Editor's Note: I have been asked by Father Niklaus Pfluger, SSPX, to publish the following retraction of comments he’d made here some months ago regarding the Erica Kauffman case.
As I indicate in my reply to Fr. Pfluger (see below), I fear his attempt at clarification may raise more questions than answers but, as he has asked me to proceed, I am obliged to honor his request.
I hope this unfortunate exchange—which could now be accurately described as an exercise in futility—will shed some light on my long-established editorial policy against getting involved in abuse cases at all, but especially not when I have little or no direct knowledge of the parties involved or the facts of the case.
I'm a newspaper publisher, not a private investigator. And as I see it, when such cases are tried in the press rather than a law court, they invariably wind up in a cul-de-sac of “he said/she said” which tends to do more harm than good. This case is no exception, though my initial hope in publishing Miss Kauffman's story was not necessarily to gain a conviction of anyone but rather a fair and open hearing of the facts of the case.
Regrettably, this is not going to happen, and so I can only leave it up to our readers to judge for themselves whether or not Father Pfluger's explantion of the facts of this case is satisfying.
The best advice I can offer our readers by way of avoiding this kind of hellish ordeal--regardless of where you go to Mass--is to make sure to take care of your own. Protect yourselves and your good priests by putting a healthy and wholesome degree of separation between them and your family. Priests are not our pals, nor was it ever intended that they should be.
Throughout our 25 years of married life, this is something my wife and I have lived by with respect to our many long and cherished friendships with priests. We homeschool our children for the same reason, by the way, and there is nothing on God’s green earth that could convince me to have it any other way. For those who understand what I’m getting at here, no further explanation is necessary. For those who do not, no explanation is possible.
What follows, then, is my aforementioned exchange with Father Pfluger. I have elected not to publish his final personal response to me, which is just his request that I proceed with the publication of his retraction despite my stated concerns (see below).
In charity, I can only presume that Father Pfluger is trying to do the right thing, even if those of us on the outside looking in are still left scratching our heads. Clearly, there are no winners here. MJM
Dear Father Pfluger:
Thank you for your letter. Are you quite certain that you wish me to make it public that, after impregnating a woman in his own flock, this priest was asked by Bishop Fellay to merely take a year off before returning to ministry?
Critics of the Society are going to have a field day with this. Think of what you're saying: Bishop Fellay slapped the wrist of priest who was sleeping with members of his flock, and then "sent him to Europe" where the priest was "restricted".
Restricted? In what sense? Did he have access to European women as well?
You do know, of course, that there are allegations that this priest did in fact have sexual relations with other women besides Miss Kauffman. It seems to me that Bishop Fellay can now be accused of having allowed this terrible thing to happen to other women.
How is my printing of your letter NOT going to do even more damage to the Society?
I would beg you to rethink this course of action, and instead ask Bishop Fellay to personally address this issue in the public forum.
In Christo Rege,
January 27th, 2021
Dear Mr. Michael Matt,
In a December 29th article, you chose to make public a private letter that I wrote to Miss Erica Kauffman, in which I expressed my deep compassion for her, as well as my shame for the past facts that she had revealed. It was difficult for me not to recognize her as the victim of an odious abuse, and not to respond to her call for help.
In doing so, as you noted in your introduction, I corroborated her version of the story and questioned, with her, the management of this case by the SSPX.
However – and it is now a serious duty for me to point this out to you – I made a regrettable mistake at the time. And it is in the hope of repairing it that I am writing to you today, taking advantage on a personal basis of the invitation you have extended to the SSPX authorities.
As the file never passed through my hands, I happened to be unaware, when writing to Miss Kauffman, of a number of details that I have since learned and which today force me to admit in good conscience that I contributed to convey a distorted image of what really happened.
Indeed, having been able to consult the archives of the SSPX, I realized that Bishop Fellay, then Superior General, had indeed treated the case with all possible care.
At the end of his investigation, and after having heard all the parties, he came to the conclusion that it was not a case of rape, but of a reciprocal sentimental relationship. A very sad and serious story, moreover, since such a thing is directly contrary to the sanctity of the priesthood.
I also learned that other people had noticed at the time the existence of a disordered friendship between the two persons.
This sinful affair credibly explains how several meetings could have taken place in the same place – in the apartment of Miss Kauffman, of which this priest had a copy of the key – under always similar circumstances, over a period of several months.
Bishop Fellay had then taken severe disciplinary measures to supervise the priest, who had to spend a year in penance in a monastery before being sent to Europe to exercise his ministry there, with restrictions during about ten years, which were applied and respected.
Whatever one's opinion may be in this story, it is impossible for me today not to recognize that Miss Kauffman is mistaken when she believes that Fr. Arzuaga was never restricted, or that the SSPX ignored her complaint. The opposite took place.
Contrary to what she states in her December 30th post, this priest has never been in charge of a school, nor has he ever been allowed to travel freely, out of the control of his superiors.
Nevertheless, I deeply deplore what happened, and I sympathize wholeheartedly with the distress in which Miss Kauffman finds herself today.
Renewing my compassion and assuring her of my prayers for all her intentions, I express my regret for having contributed to spread a false judgment on this sad story.
Fr. Niklaus Pfluger
P. Niklaus Pfluger | FSSPX