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Kansas investigating sexual abuse claims in breakaway Society of St. Pius X

By Matt Hadro for CNA

International Seminary of Saint Pius X, in Écône, Switzerland. (Credit: DICI/wikimedia. CC BY SA 4.0)

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 20, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is under investigation in Kansas, amid allegations that members of the group perpetrated or covered up clerical sex abuse in the state.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) confirmed to CNA on Monday that it is examining clergy abuse allegations made against the group, as part of its investigation into the four Kansas Catholic dioceses. The SSPX is not overseen by any diocese in Kansas, or elsewhere, because of its irregular status in the Church.

A breakaway traditionalist group, the SSPX was founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970. When Lefebvre and Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer consecrated four bishops without the permission of St. John Paul II in 1988, the bishops involved were excommunicated.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of the surviving bishops, while noting that “doctrinal questions obviously remain and until they are clarified the Society has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry.”

The group has been in intermittent talks with the Vatican about returning to full communion with the Church. In 2015, Pope Francis extended the faculty to hear confession to priests of the society as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

In the group’s U.S. district, however, a number of abuse allegations have surfaced in relation to the large SSPX community at St. Mary’s, Kansas, which includes the society’s K-12 school.

In its ongoing investigation of Catholic clergy abuse in Kansas, a KBI spokeswoman said the bureau has received 186 reports of abuse and had opened 112 investigations. She did not indicate how many relate directly to the SSPX.

Jassy Jacas told CNA that her family had been involved with the SSPX since she was eight years old; she attended the Society’s St. Mary’s Academy and College, volunteering in the “tight-knit” community of St. Mary’s.

She told CNA she met with a priest of the society, Fr. Pierre Duverger, in Kansas City and in St. Mary’s in late 2013 and early 2014, to talk about serial sexual abuse committed against her by a family member while she was a child.  When she met with the priest, a decade had passed since the abuse, and Jacas was 22 years old.

Jaces said Fr. Duverger soon began asking her sexually explicit questions that made her uncomfortable, and reportedly asked her to email him details of the abuse that had occurred, along with her sexual thoughts and temptations. He instructed her to text or call him, “especially in times of temptation.”

“I want to help you understand sin,” he reportedly told her.

Eventually, he told her he was going to visit his mother in France, Jacas said. The priest did not respond to her subsequent attempts to reach him.

Jacas said that in early 2018, she met a Catholic therapist who recognized Fr. Duverger’s name. Jacas was put in touch with another alleged victim of the priest. Jacas said the other victim was allegedly instructed by Fr. Duverger to perform a sexual act while he watched via Facetime.

Jacas submitted a report documenting her concerns to the Society, and contacted Fr. Gerald Beck, assistant to the U.S. district superior for the SSPX. She said she met with Fr. Beck in April 2018.

She says she was told during that meeting that Duverger was already under some restrictions due to another situation of “imprudence” with a woman, and that an investigation of him would be likely. According to Jacas, Beck told her that he would talk about her case with two other priests in the SSPX.

After she waited for weeks to hear from Beck, Jacas said she contacted him again; he reportedly reassured her that he took her claims seriously, and that Duverger “had little contact with the faithful” and was in poor health.

Nevertheless, Jacas said she learned in November 2019 that Duverger was serving as principal of St. Thomas More Academy in Sanford, Florida. She also knew that he had led a Christ the King procession at St. Mary’s in Kansas.

Jacas eventually met with U.S. district superior Fr. Jürgen Wegner in December, and presented her concerns about Fr. Duverger. She said she was told that no investigation of Duverger had been conducted, only that the priest had been giving “apostolic restrictions” — prohibited from hearing the confessions of women or giving them spiritual direction. Fr. Wegner told her he would travel to Florida to see for himself if anything else could be done at the school to protect children.

After that meeting, Jacas saw a flyer at the SSPX chapel in St. Mary’s, advertising a pilgrimage in France led by Fr. Duverger. “It hit me then that the restrictions were not as severe as Fr Wegner led me to believe,” she told CNA. Jacas took a picture of the flyer and sent it to Fr. Wegner.

She said she also saw pictures on Facebook of Duverger at camps for children. She contacted friends in Florida who told her that Fr. Duverger worked with an all-female faculty at a school and had contact with children, playing with them at recess, going for walks with them, and hosting them in his office.

In January 2020, Jacas sent Fr. Davide Pagliarani, superior general of the SSPX, her email exchanges with the SSPX priests and told him that no investigation had been conducted of Fr. Duverger. She said she was told by his secretary in response that “he [Pagliarani] measures your sorrow, however, the decision is still Fr. Wegner’s.”

Jacas said that, meanwhile, Fr. Wegner told her he did not have power to remove Duverger from his position. She said she would go public with her story.

On Jan. 19, she posted her story on Facebook. Jacas said that communications staff for the SSPX contacted her family before she made the post, trying to reach her, expressing sympathy for her yet attempting to dissuade her from posting her story publicly.

After she posted her story, Jacas said she has heard from other alleged victims with “different situations, all over the states.” She also learned of the KBI investigation into the SSPX, and she reached out to agents at the bureau. She said she was told a half dozen agents were part of the investigation in Kansas, as of May 1.

On May 19, Durverger is still listed on SSPX websites as principal of St. Thomas More Academy.

Abuse allegations made against the SSPX were reported by the website Church Militant on April 22. Some accusations reported by the site had initially been reported by Fidelity Magazine in the 1990s, or in other publications.

The site said it had spoken with Fr. John Rizzo, FSSP–formerly an SSPX priest–as well as Theresa Gonzalez and Kyle White who claimed an immediate relation to victims of SSPX priests. The site also suggested that in addition to sexual abuse or misconduct, priests of the SSPX had caused harm to marriages or families through manipulative behavior.

On May 17, the Kansas City Star reported that the KBI was examining claims made by a number of other alleged victims of society priests. According to the newspaper, the SSPX was working with law enforcement officials to provide documentation requested in the investigation.

An April 28 communique of the SSPX U.S. district stated in response to the Church Militant report that the Society “is committed to transparency,” and that “[j]ustice is dispensed impartially and according to the rules of law, not before a ‘media court’ that exclusively investigates charges and distils its information with the aim of dividing or destroying, and by multiplying false and malicious insinuations.”

The Church Militant articles “mix and match real facts with false or unbelievable accusations, in an abhorrent manner,” the SSPX stated, noting that it had put a “protection plan” in place for abuse victims.

“The society deeply regrets that some of its members may have engaged in serious misconduct and, in the worst cases, criminal or delinquent behavior,” the communique stated, noting that the society could exercise various punitive tools through canonical procedures.

These punishments could include “deprivation of office, times of probation and penance, restrictions or prohibitions of apostolate, suspension a divinis, reduction ad missam, resignation or dismissal, and even laicization, if necessary.”

“For the most serious cases, which could constitute crimes or felonies, it collaborates with the civil authorities, either by warning them or by sharing the elements in its possession,” the SSPX stated.

The SSPX said it “has experienced several cases of false accusations by unbalanced or self-seeking persons.”

Because the Society of St. Pius X is not in full communion with the Catholic Church, its administrative governance is not overseen by diocesan bishops, Vatican offices, or any authorities outside its own hierarchical structure.

The group has announced it will form an independent review board that will include “a married couple, a civil lawyer, a doctor, and a canonist priest.” Further details have not yet been forthcoming.

The SSPX has not yet responded to requests from CNA for comment.

The Archdiocese of Kansas-City, in which St. Mary’s is located, declined to comment on questions from CNA.


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9 Comments

  1. SSPX is a breakaway from what exactly? The Church? If they are a breakaway group from the Church how is it possible that a group outside the Church can have canonical faculties to hear confession and officiate weddings as canon law only applies to Catholics. Try a little harder to hide your opinions next time you right an news report if you want to be a credible journalist.

    • Joseph,
      I don’t understand all the details but the article does offer this:”Because the Society of St. Pius X is not in full communion with the Catholic Church, its administrative governance is not overseen by diocesan bishops, Vatican offices, or any authorities outside its own hierarchical structure.”

      Perhaps “breakaway” wasn’t the best choice of words but SSPX churches are in a different category & I’ve seen them called schismatic. I don’t have knowledge of all the updates about their current status. It sounds like it’s been a work in progress.
      I had friends in an SSPX community & they had some absolutely heartrending experiences with sexual abuse. We’ve seen similar troubles in a local, Novus Ordo parish.
      Fallen human nature is universal & these things can happen anywhere, in any community or institution. But it seems to remain hidden & allowed to flourish longer in certain settings where there may be less transparency & accountability.

  2. Joseph – While the situation with the SSPX is complex and I am sure there are many good people in her ranks, it is not wrong to say that they are a “break away” group. They are not in full communion with the Church in regard to her doctrine, nor are they in full communion with her visible leadership; namely the Pope and his Bishops.

    Pope Benedict said it best in his 2009 letter regarding the SSPX: “The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church. There needs to be a distinction, then, between the disciplinary level, which deals with individuals as such, and the doctrinal level, at which ministry and institution are involved. In order to make this clear once again: until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church”

    Pope Francis’ granting of jurisdiction to hear confessions (and for weddings they must have both the local ordinary’s permission and a diocesan clerical representative present) was an act of mercy on his part to the faithful of the SSPX who ordinarily have doubtful jurisdiction to administer sacraments like confession. Pope Francis’ kindness does not erase the fact that the SSPX clergy are, at the very least, in an impaired state of communion with the Church.

    I attend the TLM and go to a parish run by a traditional community of priests who are in full communion with the Church and minister with the local Cardinal Archbishop’s permission and blessing. Please go to a TLM that is offered by priests in full communion with the Church (i.e FSSP, ICKSP, Oratorians etc) or if you can’t find one in your area consider attending an Eastern Catholic parish.

    Lastly, shouldn’t your greatest concern be the extremely disturbing accusations of systemic abuse and cover-up within the SSPX?

    PS: The SSPX has also experienced “break aways” from within her own ranks. For example, the “SSPX Resistance”, the Society of St Pius V and individual religious communities once associated with the SSPX not to mention many individual clergy who have joined sedevacantist groups. Finally, Bishop Williamson was expelled from the SSPX for disobedience and now travels the world illicitly ordaining priests and bishops. He also has a history of promoting unhinged and vile conspiracy theories (including Holocaust denial). All is not well in the SSPX.

  3. How can faithful parishioners maintain their sanity as this disgrace continues and never seem to end? I think the Pope selecting a committee of realistic independent thinking professionals, from all walks of life, who perform a current and postmortem analysis of church hierarchy with potentially drastic conclusions. Why independent professionals? Because, by any measure, our Catholic Church is out of control!

    The panel must eliminate or reduce the prelate sexual predation on children. Vetting Priests may not work since the libidos of new candidates may be normal at present or increase over time, especially young men in their 20s.To counter the pedophiles Nuns and female laypersons should break the glass ceiling and become priests. Females, by and large do not have a penchant for sexual misconduct. Serious effort must be made to advance the churches dogma and eliminate much of the engrained mythology that I believe turns parishioners away from trust and encourage non-Catholics to consider joining the church. With the state of affairs currently, evangelization would be all but impossible.

    • “How can faithful parishioners maintain their sanity as this disgrace continues and never seem to end?”

      By focusing on the fact that they, too, are sinners, and by praying for priests to be given the grace to be good priests.

      ” I think the Pope selecting a committee of realistic independent thinking professionals, from all walks of life, who perform a current and postmortem analysis of church hierarchy with potentially drastic conclusions. Why independent professionals? Because, by any measure, our Catholic Church is out of control!”

      Because “independent professionals” are so very, very holy and wise, one and all? Hardly. And what exactly do you mean by “drastic conclusions?” And the whole Church is not “out of control.”

      I sometimes wonder how many of the bishops who committed the evil of covering up sexual abuse did so because they knew there were faithless Catholics and spiteful enemies of the Church who would gleefully pounce on any evil done by an individual priest as a way to attack the Church.

      “The panel must eliminate or reduce the prelate sexual predation on children. Vetting Priests may not work since the libidos of new candidates may be normal at present or increase over time, especially young men in their 20s.”

      The vast majority of the predation was not on small children but on older boys; in other words, it was homosexual assault. And I fail to see how an “increased libido” would involve assaulting children and young men unless it was perverted in the first place. That’s like saying “My appetite is so increased that I am going to eat rocks and dirt and dishwashing detergent.” No, if the appetite were increased it would be causing one to want to eat actual food.

      “To counter the pedophiles Nuns and female laypersons should break the glass ceiling and become priests.”

      What utter balderdash. Is there *anything,* on *any* topic, that doesn’t set you off on that silly call for priestesses? “There’s a new grocery store in town.” “Well, then women should be ordained!!!” “It’s rainy out today.” “Well, then women should be ordained!!!” “My cousin took a trip to Disney World.” “Well, then women should be ordained!!!”

      “Females, by and large do not have a penchant for sexual misconduct.”

      No? Take a look at all the female public school teachers who have abused students.

      “Serious effort must be made to advance the churches dogma and eliminate much of the engrained mythology that I believe turns parishioners away from trust and encourage non-Catholics to consider joining the church. With the state of affairs currently, evangelization would be all but impossible.”

      If you want to be Protestant, then go ahead and be one instead of trying to remake the Church in your own image; it would at least be honest. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the dogma of the Church and it doesn’t need to be “advanced,” otherwise known as “corrupted.” It is not “mythology,” and anybody who would turn away because of the Church’s teachings would be a pretty lousy Catholic. Evangelization is not “all but impossible;” there are many people who are entering the Church.

  4. My question is who is church militant and who gives them the right to go and harass and investigate our Bishops and Priests, and the Society of Pius the 10th bishop and priest and whoever else they want to investigate. if they’re church militant that they’re out to protect the Roman Catholic Church then just worry about the Roman Catholic Church to go to a church that they classify as Breakaway or schismatic they should actually mind their own business. but they get involved in everything for whatever reasons and they are very dangerous group. Mike Voorhees thinks he has complete power to go wherever he feels and do whatever he wants and that’s wrong. First of all the Pius the 10th Society founded by the saintly Archbishop Marcel LeFebvre is the father of all traditional priest and groups he’s the father there would be no fraternity without the Society of Pius the 10th it would be no Latin Trindentine Mass without the Society of Pius the 10t.

    Does anyone remember the battles that were going on back then I do John Paul II was not a friend of tradition it was Pope Benedict who at that time was cardinal ratzinger that understood the depth of the church he was the one that reconciled to the best of his ability the society and keeping them close to the novus ordo and tradition. if anyone goes for Society of Pius the 10th Mass they say the pope’s name and they say the bishop of the diocese name whether they agree with him or not that’s part of their regulations and they’re very strict and sincere on that so it’s exactly the same mass as a fraternity Mass. people need to understand that. God bless the Society of Pius the 10th and Archbishop Lefebvre and I hope someday the society begins is canonization process because he was a saint that saved the mass him and him alone only. He was a real man’s man

  5. The surprise is not that an SSPX priest committed sexual sins, targeting those he should be protecting. The surprise is that even after decades of revelations about priests committing these sexual crimes, their leaders continue to hide, misinform, lie, move to a new parish and cover-up the acts of these men over the fear that this will end up as the lead story on the nightly news. Apparently it is better for one child to be needlessly sexually assaulted than for one priest to be falsely accused.

  6. From what I read in the article, it looks like there is about as much evidence there as there was in cardinal Pell’s “trial.”
    One can almost say there isn’t any there there…
    In essence, if the priest in question was a democratic nominee, there’d be no issue there, but if he was a republican nominee, everyone would be told they have to believe the victim…
    As it is, the guy is a priest in religious society not in full communion with the Church, so CNA have no reason to be take their side, but Catholic enough in the eyes of a state AG to go after them with hardly anything to go on. Not an enviable position.

  7. Dear Catholic World Report: Your article on the Priestly Society of St. Pius X and your use of the term “breakaway” are misleading on several points. First, Pope Francis’s permission for the Society to hear confessions was extended on Nov. 21, 2016 and remains in force. Any baptized Catholic may confess his or her sins to a Society priest. Second, it is not true that the Church has no administrative control at all over the Society of St. Pius X. Society marriages are conducted in full cooperation with local diocesan bishops and such a bishop can, per the Holy Father’s decree of March 27, 2017, allow a Society priest to not only offer the Nuptial Mass, but even to receive the couple’s vows. The Nuptial Masses sometimes take place in regular diocesan parish churches. Moreover, not all Society Masses in regular parish churches are Nuptial Masses. Some bishops in the U.S.A. and Europe have, in recent time, granted (Deo gratias!) permission for occasional Sunday and Requiem Masses, even Solemn High Masses. Also, the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious, on at least one occasion, permitted a regular Catholic religious sister to transfer to an order allied with the Society of St. Pius X. And, for the past year, a Bishop Emeritus undeniably in full union with the Holy See has been in full-time residence with the Society of St. Pius X in Switzerland and has celebrated Holy Mass for them. Bishops in full union with Rome are thankfully free, under Pope Francis, to visit Society churches, schools, and retreats and to lead the recitation of the Rosary for pupils of Society schools. You need to read and take to heart the book “Christus Vincit,” by Most Reverend Athanasius Schneider, O.R.C., for a solid view of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X and the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. I suspect that the recent Internet attacks on the Society of St. Pius X may sadly be motivated by the Catholic Church’s growing and gracious recognition of it either as an eventual Personal Prelature or at least as a group with whom diocesan Ordinaries can have a healthy working relationship for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Think about it: how can any serious Catholic be opposed to someone returning to the fervent practice of the Faith through the Sacrament of Penance with a Society of St. Pius X priest or through good orthodox marriage preparation or vocation counseling from such a cleric? Thus, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, which I support, should not accept or retain any Priesthood candidate who does not clearly and gladly uphold Pope Francis’ decrees of Sept. 1, 2015, Nov. 21, 2016, and March 27, 2017 on the Sacraments of Penance and Matrimony in the Priestly Society of St. Pius X, and any Fraternity of St. Peter priest should be pleased to co-officiate a Society marriage if asked to do so by a local Ordinary.

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