Questions remain in case of former SSPX postulant who went on to molest boys
This is the first in a series of reports to be released by LifeSite in the coming weeks on the Society of St. Pius X. LifeSite asks readers for patience and prayers as we present our findings, which are the result of an in-depth, months-long investigation.
POST FALLS, Idaho, November 25, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The U.S. District of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) has admitted to making mistakes in how it dealt with a former postulant currently in jail for molesting prepubescent males he met at their chapels over a decade ago.
Kevin Sloniker, a one-time truck driver, is serving a minimum of 35 years in prison after pleading guilty in March of 2016 to abusing more than a half dozen boys between the ages of 8 and 14 at their homes and in other locations in the northwest United States in the mid 2000s. Police reports indicate Sloniker met his victims at SSPX chapels.
Sloniker had intended to become a brother with the SSPX but was asked to leave their seminary in Minnesota by the rector, Father Yves LeRoux, in 2005 after it was discovered he attempted to circumcise himself during his “postulancy,” or, preparatory period of studies. The Society has since relocated its American seminary to Virginia.
In a statement released earlier this year, the SSPX’s U.S. District said they believed Sloniker went to live with his parents in Washington state after leaving the seminary but, unbeknownst to them, he’d been allowed to serve as a counselor at one of their summer camps in Post Falls, Idaho only a year later. The priests involved with the camp, the SSPX claims, did not know of Sloniker’s unstable behavior when they hired him. Had they been aware of it, they never would have employed him.
“The Society fell short in not making his conduct known internally between the seminary and the District, and then reporting him to authorities,” their now-deleted press release stated. “This was clearly an error, resulting from an absence of a robust reporting infrastructure within the U.S. District at that time.”
The SSPX has also said that a priest that serviced the now defunct “Mission of the Guardian Angels” chapel in North Dakota was told by a lay person there that they believed Sloniker, who was also a parishioner at the time, had an “inappropriate” relationship with their child. The Society says the priest asked Sloniker about the allegation but that he denied it and left the area soon after. The statement did not provide the year in which that interaction occured but it did say the SSPX was “advised by … legal counsel that they did not have a duty to report the allegations [to police].”
Read the full statement at the bottom of this article or by clicking here.
Sloniker is charged by police
LifeSite contacted two traditional Catholics who attended the Mission of the Guardian Angels chapel at the same time Sloniker did. One person said they remembered him from “way back then,” sometime “around 2010.” The source believed him to be “sort of a weird dude.”
“One day, he was gone. We didn’t see him again,” the source said.
The other person said Sloniker was “a bit goofy” and that they didn’t know anything about the abuse allegations, as there were only 20-50 people who attended the church. The person believed Sloniker moved into the area during an “oil boom” in 2010. The source could not remember which priest was informed about Sloniker’s abuse, as the chapel had welcomed multiple visiting priests. Mass was located in a basement, the person added, and held only twice a month on Sunday afternoons.
LifeSite is purposefully not reporting the gender(s) of these sources, who wish to remain anonymous.
LifeSite asked U.S. SSPX spokesman Jim Vogel why the priest who was told about the allegations didn’t think he had a moral duty to report it to police, regardless of whether lawyers said he didn’t have a “legal” obligation to do so.
As of the publication of this article, LifeSite has not yet received a response to that question.
In 2015, law enforcement officials tracked Sloniker down in Wisconsin and extradited him back to Kootenai County, Idaho to charge him with criminal behavior for inappropriately touching and performing sex acts on young boys.
LifeSite has not yet been able to confirm how police were able to locate Sloniker, but Christine Settanni, a mother of one of his victims who agreed to have her name published in this story, told LifeSite she called a national abuse hotline in 2015 (her son had been abused by Sloniker 10 years prior) and that police eventually contacted her for follow-up questions to help build a case against him.
According to local news outlets in Idaho that wrote about Sloniker’s court appearances in 2015 and 2016, parents of his victims informed three SSPX priests in Post Falls about his actions – Father James Haynos, Father Paul Vassal, and Father Patrick Crane.
“Several of those interviewed said they reported their concerns to the priests at Immaculate Conception Church,” Scott Mabin of The Spokesman-Review reported in October 2015.
“The boy who said he was whipped by Sloniker said he shared that with Father Patrick Crane. He also told the priest that Sloniker made him strip naked.”
Crane, according to Mabin’s reporting, was interviewed by a detective in September of 2015. Crane told him he remembers “part of” the allegations but that “if something had been brought forward, he would have said something [to police].”
Haynos also denied any knowledge, telling detectives that had he been aware of Sloniker’s behavior he never would have let him near the children.
LifeSite contacted Mabin, who now works as the Director of Communications for Coeur d’Alene Public schools, to ask clarifying questions about his reporting.
“I no longer work in journalism,” he said via email. “I do not have access to the notes or materials from a news article from five years ago. I would not be able to answer specific questions about this article.”
The Spokesman-Review also published a report in January 2020 on Paul Sloniker, Kevin Sloniker’s brother. Paul Sloniker has been charged with child rape, molestation, and sexual exploitation. It is not readily known where those crimes took place or if he was involved with the SSPX.
A police report obtained by LifeSiteNews reveals a female relative said three of Sloniker's other brothers abused her when she was growing up. According to the Spokesman-Review article, Kevin Sloniker’s public defender said Sloniker “was exposed to pornography at a young age by an older sibling.”
Seeking answers from the authorities
LifeSite has since sent an email to Fr. Crane, Fr. John Fullerton – the new U.S. SSPX District Superior – and Jim Vogel for clarification on Sloniker’s abuse.
Vogel was the only one to respond, informing LifeSite that an internal investigation was conducted by the SSPX into how its priests handled the situation and that it found no wrongdoing occurred on their properties or camps. He also noted that no criminal charges had been filed against the priests.
However, according to the Spokane Police Department Report (read here), Sloniker did in fact sexually assault a young boy at the SSPX’s St. Aloysius Retreat Center in Los Gatos, California in the mid 2000s.
“It was a church retreat house with cabins,” the report reads. “Instances of sexual abuse at the hands of Kevin [Sloniker] occured while on a Church trip in Los Gatos, California,” it said. “The incident occured in the cabin at nighttime.”
While the report itself is not entirely clear on the nature of the stay, the victim’s mother, Christine Settanni, confirmed to LifeSite that it was an informal family road trip comprised of her sons and husband, and not an official SSPX-sponsored gathering. Sloniker, who was a family friend at the time, tagged along to help with driving.
The group rented a cabin on the retreat center’s grounds for a short number of days thanks to having been friends with the priest who ran the center. They (and not the priest) went hiking and visited the Sequoia National Forest. “[The abuse] could have happened in a hotel if they hadn't stayed there,” Settanni said in an email. “The location was purely circumstantial.”
LifeSite has urged Vogel to release the SSPX’s internal investigation to the public in the name of transparency. As of the publication of this story, that has not yet happened.
Settanni told LifeSite that her son’s abuse had “nothing to do with” SSPX priests. “In my particular case, I can’t say anything happened with a coverup or not dealing with issues ... we’ve never had an issue directly with the priests.”
On the other hand, Settanni, who now attends a Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) church, did say that she was friends with a woman in Idaho whose sons were abused by Sloniker and that she told her that she informed Society priests about his crimes.
“She knew there was something going on, that something wasn’t quite right … I think [the priests] encouraged her to not go to the cops, but we’re talking a long time ago. I can’t remember all the details … I wasn’t there present to witness her telling the priests this.”
“She wanted to do something about it and they didn’t know how to handle the situation appropriately, which should’ve been to take it to the police by all means, not, ‘let’s keep it quiet.’”
LifeSite asked to speak to the woman but Settanni said she has since died and that her husband has relocated.
“When I read the articles out there [now] about what was happening [back then in the SSPX]… none of it’s surprising … when it comes to sexual crimes, the norm for so many years [in the mainstream church and outside it] was to try to deal with it quietly and to internalize these things.”
LifeSite attempted to contact other persons familiar with Sloniker’s abuse. A trusted source in Idaho said that many of the original families affected by him have moved away and that Catholics in the area weren't comfortable talking to the press about what they know “because of how the SSPX has been treated in the recent past by some members of the media.”
LifeSite left a voicemail at the SSPX’s Michigan priory asking Fr. Patrick Crane, who is now stationed there, to clarify what he knew about Sloniker’s abuse. Crane called back and said he couldn’t say anything and that the District is in charge of all communication regarding the matter.
An ulterior motive?
Sloniker’s lurid behavior has been repeatedly brought up in recent months by the Michigan-based website Church Militant.
In her reporting, journalist Christine Niles has said that “police reports reveal” SSPX leadership was “told of Sloniker’s behavior” but “failed to act against him.”
Niles provided a link to a Swedish news website claiming that a police report indicates Society priests in Idaho were aware of his abuse but did nothing. A woman named “Angela” told them she informed the priests of his crimes as well.
Not one of these documents suggest SSPX priests in Idaho were informed about his behavior. Instead, they reveal that family members of the victims went to the police with what they knew. The Coure d’Alene Police Report said that a mother of one of Sloniker’s victims “talked to a person at her church” about it and then called the police but it’s not at all clear if this “person” was a priest or laity.
Perhaps there are witnesses in Idaho who did speak to SSPX priests about their concerns with Sloniker, but LifeSite has not been able to contact them in order to confirm that they did. There’s also the possibility that a yet uncovered police report reveals SSPX priests were told about Sloniker’s abuse by lay persons. However, LifeSite has not yet come across it.
Immediately after Niles’s initial report on the Society – “SSPX: ‘Sympathetic to Perverts’” – was published in April of this year, Catholics on and off social media accused Church Militant of “grinding an axe” and performing a “hit job” on the group.
Some alleged that Church Militant’s reports on the Society in years past indicate it has a blatant “anti-SSPX bias” and that they are simply passing along uncorroborated allegations with the goal of making the SSPX look as bad as possible.
In an email to LifeSite, Niles vehemently denied having an ulterior motive, stating that such accusations reveal “a desire to protect the institution rather than protect victims – the same attitude we've seen from so many Novus Ordo clergy and supporters.”
“I suggest SSPX loyalists spend as much energy and time demanding transparency and accountability from SSPX leadership as they've spent attacking Church Militant for doing our job and exposing evil and corruption,” she said.
A much wider investigation
Niles believes the Sloniker affair is just one of many instances of abuse that prove the SSPX is guilty of sheltering sexual deviants in its ranks.
“All around the globe, the SSPX has covered up numerous cases of sex abuse over decades, much of it kept hidden because whistleblowers say they are punished and victims shamed,” she’s stated.
In her reporting over the past eight months, Niles has referred to the Society as a “cult” and a “sect” that considers itself “superior” to other Catholics but is in reality “a bastion of corruption, abuse, and cover-up…[operating] under the guise of piety and a reverent liturgy.”
Michael Voris, the president of St. Michael’s Media, Church Militant’s parent company, has made similar remarks about the SSPX on past episodes of his show The Vortex.
The SSPX is a “breakaway” group “outside the Church.” SSPX priests commit “a mortal sin” each time they offer Mass, he said in 2015.
During an episode of Mic’d Up in 2015, Voris described Traditional Catholic outlets like The Remnant and Catholic Family News as part of the “reactionary Catholic media” that support the Society.
“The SSPX is in schism,” he said during the program. “It is beyond doubt.”
Church Militant’s reporting since April has focused on a wide array of allegations against more than a dozen current and/or former SSPX priests in the United States and in Europe. The outlet has also shared information on lay persons who have or had connections to the group over the past four decades.
Some of the hard-hitting, opinion-based articles Church Militant has published recently claim that the Society is led by “arrogant mediocrities.” Others argue that their priests have “sympathy for the Nazis.”
Of the cases Church Militant has focused on, some have previously been reported on by mainstream Catholic media outlets and some of the abusers have already been sentenced to time in prison and/or removed from the SSPX altogether.
Several of the allegations are of criminal conduct — such as rape or failing to report abuse to law enforcement — while others are concerned with homosexuality and potentially unethical and immoral behavior by priests.
Catholic News Agency has reported on some of the allegations presented by Church Militant. The Kansas City Star and the Topeka-based WIBW-TV are two secular news organizations that have covered some of the claims made about the SSPX by Church Militant.
LifeSite conducts its own investigation
At present, Catholics can fulfill their Sunday obligation at SSPX chapels and, due to a directive issued by Pope Francis in 2015, can validly and licitly confess their sins to and validly and licitly get married by (in some circumstances) Society priests. The SSPX has long argued that “supplied jurisdiction” allows them to operate outside the authority of ordinary diocesan bishops.
Whether the SSPX should come to a so-called “canonical agreement” with the Vatican is a hotly contested topic of conversation among not only Latin Mass-attending Catholics, but also among Society laity and clergy themselves. In recent years, the loosely organized SSPX “Resistance” has been established by ex-Society priests who say the group has become more liberal in an attempt to curry favor with the Vatican.
Many mainstream theologians consider the group’s status in the church to be rather complex, with some being of the opinion it’s more accurate to say they are in an irregular situation as opposed to being an outright “sect.”
In 2015, the Society published an article on its American website featuring favorable comments made about them by Bishop Athanasius Schneider. They said the comments prove Michael Voris is wrong about them being in schism.
The SSPX’s global headquarters are in Menzingen, Switzerland while their U.S. headquarters are located in Platte City, Missouri. Currently, they service over 100 chapels throughout the United States and have more than 600 priests worldwide. The group’s largest high school and only college in the U.S. are in St. Marys, Kansas (the town does not use an apostrophe in its name). In January, The Atlantic published an article about what life is like in the small town.
LifeSite has attempted to confirm some of the more egregious abuse allegations against the SSPX while also conducting its own investigation into misconduct primarily in the United States.
LifeSite has reached out to dozens of persons familiar with the Society, including some who have spoken to Church Militant. Regrettably, LifeSite has encountered difficulties in getting all our questions fully answered, despite initially being told by persons they were eager to cooperate.
More LifeSite reports are forthcoming.
Below is the SSPX’s full response to the Sloniker allegations.
One of their statements, “To the Faithful,” was released by the Post Falls-based Immaculate Conception Church and Academy in 2015, the year Sloniker was charged for his crimes.
The other, which has since been deleted, was published earlier this year by the U.S. District in response to Church Militant’s reporting.
The U.S. District informed LifeSite that the statement was deleted because officials at SSPX global headquarters in Switzerland wanted to take over communications going forward and that although the statement is not available publicly on their U.S. site, they still stand by it.
Society of St. Pius X
Immaculate Conception Church and Academy
Statement to the Faithful about Kevin G. Sloniker
Kevin G. Sloniker had been attending and serving Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Post Falls, ID, where he was a volunteer camp counselor in summer camps around a decade ago.
He has been charged in state court with very serious crimes concerning children and is now in police custody.
The Society has been cooperating fully with the police investigation of Mr. Sloniker for more than five weeks.
To date, the Society of St. Pius X has not been advised of any report of criminal activity at the church or on the summer camps. The investigation is ongoing.
The Society of St. Pius X, its priests, and its employees take the protection of minors most seriously. The summer camps are quite structured and supervised, and, since 2012, the Society of St. Pius X has required background checks for all camp counselors.
The Society of St. Pius X assures all victims of abuse and their families of its compassion and prayers.
Any further questions about this statement should be addressed to Fr. Scott Gardner, Legal Secretary: (816) 733-2522.
October 29, 2015
As promised in the Society of Saint Pius X’s (SSPX) April 23, 2020 communique regarding allegations that it has covered-up instances of sexual abuse and impropriety, the U.S. District of the SSPX takes the essential first step toward addressing this painful but important topic.
As stated at the closing of its communique, the SSPX is committed to full transparency regarding recent allegations involving its current and former clergy, religious, and employees. The Society has cooperated with, and continues to work with, all civil and ecclesiastical authorities investigating accusations of abuse. Some of this cooperation, including the U.S. District’s cooperation with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, will be addressed in due course. As stated in the April 23 communique, if an investigation is ongoing, the SSPX cannot comment. However, those with information about potential criminal activity are encouraged to contact the proper authorities.
Most importantly, for the victims of sexual or any other type of abuse in particular, the SSPX offers its sympathy, prayers, and support. How can one abuse the trust God has given certain people? How does the Church confront true evil? As an apostolate of the Catholic Church, the SSPX wants justice for everyone.
Plan to Protect
As much as the SSPX wants to prevent abuse from happening in the future, it cannot neglect to help those who are already victims. The Society has been learning about the extent of this evil for years and have been in contact with survivors of abuse. The Society’s priests have listened to their grief and have a grasp of their suffering. It takes great courage for a person who has experienced abuse to develop trust again. Time and patience are needed before a survivor can open up, and the SSPX is committed to helping.
If you have been abused and you are still alone with your pain, the Society implores you to reach out, especially if you have suffered from a priest, religious, employee, or volunteer of SSPX. You are encouraged to come forward and to do so with whatever spiritual, medical, or professional assistance you need. In cooperation, the SSPX wants to make things right, ensure that justice is done, and help you overcome this evil.
Please visit the SSPX’s Plan to Protect website. If you have chosen this initial step to look at this site, the Society invites you to contact us at [email protected] or its toll-free number (833)-727-7779.
For abuse in the State of Kansas: victims and witnesses of abuse by the SSPX or other clergy can contact the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at [email protected] or they can call 1 (800) KS-Crime (1-800-572-7463).
The Sloniker Case
Mr. Kevin Sloniker grew up in Post Falls, ID. He and his family attended several SSPX chapels. His childhood gave no reason to suspect any improper conduct would be committed by Mr. Kevin Sloniker. He entered the Brothers’ Novitiate in El Paso, TX as a postulant in 2004 with the intention of becoming an SSPX Brother. In 2005, he was sent to the seminary in Winona, MN, as the postulants were sent there to complete their formation as brothers.
During Mr. Sloniker’s time in Winona, Fr. Patrick Abbet (who is not related at all to the accused and convicted Fr. Abbet in Belgium) was the spiritual director of Mr. Sloniker at the seminary. The superior of the seminary was Fr. Yves le Roux. In October 2005, Mr. Sloniker attempted to circumcise himself while at the seminary. He was rushed to the local hospital where he underwent surgery to stabilize his self-mutilation and was examined by a psychiatrist while at the hospital. The day Sloniker was released from the hospital, he was asked to leave the seminary and he complied with no objection.
It was believed that he went home to his family who at that time were living in Washington State. All the priests at the seminary knew of Mr. Sloniker's irrational behavior, but a report was never made and sent to the U.S. District. This was clearly an error, resulting from an absence of a robust reporting infrastructure within the U.S. District at that time. As such, Mr. Sloniker eventually became a camp counselor on or around 2006-07 at the Society’s Post Falls, ID summer camps. The priest in charge of the summer camps at that time was Fr. Patrick Crane who had not been made aware of the self-mutilation incident at the seminary.
Mr. Sloniker left his position as a camp counselor when he was about 20 years old. He next surfaced in Dickinson, ND, where he attended the Society chapel and helped as a sacristan. The chapel was sporadically served by SSPX priests. One priest, while making a monthly visit to Dickinson, ND, was approached by a parishioner who said that he believed his child had an inappropriate relationship with Mr. Sloniker. Mr. Sloniker denied the allegation, but immediately left the area. The U.S District subsequently found out that Mr. Sloniker became a truck driver. At this time the Society was advised by their then legal counsel that they did not have a duty to report the allegations regarding Mr. Sloniker.
The U.S. District had no record regarding Mr. Sloniker until 2015, when the Society was contacted by law enforcement. Legal authorities were investigating Mr. Sloniker and eventually arrested him on September 14, 2015, in Menomonie, WI. He was extradited to Kootenai County, ID, where he was charged with multiple counts of child molestation for conduct he engaged in over the prior decade.
At the time of Mr. Sloniker’s arrest, he was a truck driver and was approximately 30 years old. He admitted to having had numerous unlawful sexual encounters with underage children. To the best of the SSPX’s knowledge, he is currently serving an extensive prison sentence.
The U.S. District has conducted an in-depth investigation into its handling of the Kevin Sloniker matter. The Society has concluded that although none of the alleged crimes occurred on Society property or while Mr. Kevin Sloniker was affiliated with the SSPX, the Society fell short in not making his conduct known internally between the seminary and the District, and then reporting him to authorities when the allegations arose in Dickinson, ND. Procedures have subsequently been put into place to report deviant behavior among individuals affiliated with the SSPX to all Society priests. The Society also adopted the Plan to Protect in 2018 which requires Society personnel to document every incident that might be a warning-sign for abuse and to report all credible claims of abuse to their superiors and to legal authorities.
Fr. Todd Angele
Fr. Todd Angele vehemently denies the reported allegations of Mr. Kyle White concerning his supposed advice not to report abuse.
Contrary to accusations made on April 22, 2020 by the website Church Militant, the clergy-penitent privilege most certainly does apply to discussions in the course of ministry outside the confessional, and, more crucially, the obligation of professional secrecy applies in conscience to such “internal non-sacramental forum” conversations. If the other party to the conversation releases Fr. Angele from this secrecy, he will provide his side of how the conversation actually developed and the advice he gave. Until then, Mr. White’s accusation places Fr. Angele in an impossible position.
Fr. Laurent Desautard
The SSPX learned of three allegations against Fr. Laurent Desautard of inappropriate contact with boarding students at St. Mary’s Academy while he was stationed there. Fr. Desautard allegedly engaged in grooming behavior with teenage boys in his dormitory office.
Fr. Gerard Beck, then rector of St. Mary’s Academy and College, after having been informed of the allegation by U.S. District Communications Director James Vogel, interviewed one of the students on July 28, 2016. Fr. Beck was told that the grooming behavior had started in 2014 but that the victim, by then an adult, had no interest in pressing charges. Fr. Desautard was then in the process of being transferred to Australia.
Fr. Beck turned everything over immediately to the civil authorities. A complete disclosure was made. The civil authorities decided not to file charges. The SSPX, after a canonical investigation, has placed Fr. Desautard under restrictions to have non parish role, especially with minors.
A Concluding Statement
Any allegation that the SSPX stonewalled any investigation is false. The SSPX has identified and produced files from the past 30 years involving its clergy, religious, and employees while working under time frames and parameters agreed to by Sherri Schuck, Pottawatomie County Attorney and Agent Nick Pipkin of the KBI. The SSPX currently is in close contact with both entities regarding both closed and any ongoing investigations.
The SSPX agrees that if anyone possesses any relevant information concerning ongoing or future investigations, they should contact:
Sherri Schuck, Pottawatomie County Attorney
108 N. First; PO Box 219
Westmoreland, Kansas 66549
(785) 457-3896 (fax)
Kansas Bureau of Investigation
Special Operations Division
This statement is the beginning, not the end, of a process of transparency. More information is forthcoming.
The scourge of sexual abuse must be driven from the Catholic Church, including the SSPX’s apostolate. The Society asks in all humility for your prayers. Pray for the SSPX. Pray for those who have fallen into sin that they may repent. Most of all, pray for the victims of these heinous and unspeakable crimes against natural and divine law.
We invite you to unite in this prayer to St. Rita for those who have been hurt by those who have betrayed their trust.