U.S. District Responds to Church Militant
On April 22, 2020, the website Church Militant published a story against the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) with the inflammatory title, “SSPX—Sympathetic to Perverts.” The story, among other things, purports to expose a culture of coverups regarding sexual abuse and immorality within the Society. This is false, and the SSPX calls on Church Militant to withdraw this slanderous piece of yellow journalism.
The SSPX’s Commitment to Investigation and Cooperation
As a primary and essential matter, the SSPX is committed to investigating all allegations of sexual misconduct by its clergy, religious, and lay employees. The Society also cooperates with all police or other official investigations into said misconduct when it violates the law, whether civil or ecclesiastical. Though no mention of this fact is made in Church Militant’s article, the SSPX publicly informed them of this fact in a press release issued last year. Regrettably, Church Militant failed to make any mention of it. Church Militant also failed to respond to the SSPX after they asked the SSPX questions.
Instead, Church Militant repeatedly relies on hearsay, conjecture, and factual misstatements to paint the SSPX in a false light. For instance, it alleged that U.S. District Superior Fr. Jurgen Wegner is scheduled to be transferred to Austria later this year “far from the reach of criminal prosecutors[.]” Not only has Fr. Wegner never been investigated, charged, or convicted of any criminal wrongdoing, but the United States has mutual legal assistance treaties with both Austria and the European Union. Any transfer of clergy across borders, which is a routine practice of the Society to carry out its worldwide apostolate, would not place them beyond the law, and Church Militant is wrong to insinuate otherwise and that the transfer has that purpose. Fr. Wegner’s six-year term as District Superior ends in August, and his transfer has been foreseen for months before this hit-piece saw the light of day.
Similarly, Church Militant implies, without evidence, that there are numerous investigations against SSPX clergy currently underway in the United States. Justice and charity demand that the Society not disclose publicly the nature of any investigations, both to protect the good names of the innocent and the privacy of alleged victims. An accusation is not evidence, and for the SSPX or any other ecclesial or public entity to approach an investigation believing otherwise would lead to more harm than good. When criminal wrongdoing is uncovered, however, the Society’s policy is to refer the matter to the appropriate public authorities.
Individual Cases of Abuse
The SSPX does not deny that there have been serious and tragic individual cases of abuse committed by a discrete number of clergy and employees. Some of these cases are decades old, occurring before a time when a number of the SSPX’s districts, including the U.S. District, had the infrastructure in place to readily record, investigate, and report accusations promptly. That situation has since been rectified, and the U.S. District continues to update its internal policies to put them in line with best practices.
However, Church Militant again implies otherwise, noting, for example, the case of a priest in Belgium. What Church Militant fails to report is that the District Superior of the Society reported the priest to the police, collaborated with the Belgian authorities and stands by the results of the priest’s trial. This is true in other instances as well, though Church Militant neither bothered to report on such matters nor made inquiries on this matter to any official organ of the SSPX.
Prudence, Not Cover-up
Through Church Militant’s story, it wishes to expose a culture of coverup in the SSPX. Instead, it exposed its own gross lack of ethics when it took private internal correspondence, which was accidentally sent to it and quoted from it out of context. Even so, as the quoted passages make clear, the discussion did not center on covering up any public wrongdoing but focused instead on how best to respond to Church Militant’s inquiries.
It is well-known that Church Militant is not a serious journalistic enterprise but a repository of sensationalized stories, hit pieces, and videos featuring the opinions of its controversial founder, Michael Voris. Further, Church Militant has repeatedly used the SSPX’s name to generate web-clicks and revenue while hoping to stoke the fires of public controversy by baiting it into a war of words. Prudence dictates caution when dealing with a tabloid, and we will not be so baited.
The SSPX is committed to full transparency in all of these cases. We will be releasing detailed responses to every allegation.