This is almost cinematic: A.W. Richard Sipe, one of the foremost figures in the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal drama, died Wednesday night at his California home. He was 85. In a retrospective of Sipe’s life, Terence McKiernan of the Bishop Accountability site writes:
A. W. Richard Sipe truly invented the rigorous study of the clergy abuse of children: he created a disciplined method for thinking about the unthinkable. His groundbreaking books – A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy (1990) and Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis (1995) – made activism and change possible in the Catholic abuse crisis, and ultimately prepared the way for the #MeToo movement.
Sipe’s work anticipated the convergence that we’re witnessing now in the activism for victims’ rights and child safety. He always saw the molestation of children by Catholic clergy as part of a larger reality in Catholicism and beyond. Sipe’s approach to the abuse of children by Catholic clerics was an unusual one. Beginning as a Benedictine therapist-monk, he helped hundreds of priests and religious with their difficulties in religious life, especially the challenges of celibacy.
Because of those conversations, Sipe viewed the abuse of children by clergy through a wider lens than anyone else. Clergy abuse was better understood, he felt, within broader trends of clergy sexual misconduct, and by the same token, the Catholic system was brought into sharper focus if the clerical abuse of children was acknowledged to be a crisis basic to that system.
Richard Sipe was fundamentally a scholar of clerical culture and the clerical system. His work in the early 1990s created a paradigm for understanding that system and the reasons why the abuse of children by clerics has flourished within it. His books emerged from his therapy practice, and were in a sense anecdotal, yet the statistical conclusions he came to have been borne out by events.
His thinking on celibacy and the abuse crisis were informed by his happy marriage to psychiatrist Marianne Benkert, their parallel and mutual careers in therapy, especially with the victims of clergy abuse, and their experience of family life, raising their son Walter.
Recently the Cardinal McCarrick case has confirmed Richard Sipe’s warnings, going back decades, that McCarrick and many other prelates were harassing and abusing seminarians. Sipe had long emphasized the genealogy of clergy abuse. Rectors and staff at seminaries, he insisted, were often guilty of sexual misconduct with their students, who sometimes after ordination offended against young people. The same dynamic plays out in chanceries and the provincial houses of religious orders. Sipe worked to help seminaries teach celibacy as a mindful practice. But too often they remained places where abuse and harassment were countenanced and even encouraged.
The New York Times obituary captures here the most important aspect of Sipe’s work:
“Sooner or later it will become broadly obvious that there is a systemic connection between the sexual activity by, among and between clerics in positions of authority and control, and the abuse of children,” Mr. Sipe wrote in a letter to Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego in 2016.
“When men in authority — cardinals, bishops, rectors, abbots, confessors, professors — are having or have had an unacknowledged-secret-active-sex life under the guise of celibacy, an atmosphere of tolerance of behaviors within the system is made operative.”
Do you understand this? Sipe is talking about the clerical sexual underground — homosexual and heterosexual — and how it is impossible to separate the sexual abuse of children and minors from the general sexual corruption among bishops and priests. One leads to the other. This is a conclusion that the mainstream media, for all the years I have been writing about this issue, has refused to consider — because, I believe, journalists do not want to look clearly at the widespread gay sexual networks.
Richard Sipe didn’t care. He told me back in 2002 that no gay man should enter the seminary at that time, not because he believed gay men could not make good priests, but because he believed that they would be targeted relentlessly by priests, other seminarians, and others trying to get them to submit to sex.
I don’t know how much longer Sipe’s website will be up, but I urge you to go to it and search it out.
Read more at The American Conservative