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Fresh scandal has engulfed the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX): A priest of nearly 30 years has been suspended for allegedly abusing at least 19 victims.
Father Pierre de Maillard was suspended earlier this summer and is serving out a period of "prayer and penance" in a retreat house in Montgardin in the French Alps, nicknamed the "Golden Prison" — a place where problem priests are sent.
It was featured in a 2017 Swedish documentary on SSPX sex crimes and cover-up. It was also featured in a French article in 2011, when it was first established, the SSPX being less than forthright about its purpose.
"They told me that they were going to welcome about 10 priests," said Montgardin Mayor Roger Mamo. "I understood that it was a contemplative house. They seemed nice to me at first, but I don't know more."
The SSPX failed to inform locals they would actually be housing credibly accused sexual predators.
The SSPX has suffered a devastating string of bad press this year, from both Catholic and secular media in the United States and abroad, kicked off by Church Militant's groundbreaking exposé in April revealing a wideranging criminal investigation of the SSPX in Kansas for sex abuse and cover-up.
Reports showed a pattern of failing to report abusers to police, sending them away to do brief stints of "prayer and penance" in remote locations (including Montgardin) before reinstating them to active ministry, where they often went on to abuse again — a pattern followed by dioceses in the United States and all over the world, first exposed on a major scale by Boston Globe's Spotlight team in 2002, leading to a national reckoning on sex abuse in the Catholic Church in America.
While the SSPX has been in existence since the 1970s, its own sex abuse problem has largely flown under the radar. A couple of foreign sites — including the Stop Pedos Trad site and Le Livre Noir de la FSSPX ("The Black Book of the SSPX") — did pioneering work to first expose sex abuse and corruption in the Society, leading to enough consternation in Europe that Bp. Fellay threatened to sue the Stop Pedos site — using one of Iceland's largest and most expensive law firms.
"Good faithful trads,'" the website authors wrote in a post exposing how much money Fellay was spending to shut down their site, "when you deprive yourself in order to give 100 francs (or 100€, it doesn't matter) 'for a good seminar' or 'for a good Catholic school,' know that this money will go up in smoke in an instant to handsomely pay lawyers who try to hush up the denunciation of pedophiles and the superiors who protect them."
Both websites are invaluable resources recounting cases of abuse and cover-up, compiled by firsthand witnesses and victims of SSPX clergy, and are worth further examination by investigative journalists. While the Stop Pedos site is now defunct, the archived version is still available. The Black Book has the original 2016 version as well as an updated 2019 version.
The SSPX was forced to face its first major reckoning this year after Church Militant's international investigation exposing corruption and cover-up in the highest ranks of the Society, which led to numerous public statements downplaying abuse (some of which have been removed from their site) as well as the establishment of an "independent review board" in the U.S. district to review claims of abuse. While the SSPX has been asked to publish the names of those on the review board in the interest of transparency, it has yet to do so.
In July, victims and their parents went to Fr. Laurent Ramé, Maillard's former superior at Our Lady of the Rosary priory in Saint-Germain-de-Prinçay, Vendée, to report the abuse. In all, Ramé learned of at least 19 alleged victims — all minors, including both boys and girls.
In light of Church Militant's numerous exposés on SSPX mishandling of abuse allegations, Ramé bucked protocol and chose not to go to French district headquarters first (as mandated by Society guidelines) and instead went to law enforcement (the brigade de gendarmerie in Chantonnay), which immediately launched an investigation. Afterwards Ramé informed district headquarters in Suresnes, just outside Paris.
The matter already in police hands, Superior General Davide Pagliarani had little choice but to suspend Maillard, sending him to Montgardin while French officials investigate the criminal allegations.
Contrast the Maillard case with another recent SSPX sex scandal that has outraged local Catholics for its grievous mishandling — that of Fr. Guillaume d'Orsanne.
D'Orsanne was accused by a former student in 2017 of child sex abuse, accusations made known to then-superior general Bp. Bernard Fellay and his assistant, Fr. Alain-Marc Nély. His local superior, Fr. Christian Bouchacourt, refused to take any action against him.
Bouchacourt is now assistant to the current SSPX superior general, Fr. Pagliarani.
Fellay left the priest at his assignment at l'École Sainte-Marie in Saint-Malo, in northwest France. Thus d'Orsanne (who has denied the allegation) continued in his post at the SSPX school for nearly two years, with full access to children — with leadership's knowledge and approval.
After a brief reassignment at French district headquarters in Suresnes, d'Orsanne was moved just this summer to the well-known Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet in Paris, a church swarming with children. Church Militant has learned the parents of the alleged victim are outraged. A fuller exposé of this recent scandal is forthcoming.
With regard to Maillard, Church Militant contacted local police to confirm the investigation, but received no response. It is protocol for French police not to respond to media queries during an active criminal investigation.
Church Militant also sent queries to SSPX headquarters in Menzingen, Switzerland, asking leadership to confirm that Maillard has been suspended over allegations of pedophilia, what they plan on doing with him during the investigation and also asking whether they knew of prior allegations of abuse and how they handled them. In spite of the Society's recent pledges of "transparency," leadership has failed to respond.
It's believed Maillard's abuse took place at multiple assignments over the years, which included schools and chapels where he offered catechism lessons for children — including in the Vendée, the region where Maillard was reportedly raised and which helped shape his views of the world: very much an "us against them" mentality, according to one of Maillard's former parishioners.
The Vendée was the site of the heroic Catholic uprising against the atheistic, freemasonic Reign of Terror during the 18th-century French Revolution, which ended up wiping out around 15% of the local population — referred to as a French "genocide."
Local Catholics, particularly in the countryside, tend to be "very observant, very docile to priests, very secretive," according to the former parishioner, who asked not to be named in order to protect his family, which has suffered sex abuse at the hands of the SSPX. "They don't really like to do anything with outsiders."
"The teaching staff still had this very strong Vendéan spirit of 'Everything that isn't us, everything that isn't really, really conservative Catholic, and everything that isn't royalist ... is alien and should be discouraged,'" he noted, going on to say Maillard "certainly has that spirit."
"He's very entitled," he went on. "He has an aristocratic background. ... He believes that people owe him."
Like most abusers, Maillard would target the vulnerable "working class," he explained, "because he knows they're very docile towards the priests and towards most aristocratic society — because they most likely wouldn't believe their kids, or they would not complain."
"Or he would say, hand on heart, because he was their social superior — because God made him an aristocrat and not a peasant — it is their responsibility to satisfy his needs," he said. "He has that very archaic worldview."
Maillard was born in France on July 31, 1967, and was ordained a priest on June 29, 1993 in Écône, Switzerland. In a tragic twist of irony, he was assigned to Brussels to be successor to pedophile priest Fr. Philippe Peignot, found guilty in 2014 by an SSPX canonical tribunal of child sex abuse.
Peignot's case is particularly egregious because two superiors general — Fr. Franz Schmidberger and Bp. Bernard Fellay — lifted a ban on Peignot that had prohibited him from being around children. Peignot had abused five boys from 1985–1987, his most famous victim Vincent Lambert, the quadriplegic who became a central figure in the end-of-life debate in France.
It was in fact Peignot's abuse that led Lambert on a downward spiral of drinking and drugs, culminating in the drunk driving accident that landed him in the hospital with a broken back.
Peignot's crimes were never reported to police by his superiors. Instead, he was sent to Lourdes to do a year of "prayer and penance" before being returned to priestly ministry, where he abused again.
It would take the Vatican ordering the SSPX in 2013 to initiate a canonical trial against Peignot that would lead to his exit from the Society. He sought refuge in Bp. Richard Williamson's Resistance, where the pederast priest ministers to this day, with free access to boys.
Some years later, another pedophile priest, Fr. Frédéric Abbet, would be assigned to live in the Brussels priory under the same roof as young boys whom he would go on to abuse — thanks to Bp. Fellay once again ignoring a ban forbidding Abbet from being around children.
Thus the SSPX Brussels priory bears the distinction of having housed at least three pedophile priests.
Maillard left Brussels in 1997, sent to L'étoile du matin academy in Eguelshardt, in Lorraine, France, where he worked with children until his next assignment in Conflans-Ste-Honorine, a chapel served by the priory of Mantes-la-Jolie, near Paris. There he was placed in charge of catechism lessons to children and teens.
Before his stint in Brussels, Maillard was reportedly ill and seeking prayers after being diagnosed with testicular cancer.
In 2004 he was assigned to the Nantes SSPX priory, where he lived for six years. In 2010, he was tasked with inaugurating the new priory in St.-Germain de Prinçay along with Fr. Ramé. Maillard remained there until last year, when he was sent to a priory in Gastines, in northwestern France.
At the request of the French bishops in 2018, an independent government commission was established in France specifically to look into cases of Church sex abuse. The Commission Indépendante sur les Abus Sexuels dans l'Eglise (CIASE) is currently digging into diocesan secret archives, collecting people's testimony, gathering evidence and preparing a significant report of clerical sex abuse in France over the past 70 years. It will include recommendations to the French bishops on how to protect children and handle claims of abuse.
In addition to cases throughout the Church in France, the commission is looking specifically at cases in the SSPX, involving clergy or laity. Church Militant has confirmed that several SSPX victims have already submitted their testimony to the CIASE.
The CIASE is actively soliciting testimonies from victims and witnesses. The deadline to be included in its 2021 report is Oct. 31, 2020. Individuals can contact the commission at email@example.com, or by dialing U.S. country code (011)+33-1 80 52 33 55. Testimonies can also be physically mailed to Service CIASE, BP 30132 - 75525 Paris cedex 11, France.
10/15/2020: An earlier version of this story listed 15 victims. Church Militant has since learned Maillard is being charged with assaulting 19 victims.