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LOURDES, France (ChurchMilitant.com) - A self-admitted pedophile priest of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) fled his victim in an encounter in France.
In July, the victim, who goes by Claude, traveled to Lourdes with his wife to hand a letter to his abuser, Fr. Patrick Groche. Groche is a senior priest of the SSPX and an early collaborator with SSPX founder Abp. Marcel Lefebvre.
Groche was given charge of founding the mission in Gabon, Africa, where Lefebvre himself had served as a missionary priest of the Holy Ghost Fathers in the 1930s. The SSPX mission was founded in 1986 in the capital city of Libreville, with Groche reigning there as superior for nearly a quarter of a century.
During that time, Groche was known to have abused numerous young Gabonese boys. He lured them to his bedroom under various pretenses, and then sexually assaulted them.
"[H]e started touching my private parts," Claude recounted in Church Militant's Spotlight: SSPX—Black Trads Matter. "He caressed me all over and masturbated me."
The abuse continued for five years, in Libreville and also in a boys' academy run by the Society in France. He and other victims were too terrified to speak out.
"In Africa a white priest was at that time considered an envoy of God," Claude explained. "Our parents also respected him [Fr. Groche] greatly because he was the superior of the Mission of Libreville and very close to Abp. Marcel Lefebvre. It is for these reasons that I could not react."
Groche's abuse was an open secret among Society priests in the early 2000s. After multiple allegations of abuse, then-Superior General Bp. Bernard Fellay finally transferred him out of Gabon in 2008.
As was Fellay's usual practice, however, he never reported Groche to police. Instead, he reassigned him to a new district on another continent, with access to boys. It remains unknown whether Groche had more young victims in his later assignments.
As an adult, Claude reported Groche to the SSPX in 2019, leading to a confession of guilt from the priest.
The superior general, Fr. Davide Pagliarani, confined him to the Maison Saint-Ignace in Lourdes, France, in close proximity to the world-famous shrine. He imposed on Groche various conditions:
There is evidence, however, that these rules are not strictly implemented, and that Groche is free to come and go as he pleases, and also continues to hear confessions of children regularly and alone, unsupervised.
Shortly after Church Militant's Spotlight publicizing the abuse in Gabon — one among dozens of stories of SSPX abuse and cover-up — the SSPX Victims Collective was formed as an advocacy group on behalf of abuse victims of the Society.
The Collective wrote a letter addressed to Fr. Groche, which they hoped to hand deliver to him.
"You abused children and adolescents over a period from at least 1986 to 2008 at the St. Pius X Mission in Gabon, which you founded, and at St. Joseph Calasanz School," the letter began.
"You have affirmed a willingness to repent and the hope of divine forgiveness," it continued. "These assertions are worthless without concrete actions, which are essential to complement the measures and restrictions you are subject to."
"Therefore, we urge you to issue a personal statement, which will be read and posted at the Gabon mission," the letter asks. "In this statement, you will explicitly acknowledge the rapes, sexual assaults and abuses, both physical and psychological, of which you are the author."
It also urges the priest to "go to the nearest police station to report these acts, giving a complete list of your victims, including the first and last names of each of them."
"The victims are indeed at the heart of our action and our main motivation," the letter from the Collective states.
"Penance and contrition do not consist in taking refuge in a sanctuary," it continues. "It is therefore essential that you do what we demand in this letter, not only for the reparation of the victims, but also for the salvation of your soul."
On July 31, Claude and his family traveled to Lourdes, in southern France, to give the letter to Fr. Groche personally.
"When we went to Lourdes to see Fr. Groche, it was to tell him that he's a coward, that it's too easy to come and take refuge in a sanctuary," Claude told Church Militant. "He must go to the police on his own and confess to all his crimes."
"He must face his responsibilities, that he should be ashamed to continue to celebrate the Holy Mass with his soiled hands," he added.
Groche managed to escape the confrontation.
While the original plan was for Claude and the entire group from the Collective to confront Groche, they decided — because St. Ignace House is under video surveillance and their presence might alert the priest — that Claude's wife would first try entering the property.
"I saw priests, some in wheelchairs, as well as nuns," wrote Claude's wife in comments to Church Militant. "I held in my hand a missal and a Rosary; I was taken for a parishioner who was meditating."
While she did not see Groche immediately, she saw his supervisor, Fr. Pierre-Marie Laurençon, along with Bp. Tisseray de Mallerais, one of the bishops consecrated by Abp. Lefebvre in 1988.
A few moments later, she spotted Groche with Fr. François-Marie Chautard and a group of altar servers. In spite of being told in 2020 that Groche was suffering poor health and even dying from a terminal illness, he appeared energetic and in good spirits.
She was stunned: "Groche and he were laughing. I thought he was dying!!!! He was in great shape, no problem walking, he was laughing!"
"My mission was to give him the letter as calmly as possible so as not to panic him, which I did," she explained. "I just gave him the letter politely. Then I saw him head towards the chapel."
Claude and the rest of the crowd at the gate then entered to attend the 11 a.m. Mass in the chapel.
Mass began 15 minutes late. In the procession, they saw several priests, including Fr. Chautard, but missing was Fr. Groche and Fr. Laguérie. Claude and his wife left the chapel to look for Groche.
"We met the sister who was in charge of the gate," his wife explained, going on to note:
We did not tell her why we were here; we told her that Claude was the first altar server of the Gabon mission, that we came to see Fr. Groche but that we didn't see him during the entrance procession. We asked him how he was because we know he is very sick. The sister told us that she had been there for a few weeks and that she had no idea that Fr. Groche was ill and that if he was, he recovered very well. He serves Mass every morning.
The sister took down their phone number. Claude and his wife relayed the message that they would like to meet with the priest.
"Groche never called back and we wouldn't see him again," she said. "I myself sent two messages to Groche, and he did not answer me. Other people called him; he never answered."
Claude expressed frustration that he was unable to confront his abuser: "I was angry to see that he ran away after receiving the letter; it confirmed that he is a coward!"
#Gabon "Dans le sanctuaire des prêtres pédophiles" : c'est l'enquête du magazine @jeune_afrique publié mercredi. Des prêtres de la Fraternité Saint-Pie X se sont rendus coupables d'abus sexuels au Gabon sur des mineurs durant de nombreuses années. Enquête signée @MathieuOlivier pic.twitter.com/U5qphVVU94— Le journal Afrique TV5MONDE (@JTAtv5monde) October 3, 2022
Secular media outlets in Gabon and France have picked up Claude's story, giving voice to his and other victims' abuse at the hands of SSPX clergy. In an Oct. 3 broadcast on France's TV5Monde, Claude appeared on camera for the first time in his life to relay his account of abuse and his attempts to seek justice.
Church Militant contacted the SSPX Victims' Collective, whose spokesman, Benjamin Effa, explained the genesis and work of the group.
"For several years, various people who have suffered abuse within the SSPX, some of their relatives, and their friends, have been trying to make things happen in their corner, by calling on social networks, and launching calls for witnesses," Effa wrote. "At some point, these people end up talking to each other and realize that they have been in contact with each other at Fraternity schools in Europe."
"Hearing from other alumni, they realize that their stories are not isolated events but that they are not alone," he continued.
"This summer, the idea of a collective re-emerges," he explained. "To give more visibility and to allow those who are not yet ready to testify in the open to express themselves. By being more visible, we can gather testimonies in other places and try to put more pressure on the SSPX."
As Church Militant reported, the SSPX was the only priestly community in France to refuse to open its archives to investigators as part of a massive probe into clergy abuse, conducted from 2019–2022 by the Independent Commission on Sex Abuse in the Church (CIASE).
"With regard to the CIASE report, we are not surprised by the SSPX's refusal to open its archives," said Effa. "We had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Sauvé, the president of this commission, and to speak with him about the case of the SSPX."
He explained to us that he had met with the leaders of the Fraternity for the first time and that they welcomed him very well. If CIASE is interested in the SSPX, it means that the SSPX is recognized as Catholic. Then the commission asked for the archives to be opened, which was refused. This confirms something that many of us have noticed: the SSPX wants to be recognized as Catholic (it is!) but does not want to have responsibilities, obligations, and submission to the hierarchy that are linked to it. Rights without duties. We are obviously disappointed because, in addition to this refusal, the Fraternity is not part of the CRR (Commission for Recognition and Reparation). The victims of the Fraternity (in France or of French priests) cannot be recognized (and possibly compensated) even though they were victims within the Catholic Church.
As to the purpose of the Collective, Effa explained that "the goal is to reunite the victims."
"Together, we have more weight in front of the Fraternity and we can ally ourselves with other people," he explained.
It is the hope of the Collective to give a voice to victims and to help get predators removed.
"Finally, we want the SSPX to stop burying its head in the sand regarding sexual, psychological, physical and other abuse," Effa said. "It is intolerable that the predators are protected, hidden and that the victims are neglected."
The translated letter to Fr. Groche is published in full below: