Priests in the Society of Saint Pius X, commonly referred to as SSPX, have been transferred to new parishes after accusations of child sexual abuse. ”Andre”, who is an adult today, was abused at 11 years of age. The priest who molested him has continued to work with children for several decades.
“Shocking and irresponsible,” Andre says. “It’s a terrifying thought, really. How long will this travesty go on? This is a scandal that has gone on for 35 years. It’s completely repulsive.”
Andre grew up in a family with strong ties to SSPX. Nearly 30 years ago this extremely conservative congregation broke with the Catholic Church. The Pope responded by excommunicating the group. Not long after that, Andre met “Father P” for the first time.
“He showed me a lot of pipes in his office,” Andre says, then goes on to describe the first of the sexual assaults that went on for over a year.
“He made me sit on his lap, which became a regular thing. I was wearing Bermuda shorts that day, and he slid his hand along my thigh and touched my genitals.”
Andre told Father P’s superior what was going on, but nothing happened. Finally he wrote a letter to Father Schmidberger, who was the Superior General of SSPX at the time.
Father P 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.
“I thought he’d been gone for years, and when I saw the flyer it made me really angry. I went to my father and showed it to him, and asked, ‘What do you think of this? Do you think this is normal?’”
Andre wrote another letter to SSPX, which responded by sending out Father Niklaus Pfluger to investigate what happened. He met with Andre, who secretly recorded the meeting.
“It’s a clear confirmation. It states that on repeated occasions you touched children in an impure way, in your car and in your office,” Father Niklaus Pfluger reads out loud from a letter to Father P in the recorded meeting.
Pfluger brought along a whole file of accusations against Father P, including a stack of letters written in relation to the case. And not just Andre’s case – there was information about more victims that SSPX’s leadership was aware of.
“Unfortunately, children are already talking to one another, so your reputation is seriously at stake, as well as that of the priesthood’s”, Pfluger reads from a letter banning Father P from working with children. “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.”
During the recorded meeting, it became clear that two of SSPX’s highest leaders lifted the ban on separate occasions: first General Superior Schmidberger, and later General Superior Fellay.
“Once again, we made an exception, just like Father Schmidberger nine years earlier,” Pfluger says in the recording.
Found guilty in a church tribunal
When Andre realised how little SSPX had done to stop the priest who molested him, he turned to the Vatican.
“I collected a folder of materials, I wrote a letter and sent it all to the Vatican,” he says.
The Vatican reacted to the information, even though SSPX is not a formal part of the Catholic Church. The Vatican’s most powerful department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a document authorising the Society to hold a tribunal against Father P.
The tribunal found Father P guilty, but Andre was never allowed to read the judgement.
“No, but I know he was found guilty. There are several bans against him working with children. But of course, they’ve said that many times before.”
Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of SSPX in 2009. And the Society, which has over a half-million deeply faithful ultraconservative followers, has held discussions with the Vatican for many years to resolve the conflict and return to full communion with the Catholic Church. But the Society does not agree to an interview about Father P. Instead, they reply by e-mail that Father P left the priesthood in 2014 and joined a new movement: the “SSPX Resistance”.
SSPX states that they have passed along the accusations to his new organisation. But despite leaving the Society, Father P was welcomed to SSPX’s annual ordination of priests in Econe in Switzerland a year later. He participated in the procession and in the ceremonies, and held mass just like other SSPX priests.
Still works with children
The SSPX Resistance unites over 100 priests around the world. They quickly gained many followers in France. The Society’s priests hold mass regularly in about 20 locations. Uppdrag granskning found Father P in a rural community outside Bordeaux after a well-attended mass. The congregation consists of about 40 adults, 20 children and six choirboys. Four of the choirboys look to be about six or seven years old. And the priest clearly demonstrates that he doesn’t want to answer any questions.
“Go away, go away, there is nothing for you here. Get out of this building. Get out of here. This is private land! Go away!” Father P says.
Andre doesn’t want to give his real name out of concern for his job and his family.