Serious Misconduct
More on Father Van der Putten

By Christopher Zehnder
San Francisco Faith
February, 2004

After the December Faith ran an interview with Father Benedict Van der Putten, a priest who left the Society of St. Pius X and sought reconciliation with Rome, I received a number of e-mail messages and telephone calls suggesting there was more to his story than he let on. Some of those who contacted me wished to defend the Society; but one communication I found particularly disturbing. It moved me to look more closely at Father Van der Putten.

I had first heard of Van der Putten through mutual friends. They had told me of his seemingly conscientious decision to abandon the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X when the Society refused an offered reconciliation with the Holy See. Thus, I welcomed an interview with Van der Putten, not to promote him, but to examine his reasons for leaving the Society and to "pick" the mind of a traditionalist cleric. I myself objected to certain of his statements; in particular, I found his justification for freelance priests hearing confessions evasive.

Afterwards, I found some of his published statements strange, at best. Perusing the website, which offers talks by Van der Putten and online articles by him, I came across an article, "An Explanation of the Religious Life." In this "explanation," Father Van der Putten not only encourages the religious life but says that everyone should embrace it. Using the image of religious life as marriage to Christ, he asks, "how could anyone who truly put God as #1 refuse to marry Him? How could we pass up our only life for such a great opportunity? And he meekly and lovingly invites everyone and promises them the grace to remain steadfast to the marriage vow to Him." Though Christ blessed marriage at the wedding feast at Cana, Van der Putten informs us that "some bible scholars say it was Nathaniel who got married at Cana, left his wife after the party, changed his name to Bartholomew, and followed Jesus as one of his apostles! Many have left -- even emperors and kings during their reign of power -- left all to follow Christ. Couldn't they have saved their lives before? Of course. But they chose the better route." Van der Putten no where informs his readers that one must receive permission from his or her spouse before leaving all to follow Christ.

But perhaps the strangest part of the "explanation" was where Van der Putten lumps marriage with the sacraments of penance and extreme unction. Noting that some assert that "marriage is a sacrament!" Van der Putten says, "yes, but so is extreme unction and penance, and yet I don't see people energetically or irrationally persuading people to get sick or die in order to receive the sacrament. And I don't hear of any saint promoting mortal sin so that one might utilize the sacrament of penance." Van der Putten asserts that "Our Lord did not raise matrimony to a sacrament in order to recommend it. He did it because He knew how difficult it was and it needed all the help (grace) it could get!"

Such an approach to marriage seems contrary to Catholic doctrine. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls marriage a "vocation" and an "efficacious sign of Christ's presence." It is not merely an antidote for weakness, as is penance.

But it seems Van der Putten's view of marriage may be connected to deeper personal troubles of his own. The most disturbing communication I received concerning Van der Putten came from the diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania -- Father Van der Putten, according to the diocese, has engaged in serious sexual misconduct.

According to James Earley, chancellor for the Scranton diocese, Scranton's bishop, Joseph Martino, had sent out a fax concerning Van der Putten on December 10, 2003 to the general secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The general secretary circulated it to the bishops on December 19. According to the faxed message, Van der Putten did indeed approach the Holy See's Ecclesia Dei commission after he had left the Society of St. Pius X in order to be regularized in the Catholic Church. (The commission oversees the indult Tridentine Mass and the priests and priestly fraternities that offer it.) The commission absolved Van der Putten "of the canonical penalties he had incurred ... with a view toward his full regularization which would require his incardination into a Diocese or Religious Institution."

To achieve this "full regularization," Van der Putten approached the diocese of Scranton, which has been generous to traditionalist priests. However, said the faxed memo, "though living for a brief time in northeastern Pennsylvania in 2001-2002, Father Van der Putten was never incardinated in the Diocese of Scranton because of the seriousness of his admitted sexual misconduct."

Earley told me in December that "at the time [Van der Putten] was in our diocese, he admitted to certain behaviors; and he knew that he would be unable to be assigned, so he picked up and left." Under the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by the U.S. bishops in June 2002, said Earley, "our first obligation is to protect children, and so we felt that what we knew about this behavior was serious enough to alert people about him."

Referring to the Pax Vobis website, Earley said, "you see him photographed with families with young people, and that's very disturbing."

I contacted Father Van der Putten by e-mail, asking him to affirm, deny, or clarify the diocese's statement concerning him. Van der Putten did none of these. Rather, saying that "at the moment I am very confused about all this," he said, "you may state that at the present time, Father Van der Putten is not available for Masses or Mass stipends. That should be sufficient till I get to the bottom of this."


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