LA ROCHE-SUR-YON (FRANCE)
The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]
June 6, 2023
By Tom Heneghan
The sentence is one of the most severe penalties for clerical sexual abuse handed down in France.
A priest of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has been sentenced by a French court to 20 years in prison for the rape and sexual assault of 27 minors – 16 boys and 11 girls between 12 and 15 years old at the time.
Some of Fr Pierre de Maillard’s victims were from the same family, sometimes abused in their parents’ homes, the jury trial in La Roche sur Yon, capital of the Vendée department of western France, was told.
Before the jury retired to consider its decision, the 55-year-old priest said: “Excuse me, I’m sorry, excuse me, I’m sorry.”
The sentence on 2 June was one of the most severe penalties for clerical sexual abuse handed down in France, where the Catholic Church has been haunted by the scandal for years.
Fr Maillard was posted in the Vendée when the accusations became public in late 2020. The SSPX in France suspended the priest and has cooperated with judicial authorities.
After serving his term, he will be under judicial observation for a further 10 years, restricted to the local region and banned from any work with youths.
The SSPX, which claims about 700 priests, rejects the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and celebrates Mass in the Tridentine rite.
Its bishops were excommunicated from 1988 until 2009, when the late Pope Benedict XVI controversially lifted the ban without any concession from the intransigent society.
Pope Francis has made small steps of reconciliation, such as accepting the validity of marriages and confessions by its priests, but has not given the society the Vatican approval it long sought.
Efforts at reconciliation, actively pursued by former SSPX head Bishop Bernard Fellay, effectively ended in 2018 when the society elected hard-liner Fr Davide Pagliarani as its new leader.
The next year, Pope Francis abolished Ecclesia Dei, the pontifical commission dealing with traditionalists, and transferred its responsibilities to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. His comment that differences were doctrinal in nature meant SSPX opposition to Vatican II remained.
In 2021, the pontiff issued Traditionis Custodes, placing sweeping limits on the old liturgy he said had been used to fuel division and oppose the Council.