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SSPX accused of intimidating would-be whistleblowers amid abuse investigation

The SSPX is under investigation in the state of Kansas for alleged sex abuse, along with the four Catholic dioceses.

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

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 6, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- After an official with the Society of St. Pius X told priests and staff they should speak with criminal investigators only in the presence of an attorney provided by the group, the group’s leaders say their message was not intended to suggest anyone should cover up alleged sex abuse.

The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is a breakaway traditionalist group of priests and bishops with no official canonical status in the Church.

Rev. Scott Gardner, bursar of the U.S. district of the SSPX, told staff and priests at St. Mary’s SSPX chapel and school in Kansas last weekend that they did not have to cooperate with state investigators of alleged child sex abuse.

He added that employees and priest should speak to police only in the presence of a lawyer, who would be provided by the organization.

Some former members of the organization said the message, sent by email, seemed designed to silence witnesses or whistleblowers of abuse.

“It looks like they’re trying to hide things, trying to keep people from speaking and definitely stonewalling,” Kyle White, who has alleged that priests in the organization covered up reports of sexual abuse, told the Kansas City Star Aug. 4.

“They don’t want any more stuff like this getting out,” White added.

Gardner said when he emailed priests and staff, he was simply informing them that they did not have to speak to investigators without a lawyer present.

“It was certainly not an attempt to intimidate anyone or to discourage cooperation with the KBI,” Gardner said in an Aug. 5 statement.

“This email was clearly sent to priests and employees and not to people attending our church or school in St Mary’s or elsewhere,” the priest said, adding that it was not “an attempt to intimidate anyone or to discourage cooperation” with investigators.

The SSPX is under investigation in the state of Kansas for alleged sex abuse, along with the four Catholic dioceses.

The group 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, as have several allegations that priests engaged in cover-ups of abuse by priests or attendees of SSPX chapels.

In 2019, the Kansas Bureau of Investigations (KBI) announced it would investigate clerical sexual misconduct in four Catholic dioceses in the state; the investigation was subsequently expanded to include the SSPX.

In May, a spokesperson for the KBI told CNA the investigation is “ongoing” and that as of February 1, the bureau had 186 reports of abuse and had opened 112 investigations. KBI did not say how many of the investigations pertained to the SSPX.

In addition to the Kansas City Star, the weekend email from Gardner was reported on the Church Militant website. Gardner’s statement said of that report that “Church Militant has once again tried to wring fake news out of an internal email by falsifying the context.”

Gardner’s statement did not address the Kansas City Star, or indicate whether he perceived that newspaper as well to be reporting “fake news.”

The priest did say that the SSPX is “making any priest, employee, or agent” available to the KBI “without the need for a subpoena.”

Gardner said in his correspondence that he has “no indication that the KBI has been intimidating” anyone, but added that “our legal system is adversarial” and thus it is “common sense for the Society to protect itself and its priests and employees by having its attorney present at an interview with law enforcement.”

“I hope that anyone with evidence of abuse will go freely to the KBI or other appropriate authorities,” he said.

KBI has said that it is accepting reports of abuse by phone at 1-800-KS-CRIME, or by email:

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  1. What a ridiculous accusation! As a pro-life rescuer I’ve been deposed a number of time and ALWAYS wanted to have a lawyer present. Gardner is absolutely right when he talks about the “adversarial” situation. People can easily be manipulated by the legal system. Look at what happened to Michael Flynn! To say recommending that their employees and priests have a lawyer present is simply prudent. I’m sick of seeing groups like Church Militant using ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING to attack the SSPX. Child sex abuse is a horrible crime. Every person who commits it should be exposed and prosecuted. But the SSPX has many holy priests and smearing them all is just as evil as the smear against all the priests in dioceses and religious communities around the world.

    • Dear lady, it is highly unusual for members of a religious group to suddenly get lawyers simply because the police want to talk to them. You get a lawyer when you have reason to believe you are the target of an investigation, or that the investigation may lead to you being charged. Here is an example. A theft takes place in your neighborhood. The police knock on your door, asking if you saw anything or heard anything happen at the neighbors. Your reaction is to get a lawyer? Nonsense. It’s amazing the sheer, constant nonsense that the SSPX people put out to defend their weird actions. Here, investigators merely want to inquire about whether SSPX employees have seen or heard anything. There is no need to get lawyers unless you have been involved in some sort of criminality. And it sure looks like the SSPX knows that lots of their people have been engaged in criminal activity.

      You have to admit, the SSPX is a very cult like group. They better get lawyers, lots and lots of them, because once all the bizarre cult like activity comes out, they are going to be sued like crazy. And some of them are going to jail.

      • Samton 909 is sadly lacking both in facts and logic. Anyone who does not know that the Catholic Church (doctrine, clergy et al) have been attacked by the media and the jurisprudence system for years is not living in the real world.
        I am not a member of the Pius X community, but I am aware they have many excellent, and holy priests. If a Pius X priest has factually abused a minor (most often happening in a homosexual encounter) he needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, not to have legal representation during investigation would be fool hearty. There should also be awareness that the public often considers the Catholic Church to have “deep pockets” and it is a likely victim for huge money settlements. This has occurred just to settle a case, even if guilt was not proved. There is much evil in this world.

      • Regardless of the situation, anyone remotely familiar with any kind of police investigation understands the prudence and wisdom of having an attorney present when someone is interrogated. To say otherwise, is simply to ignore reality.

        Using an email reminding people of a constitutional right to stoke unfounded and unverified rumors and innuendos against any organization or group is extremely unethical and unjust. Those doing so must be called out and condemned for their dishonesty and shamelessness.

      • A cult like group? Actually the SSPX is the remainder of the original Cult formed by Christ.
        Your example of a neighborhood theft is valid in an unbiased world. Yet your own statement reflect you are biased and welcome damning information, regardless of validity on the SSPX. The true Mass has been under fire not only by the masons, but by Rome it’s self. So when evil strikes, you utilize all armor.

        • Over 100 priests have left the SSPX. The SSPX is more interested in their founder and the organization than in being Catholic. They are based on the cult of their founder and are an isolated sect with no interest in evangelization or in following any canonical norms for bishops and parishes. They shift priests around constantly and their Mass sites act as sacramental distribution centers and hubs for rich middle class Americans. I’m a Catholic that rejects Vatican II and won’t go into a New Mass, but the SSPX is obviously a sect and I won’t have anything to do with them. The laity are lost at these parishes, and it’s more a pro-American Republican social club with beautiful ceremony. These people lead extremely worldly lives, but pat themselves on the back for their pre-Vatican II liturgies. They more want to keep a certain version of 1960s American life that is Americanist, loves war, loves global economics, and has no interest in women and lay people having real say in the life of the people. Most of these people lead lives little different than your average atheist. The whole group is evil and I hope it disappears soon. The good families all left SSPX by 2012 at the latest, though people have been leaving in large numbers since the 80s. They’re beyond the possibility of reform at this point.

    • to Samton909 – you are the one being ridiculous. Part of the Maranda Statement says “you have the right to an attorney.” That wasn’t meant to apply to criminals only – it was meant to protect everyone. I am on the side of the police, but a weakminded person can feel intimidated and may say things just to be released from questioning

  2. This is not to in any way exonerate the Society, but in the U.S., at least, you are a complete fool if you talk to any law enforcement agent without having your attorney present.

  3. “Some former members of the organization said the message, sent by email, seemed designed to silence witnesses or whistleblowers of abuse.”

    Or it could be just common sense – if police are questioning you about a crime with an eye to accusing you, having a lawyer is a smart thing to do. “I’m innocent, so I’ll just talk to them” is an attitude that’s can easily lead to an innocent person’s being arrested.

    • Ah, yes, if you know that criminality has been happening all around you, or that you have been involved in criminality, then you should get a lawyer. But think about what you are really saying. If a priest has been abusing a child at your church, then investigators come to you asking if you have seen the priest lurking around children, or seen anything suspicious in his behavior or if you know anything – You somehow think they are trying to entrap you, or accuse you of a crime? You would refuse to cooperate? Until you get a lawyer? No. Any ordinary person would be happy to provide information to law enforcement officials about a crime. Almost no one gets a lawyer before they talk to police. But if they have been part of a criminal conspiracy, if they know they are in big trouble. Good, let them get a lawyer. It only shows that they know bad things have been happening, and they know that they are in trouble.
      Its so funny when the SSPX tries to defend the indefensible. Here, now suddenly, all the SSPX people are arguing that everyone in America must get a lawyer before they talk to police. The SSPX is a bizarre cult, and this is the sort of madness they put out regularly.

      • Trump was innocent and so was Flynn, as released FBI papers showed. It did not prevent them from being charged, arrested or impeached and slandered. And what about the time in jail done by Cardinal Pell?? Who was railroaded by anti-catholic sentiment and whose charges were finally dropped. I dont know anything at all about this society but if the police are coming to call they should talk to no one without a lawyer. Truth, sadly, does not always protect you.

      • You are quite wrong. Many innocent people get lawyers before they talk to police; especially when it’s a matter involving abuse, because it is so easy for false accusations to be made. And you are assuming that one knows in advance what the police are going to be asking.

      • Yes, samton909 is correct. Part of how they operate is like any cult, with an “us vs. them” mentality. Their followers are conditioned to think the way the group leader wants, rather than use their own individual reflective thinking. Obviously any reasonable person would answer questions about a suspected pedophile priest if they thought it would help the child, especially if they themselves were innocent, because there would be nothing to hide. But cult members think they cannot trust anyone outside the group, that outsiders are out to attack them. The SSPX is NOT part of the Catholic Church, and that is a well-known fact, especially in the area near their compound in Kansas. No, I don’t think there are “many excellent and holy priests” there, rather they give the illusion of holiness by pretending to be the last remnant of true Catholicism, but in reality they hate the Catholic Church, and they proudly place themselves outside of it. It’s their bread and butter, how they roll, how they make money.

        I truly pray this group will be thoroughly turned out and shut down for good.

        • Annie P – Your bias is evident in your choice of words. I have been to St. Mary’s, and the SSPX “compound” as you describe, is an open campus, the same as the state university I graduated from. Your use of the word “cult” is also designed to detract from the church and school there. Still further, you allege that they give the “illusion of holiness” but give no examples other than your own biased opinion. I’m sure that the 4,000 members and the many priests their do not all fit your stereotyped description. To say they hate the Catholic Church is really a misguided hurtful thing to say, and entirely untrue. They are truly Catholic and a beacon.

          • E.T., I am sorry if you are offended, but I stand by my comments. The SSPX is a sect. They are not united to Rome. And they are definitely cult-like in their inner workings within the structure of the organization. They hide behind the Catholic faith and distort it to advance their anti-Catholic agenda. I was involved with them for many years and saw a lot of things that aren’t apparent to a casual observer.

            The best thing one can do is attend the Latin Mass at a diocesan-approved parish. The SSPX doesn’t meet that criteria.

  4. Taylor Marshall who is seriously in love with the SSPX, who seems to follow all their beliefs and doctrines, who pushes the SSPX conspiracy theories, who has published numerous videos telling us how wonderful the SSPX is, should answer the following question

    Rev. Scott Gardner, bursar of the U.S. district of the SSPX, told staff and priests at St. Mary’s SSPX chapel and school in Kansas last weekend that they did not have to cooperate with state investigators of alleged child sex abuse.

    Taylor Marshall, do you believe that the SSPX should discourage its staff from cooperating with officials who are investigating child abuse? Should not every Catholic do everything in their power to help all officials trying to root out child abuse within the church? Do you agree that no SSPX staff person or employee should talk to police, and should make the investigation as hard as possible for the police?

    Imagine if some regular diocese did this. Marshall would have a video out in two seconds condemning the action. But since it’s his faction, he will simply allow this outrageous behavior to go on.

    • Taylor Marshall is not an apologist, he’s a charlatan, huckstering Protestantism while hiding behind Catholicism. Oh wait, that describes the SSPX…

    • I’m very concerned about family members in the SSPX. All identity of my sister has been taken away, from the way she dresses and does her hair to have any contact with the outside world closely monitored. No access to information outside the church. Why?

      • Because they encourage members to isolate themselves from those who do not share their beliefs and worldview, and they are taught to view those people as dangers to the faith. The women are expected to dress with extreme modesty and mimic the clothing style of the Blessed Mother. There is no reflective thinking, and anyone who does gets punished in some way. Pray for them. The SSPX convinces their members they are the last remnant of true Catholicism, but they are really protestants who adhere to Catholic beliefs but reject Rome’s authority.

  5. He SSPX leader plainly told them NOT to speak with the authorities,”UNLESS a Lawyer ” is present. Most Labor unions such as Postal N.A.L.C., INSIST on this and or a Union Rep. being present BEFORE Postal workers etc. speak with Postal supervisors or Inspectors for instance.Nothing unusual about his at all.. Period end of story.

    • Who cares? Really. Who cares? The SSPX is a cult. I was in it for almost twenty years, and their m.o. is still the same old, same old: Argue your positions through lawyers, Canon ones or otherwise, to justify and legitimize something that, most likely, isn’t, whether it’s nose-thumbing the Vatican, the Pope, or putting on a show for the benefit of their followers to prop up their false status as being persecuted. This is just the latest episode of their tired reality show, “The Real Catholics in the Church After Vatican II.”

  6. Well, I knew a homeschooling family who were in the SSPX. They encountered some absolutely heartbreaking abuse situations there but so have folks we knew in a perfectly ordinary, small town, non SSPX Catholic parish.
    Human nature is inclined towards sin and sin can flourish within any organization run by flawed human beings. Some organizations are just more vulnerable to that.
    If the SSPX is seen by others as a cult, especially if Kansas law enforcement sees it that way, then wouldn’t you expect SSPX members to want legal counsel before engaging in an investigation?
    We’re at a point in time where the Catholic Church as a whole is seen by many as a regressive cult and a refuge of pedophiles. Seeking legal representation isn’t necessarily a sign of paranoia or guilt. It may simply be a prudent measure in the times we are living in.

  7. Has anybody received any word of actual arrests that have taken place regarding the 120+ reports of sexual abuse in Kansas City? it’s my understanding that the FBI has been investigating for going on 2 years with over 100 open cases.
    Does anybody know of any arrests made?

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