges that the Society of St. Pius X manages to give itself the appearance of having taken proper action.
The signatory associations also note the marked negligence of Fr. Benoît Wailliez, who was specifically and urgently warned by a student's mother of the risk of pedophilia on the part of Frédéric Abbet and who took absolutely no action. AVREF has a copy of this statement. Also remember that Fr. Benoît Wailliez waited six years to produce important evidence during an appeal hearing.
Finally, the signatory associations note that the question is not only that Fr. Frédéric Abbet was prohibited from being in contact with children for 10 years. In 2006, he had been canonically tried for the events of 2005 in Switzerland and, despite his acquittal, the ecclesiastical judge had ordered the Superior General, Bp. Fellay, to place him "during the said 10-year period in posts of apostolate which would keep him from all promiscuity cum pueris and adulescentibus ["with children and adolescents"]" (canonical judgment of June 6, 2006). Two months later, Bp. Fellay assigned Frédéric Abbet in Brussels under the same roof as the school.
Now, the Society of St. Pius X is preparing to canonically judge Fr. Frédéric Abbet for the second time, this time with a mandate from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Are the Vatican authorities aware that they are administering justice on their behalf by a bishop who has trampled on a canonical judgment whose ink was barely dry? How can we trust such "justice"? It is time for the Roman authorities to understand that they risk further offending the victims and destroying the credibility of what they present as their "fight" against sexual abuse.
In any event, AVREF, La parole libéré and the SAPEC Group stand by the victims and their families to advise them, either psychologically or in canonical or civil procedures. After this weighty questioning of the SSPX, it is inevitable it will assume its responsibilities, criminal and civil.
AVREF recalls that it dealt with the Frédéric Abbet case in its "SSPX Black Book" ["Le Livre Noir de la Fraternité Sacerdotale Saint-Pie X"] and announces that it will publish an augmented version of this Black Book in early 2018.
January 10, 2018
The SSPX Black Book presents in itself (in the words of U.S. District Spokesman James Vogel) a "gold mine" of abuse allegations, worthy of further investigation by any intrepid journalists willing to dig.