In this Kansas town, an insular Catholic sect leaves some residents feeling left out

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ST. MARYS — A growing Catholic sect has divided this small Kansas town between those who view the church’s influence as idyllic or disturbing.Shops selling Bibles, crosses and modest garb line the main street, where parents stroll by with their children. American flags dangle to showcase patriotism. There are homes with manicured lawns and shade trees, and parks to play. And on the northern edge of St. Marys stands a 66,400-square-foot church, towering over the town. The conservative Catholic sect that built the church has transformed life here since its arrival more than four decades ago. The Society of St. Pius X, also known as SSPX, rejects many modern ways of living, requiring modest dress for women, enforcing strict divisions between genders and encouraging large families. As members of the group have gotten into political leadership, they’ve imposed those beliefs, jettisoning books that mention LGBTQ+ people from the public library and shutting down a municipal swimming pool.Parishioners highlight the increasing population as a direct link to the church, and they value an insular life. But for residents who fall outside the fold, the Society of St. Pius X’s presence is oppressive. That view is worsened by accusations of sexual abuse from within the church.

For residents devoted to the SSPX faith like Mark Moser, life in St. Marys is carrying out the society’s mission.

“It’s about Catholicism, and following the methods that have been used for centuries,” said Moser, who moved to the town in the early 1980s and now serves on its recreation board. “It was the society that God put in place to continue the tradition of the church.”Church officials didn’t respond to interview requests for this story. Church officials directed questions to spokesman James Vogel, the editor of St. Marys-based Angelus Press, which publishes Catholic literature. Vogel did not respond to calls or voicemails left at his cellphone and business’ phone, or a text message follow-up. Phone inquiries with SSPX’s U.S. district headquarters in Platte City and in-person and phone inquiries at the St. Marys church office were redirected to Vogel.

While attempting to reach Vogel in-person at Angelus Press, an SSPX priest coincidentally in the bookstore said he could not be interviewed without approval from church authorities.

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