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Representatives of Catholic church in St. Marys take issue with published report surrounding its role in KBI investigation

Representatives of the Society of St. Pius X Catholic church in St. Marys are taking issue with...
Representatives of the Society of St. Pius X Catholic church in St. Marys are taking issue with a published report they say falsely portrays them as seeking to impede a Kansas Bureau of Investigation inquiry into sex abuse allegations involving priests who formerly served the congregation. This sign was at the site of the new $30 million Immaculata building, for which a groundbreaking ceremony was held on May 31, 2020, in St. Marys.(Phil Anderson)
Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 2:08 PM CDT
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ST. MARYS, Kan. (WIBW) - Representatives of a large Catholic church in St. Marys are taking issue with a published report they say falsely portrays them as seeking to impede a Kansas Bureau of Investigation inquiry into sex abuse allegations involving priests who formerly served the congregation.

The Kansas City Star in its Tuesday edition ran a story with the headline “SSPX staff told not to speak with KBI without an attorney.”

The article included information from an email sent to staff members and signed by the Rev. Scott Gardner, district bursar of the Society of St. Pius X United States of America District, which is based in Platte City, Mo.

In the email, Society of St. Pius X priests and staff members are cautioned against speaking to KBI officials without a lawyer being present.

The Star article also included comments from critics and former adherents of the church who said Gardner’s email seemed to be an attempt to “silence witnesses” of possible sexual abuse by Society of St. Pius X priests.

However, in an email obtained Wednesday by WIBW-TV, Gardner dismissed a report suggesting that the Society of St. Pius X was attempting to discourage its members from cooperating with the KBI’s investigation into priestly sex abuse.

That allegation, he said, was included in an article posted Monday on the Church Militant website, which he said “has once again tried to wring fake news out of an internal email by falsifying the context.”

Gardner said the email that the church had distributed -- portions of which were published on the Church Militant website and in the Kansas City Star’s article -- “was clearly sent to priests and employees and not to people attending our church or school in St. Marys or elsewhere.

“It was certainly not an attempt to intimidate anyone or to discourage cooperation with the KBI. We are cooperating with the KBI ourselves by making any priest, employee or agent of the Society of Saint Pius X anywhere in the country available to them without the need for a subpoena or other procedural delay. To suggest otherwise is simply false.”

Gardner added that he has seen “no indication that the KBI has been intimidating toward anyone involved in this investigation,” but added that “our legal system is adversarial. It is only common sense for the Society to protect itself and its priests and employees by having its attorney present at an interview with law enforcement."

He said he hoped anyone with evidence of abuse “will go freely the KBI or other appropriate authorities."

He concluded his email by saying there is “no contradiction between this and trying to ensure that the constitutional and legal rights of our personnel are respected by providing legal representation.”

KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood earlier told 13 NEWS that the state’s top law-enforcement agency has an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests across the state.

The Roman Catholic Church has four dioceses in Kansas, based in Kansas City, Kan.; Salina; Wichita; and Dodge City. The Society of St. Piux X -- which also is referred to as SSPX -- isn’t a part of any of the Roman Catholic dioceses in Kansas.

In Monday’s article in Church Militant, Underwood is quoted as saying: “The KBI is investigating allegations of criminal conduct made against the SSPX. As such, our agents are permitted to question any individuals who we believe may have information related to this criminal investigation.”

The Society of St. Pius X considers itself to be a “traditional” Catholic church. At its congregation in St. Marys, a Pottawatomie County town of about 2,700 people, it offers Masses in Latin which are attended by about 4,500 people on the weekends.

In addition to offering weekend and daily Masses in Latin, the Society of St. Pius X in St. Marys has an academy for students in elementary school through high school. The academy has around 900 students in grades kindergarten through 12. It also has a two-year college with about 80 students.

The Society of St. Pius X, which has headquarters in Switzerland, was started in 1970 by Marcel Lefebvre, a traditionalist French archbishop who was excommunicated in 1988 by the Roman Catholic Church over his opposition to changes implemented by the Second Vatican Council.

The Society of St. Pius X, which maintains many of the traditions from before Vatican II, has locations in other areas of the United States and is active in more than 70 countries around the world.

The Society of St. Pius X is embarking on building its largest church, the $30 million Immaculata, which will be located on the north side of St. Marys, where it has had a congregation since 1978.

The new Immaculata in St. Marys will stand 12 stories tall and seat more than 1,500 people. It will be the largest building of its kind in the Society of St. Pius X.

Ground was broken May 31 for the Immaculata during an outdoor Mass and ceremony near N. 2nd and Elm streets in St. Marys, with several hundred people in attendance.

Around $27 million has been reported to have been raised to date for the building, which is expected to be completed in about two years.

The new building will replace the original Immaculata, which burned down in 1978, shortly after the Society of St. Pius X came to St. Marys.

At present, the Society of St. Pius X offers five weekend Masses in Latin at its Assumption Chapel, located on its campus at 200 E. Mission St. in St. Marys. Additional Latin Masses have been offered during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many church members say they are attracted to the Society of St. Pius X because it holds to Catholic traditions that predate changes implemented by the Second Vatican Council, which was held from 1962 to 1965. The Second Vatican Council resulted a number of changes in the Roman Catholic Church, including celebrating Masses in the commonly used language of church members in various parts of the world, rather than in Latin.

Church members have come from across the United States to be a part of the Society of St. Pius X church in St. Marys.

In July, it was reported that the Pottawatomie County Economic Development Corporation is looking into financing for more housing in the St. Marys area that may be needed after the Immaculata building is completed.

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