In December 2020, Bp. Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan published a “plea for fairness in SSPX abuse allegations” in LifesiteNews. Bishop Schneider is widely known and respected for his public stands in defense of the Faith, and LifesiteNews is an influential media outlet among Catholics. His plea is liable to have some effect in casting doubt on the truthfulness or gravity of allegations about sexual abuse by priests of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). Because this plea is an exercise in deception, a response to it is imperative.
The subject of Bp. Schneider’s article is the accusations made by a number of sources about the SSPX’s actions in connection with sexual abuse. He never says what specific allegations he is discussing. Anyone who assumes that Bp. Schneider intends to give a fair and objective evaluation of the accusations made against the SSPX would find it odd that he never identifies the sources that his remarks are aimed at. What is the point of criticizing nameless voices? Such criticism cannot be properly evaluated by his audience, if he does not identify whom it is aimed at.
If Bp. Schneider were attempting a fair and objective discussion, this would be an inexplicable and fatal flaw. But it is a valuable if commonplace manoeuvre in deception and propaganda. If one attempts to rebut one of his criticisms by pointing out that it does not apply to a given accusation, he can reply that he did not have that particular accusation in mind, but some other one. As long as he does not state which accusations he does have in mind, this tactic is always open to him.
It is a valuable if commonplace manoeuvre in deception and propaganda.
However, anyone who has some familiarity with this issue will know that although stories about SSPX involvement in sexual abuse have been published in many media outlets, the most prominent accusations against the SSPX in Catholic circles have been made by Church Militant. His statements will thus naturally be understood by his audience as applying to the stories that Church Militant has published on this topic. He will know that this is the case; after all, he published his article in LifesiteNews, shortly after that media organization engaged in a dispute with Church Militant about the accusations that have been made concerning the SSPX and sexual abuse. So the stories published by Church Militant about the SSPX are the target of his article.
Bishop Schneider’s article, like most effective attempts at deception, does not contain any straightforward lies. Instead, it uses the tried and true methods of suggesting falsehood and suppressing truth.
The suppression of truth is straightforward and complete. It consists in the fact that not a single concrete accusation against the SSPX is mentioned in Bp. Schneider’s article, let alone refuted. This suppression is necessary for his task of deception. Giving the details of even one of the most serious accusations against the SSPX would alert readers to the facts that there is substance to the accusations made by Church Militant, and that the SSPX is a corrupt organization.
The case of Fr. Frédéric Abbet illustrates this point. In 2006, Fr. Abbet was found to have molested a number of boys. A SSPX tribunal acquitted him in the face of the evidence, but nonetheless ordered that he not be permitted to be around children for 10 years. Two months after this order, Bp. Bernard Fellay, then-superior of the SSPX, placed Fr. Abbet in a priory attached to a boys’ school in Belgium, where he inevitably molested more boys. When the Belgian authorities placed Abbet on trial, the SSPX paid for his high-powered and expensive lawyer and concealed evidence of Abbet’s crimes from the civil authorities. Abbet was convicted, but fled Belgium before he was jailed. He was only imprisoned because Church Militant discovered that he was living freely in Switzerland, and informed the Swiss and Belgian authorities of his evasion of justice.
Similar stories can be told about Fr. Pierre de Maillard, Fr. Pierre Duverger, Fr. Philippe Peignot and Fr. Ramon Angles. The SSPX not only protected all these priests from exposure and prosecution for criminal sexual abuse, but knowingly provided them with opportunites to commit further abuse.
Bishop Schneider’s suggestions of falsehood are found in the following passages:
- “One could get the impression that the SSPX would be the only Catholic religious organization that had to respond to such accusations.”
This implies that Church Militant has restricted itself to criticizing the SSPX for its protection of sexual abusers and cover-up of sexual abuse, and has not published stories about other dioceses or religious orders that have committed these crimes. In fact, Church Militant has conducted extensive investigations on the sexual abuse crimes of Cdl. Theodore McCarrick, the late Cdl. Joseph Bernardin, the Third Order Regular Franciscan Friars and the dioceses of Buffalo, Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Harrisburg, Altoona-Johnstown, Saginaw, Richmond and New York, among others.
- “It is difficult to simply dismiss the impression that some of the accusations were conducted in a biased manner.”
This is an evasive way of saying the accusations were conducted in a biased manner. Why say this? No reason is given. The reader is supposed to trust Bp. Schneider’s assertion about bias, and since he is a well-respected figure, this trust is likely to be extended to him. Since there are a large number of accusations against the SSPX, the qualification “some” makes it virtually impossible to respond to this statement in an effective way. It is practical to show that one or two accusations were based on solid evidence, such as eyewitness accounts, SSPX documents, court judgments and so on, and that the SSPX was asked to reply to the accusations but declined to do so. But this is open to the response: Well, the particular accusation you describe may not be biased, but it is not typical of the accusations you make. You have chosen an uncharacterisic example of a reasonable accusation. Every religious society is going to have some real offenders, and you have picked a case where the accused in undoubtedly guilty in order to show that you are not biased.
Anyone who does not feel antipathy and anger towards the SSPX in these circumstances is morally and psychologically defective.
In order to rebut this defense, it is necessary to go through most or all of the accusations that have been made, and demonstrate that in each case the accusation has been supported by solid grounds. But this requires effectively repeating all the content of the stories that Bp. Schneider is criticizing. The bishop’s article is not aimed at readers who are willing to carefully examine all this content; it is aimed at the great majority of LifesiteNews readers who will take him at his word and will go no farther in examining the evidence. As a result, they will never be confronted by the interviews with adult victims of abuse, the emails and letters between SSPX priests, the court verdicts and the recorded confessions of guilty SSPX priests that form the basis of the Church Militant reports.
- “It is part of fundamental justice and logic that religious communities or dioceses cannot be held responsible for the atrocities which their members or employees committed after they had been separated or dismissed from these communities.”
This suggests that the accusations made by Church Militant are about crimes committed by members or employees of the SSPX after the criminals had left the Society or its employ. This is false. Virtually all the crimes reported by Church Militant were committed by priests when they belonged to the Society, and were covered up by the SSPX while the priests continued in ministry. Some of the worst criminals identified by Church Militant, such as Fr. Ramon Angles, remain priests in good standing with the Society.
Nor is it true that “fundamental justice” requires that “religious communities or dioceses cannot be held responsible for the atrocities which their members or employees committed after they had been separated or dismissed from these communities.” It is common knowledge that sex offenders continue to commit abuse until they are forced to stop. A religious community that identifies sex offenders in its midst has a duty to assist in bringing these criminals to justice, both so that they will answer for the crimes they have already committed and so that they will be prevented from committing crimes in the future.
If such a religious community does not report offenders in its midst to the police, it continues to be responsible for the crimes they commit after they leave or are expelled from the community. It is also responsible for these crimes if it fails to inform the later employers of the offender about the risk he poses after he leaves or is expelled by the community. The SSPX’s repeated failures in this regard are a matter of policy.
It should also be remembered that there are two groups of criminals involved in sexual abuse: the abusers themselves, and the leaders of the community who conceal and lie about their crimes, intimidate witnesses and victims and frustrate investigation by law enforcement. The departure or expulsion of the abusers from the community does not mean the second group of criminals has been dealt with. This second group can and must be held to account for their crimes, even after the abusers themselves have left or been convicted. In the case of the SSPX, none of the leadership has been held to account for actions that enabled pedophiles to commit criminal sexual abuse of an extreme kind.
- “This coming to terms with the past must not be used to unleash additional personal antipathies against a certain Church superior or against a certain religious community.”
This implies that “personal antipathies ” or “additional personal antipathies,” rather than just anger or concern for the victims of sexual abuse, are the motivation for the accusations made by Church Militant against the SSPX. It also implies that the accusations are targeted at the past and are not about the present. This is only a valid criticism if the accusations against the SSPX are not in fact well-supported and true. Since they are, in fact, true, personal antipathy to the SSPX is called for by the situation. Anyone who does not feel antipathy and anger towards the SSPX in these circumstances is morally and psychologically defective. The failure to express or even to accept such feelings is one of the worst aspects of Bp. Schneider’s lamentable and sordid production.
Dr. John R. T. Lamont is a Canadian philosopher and theologian. He studied at the Dominican College in Ottawa and Oxford University, and has taught philosophy and theology in Catholic seminaries. He is the author of a number of scholarly papers and of the book Divine Faith.
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