SNAP National Convention, Denver, Colorado, June 12, 2004


by A.W. Richard Sipe

There are two kinds of communication that are very dangerous. Asking Questions & Telling the Truth.

I plan to employ them both.

I do not need to remind this group of the danger and pain of speaking truth to power. You know.

Also I am not in the habit of addressing my remarks past the group I am speaking with or beyond the walls of my venue. Today, I hope with your permission, to utilize your invitation to address a wider audience. I do not presume to speak for SNAP or anyone else. But I hope this time together will help all of us clarify some of the questions about abuse by clergy we still have. The facts I state are based on written record and what you have taught me.

Today I am directing my reflections to the American Bishops of Colorado and the United States who will assemble here this week.

I will never get over the pain and suffering to which church representatives have subjected you. I will always stand in awe of the courage of your truth telling. I can never forget the assertion of my professor of Sacred Scripture.

He said that Christ was killed, not because he blasphemed, but because he told the truth.

Jesus had the audacity to rile against the religious authorities of his time—in the persons of moneychangers in the temple. His objection was of officials using religion, power, prestige, and places of worship as a cover for self-interest and greed. [You know what I am talking about]

Christ called the religious authority Hypocrites. He used a graphic metaphor to make sure his message was clear. He called the men in religious power "whitened sepulchres." That paints the picture of something shinny, clean, and pure appearing on the surface, but rotten and full of decay on the inside.

I stand here and claim that the same is true, now, of the hierarchy of the United States.

That is such a harsh image to embrace, I tremble to evoke it. But I believe that it is a matter of record. It has become my personal conviction after reviewing thousands of documents from church files, police reports, the depositions of many bishops, and listening to the testimony of thousands of victims of clergy sexual abuse and their encounters with the hierarchy.

In addition I have heard the testimony of Grand Jury investigations and listened to the efforts of District Attorneys and Attorneys General. What is almost more discouraging is to review the various self-serving and duplicitous "Reports to the People of God" authored by some heirarchs. Some amount to sophisticated public relation maneuvers and a continuation of deceit and cover up.

Governor Frank Keating who had been appointed by an American bishops'

committee to chair a National Review Board to access the problems of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy said, (after months of interacting with bishops and trying to fulfil his commission), that the Catholic hierarchy, especially Cardinal Roger Mahony, operated like "la cosa nostra." It was an impolitic statement. But it was and is true.

Judge Anne Burke, who was appointed interim chair of the National Review Board after Governor Keating resigned, wrote that she and the Board "felt manipulated" by the hierarchy who worked behind the scenes to undermine the work that the bishops had asked them to do. Some bishops used the efforts of the Board simply to pacify public outrage—not to change, but to return to "business as usual."

My life work has been the study of the celibate/sexual system of Catholic priests in the United States. In over 40 years of study and research I have tried to aid members of the church who want to practice celibacy as it is required of them by Vatican rule. I have written 5 books to that end. I presented a summary of my original findings to Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk in 1986. I submitted my manuscript, A SECRET WORLD to the officials of the Bishops Conference in Washington DC in 1990, prior to its publication. I have always acknowledged the legitimate authority of the hierarchy. I do not know what else I could have done or could do now to prove that.

Let this be clear. I am not making an argument against any Church teaching. I have high regard for good and sincere priests and bishops. But I have questions to ask about the practice of celibacy by priests and hierarchy. These are important questions because behind them rest the dynamics that allow so many people to be abused under the cloak of celibacy and religion.

First some facts: the Church teaches that every sexual thought, word, desire, and action outside marriage is mortally sinful. This of course includes masturbation.

Fact: priests are required to forego marriage and bind themselves to "perfect and perpetual chastity."

Fact: many apologists for the clergy call priests "celibates." In a technical sense this is true. They are not married. But they are not necessarily celibate in their practice of sexual abstinence. Father Andrew Greeley who is the champion of calling priests celibates also claims that priests are the "happiest men" in the country, and that they "are as psychosexually mature as any other men of their age and education." Neither of these assertions says anything about whether the priests are practicing celibacy. Most priest and bishop sexual abusers were indeed happy in the priesthood.

Fact: The John Jay report concluded that between 3% and 6% of all US priests active between 1950 and 2002 had allegations of abusing minors. Don't be lulled into security by that estimate. In Boston 7.6% of priests were alleged abusers during that time. New Hampshire recorded 8.2%. These are more likely the accurate proportions. In 1991 the Los Angeles Archdiocese had 56 abusers out of 710 priests then active under the leadership of Cardinal Mahony.

Fact: We can conclude that between 90% and 93% of priests and bishops have not sexually abused minors.

Question: Why did the 90% of clergy not involved sexually with minors neglect to object to the conduct of their fellow priests? There were ample rumors, suspicions, complaints, and reports to investigate—begging to be investigated.

Only a handful of priests have been public defenders and advocates for victims.

Why have the ranks of priests joined their bishops in the cover up of abuse?

Why are they still satisfied to be silent co-conspirators?

Fact: Every bishop, without exception, has always known that sex with a minor is a violation of celibacy. Without exception every bishop has known that sex with a minor is a civil crime. No psychiatric or legal advice could change those realities. The history of the Catholic Church maintains a clear history of the sexual abuse of minors and other sexual violations by bishops, priests and deacons from the 4th century onward. It records the penalties—from years of fasting to beheading. In some centuries sex abuse of boys was called the "clerical vice." Proclamations from the Vatican on how to proceed in penalizing sexual abusing priests have been sent to bishops several times each century for the last thousand years. This is no ancient problem. In 1922 and 1962 clear directives were reiterated. The Vatican commanded the strictest secrecy about priest sexual abuse. Secrecy was to be preserved under the most severe penalty—excommunication reserved to the Pope himself. Only the bishop was to know. And bishops did know. And bishops kept the secret. Under severe public pressure bishops removed 700 priests from active ministry between 2002 and 2004 because of credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors. They acknowledged in their self -report that 4,392 priests had been credible accused of minor abuse since 1950. Few more than 200 offenders have stood for criminal prosecution. Often bishops have conspired to conceal the abuse until the statute of limitations have expired.

Question: Why have they not held themselves accountable?

Fact: Bishops excluded themselves from the zero tolerance policy they imposed on offending priests during their 2002 Dallas meeting.

Question: Why?

Fact: Some bishops have been known to abuse minors.

Question: Are bishops and priests who have not abused minors been so reprehensibly inactive because they are afraid that their own non-celibate activity will be revealed?

Fact: Every movement on the part of the hierarchy to deal with the problem of sex abuse of minors has been reactive. Victims of abuse, lawyers, the press, civil and criminal justice, in addition to public outrage have been the forces that pushed—really shamed—the American bishops and the Vatican to reluctant action. The hierarchy of the United States has given no evidence that there is even one among them who will really stand and be counted for justice and ministry to all of those who are abused by clergy who violate their celibacy. We have no Bishop Romero! [In 1988 even I had a first hand report of an African bishop who requested a mother superior to make her nuns available to priests to save the men from contracting AIDS. The Vatican knew then too. In the mid-nineties a conscientious nun complied an extensive report of nuns on five continents who suffered rape and abuse by priests. The Vatican ignored that also.

Conscience and courage motivated the nun to allow her report to be leaked to the press. After an additional four years the Pope made a public apology for the abuse of these priests.]

Question: Many people, including some bishops, conclude that the hierarchy has lost its moral authority. Certainly this is true in all matters sexual. What has corrupted confidence in the hierarchy? The revelation of lies and maneuvers to preserve image above integrity? Resisting legitimate civil and criminal investigations? Neglecting the protection of minors and vulnerable adults/ at the same time sustaining priest abusers? Conspiring to conceal abuse and endangering the welfare of large numbers of youth? The disregard and intimidation of victims? The continuing self –justifications? The reliance on public relations rather than pastoral care? Do these elements combine to expose a web of corruption unworthy of respect? Has trust been restored? Is the hierarchy resorting to "business as usual" as the lay board they appointed suggests?

Fact: Sex with minors is not the only way to violate celibacy. Nor is it the only means of inflicting grave harm on victims. Adult women and men suffer greatly when bishops and priests betray their power and prestige to have sex with them. Since 1990 more than a dozen members of the hierarchy—Cardinal, Archbishops and Bishops—have left office because of a range of sexual activities from abuse of minors, to affairs with women, to homosexual affairs.

Question: How many Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops and priests are or have been sexually active? This is a legitimate and important question for the hierarchy to face. If all the hierarchy were practicing celibacy, sexual abuse of minors by priests would not have been possible

Fact: The Church condemns contraception and the use of condoms, even between married partners one of whom has been infected with the AIDS virus by way of a blood transfusion. On record is the testimony of an Archbishop that he "used protection" when he had sex with several young women. [He offered this information quite casually.] Bishops oppose insurance compensation for birth control pills. They support insurance coverage for Viagra. Bishops are vocal in their opposition of premarital sex. Bishops decry the looseness of sexual behavior among the lay people, all on the grounds of preserving morality.

Question: What are the sexual mores of the hierarchy? Are actions and example important or only words? Is it possible that other bishops have used condoms—or have relations with women who use the pill? Do some bishops excuse themselv es for non-marital sexual experimentation? These are not impertinent questions. If bishops are on retreat, they too must face the reality of their sexuality and celibacy and not merely make pronouncements for other Christians.

Fact: The Vatican pronounced (1961) that homosexually oriented men should not be allowed to enter the priesthood. It is, however, common knowledge that some bishops and some priests do have a homosexual orientation.

Question: Can the hierarchy examine its own conscience and face the reality of the dichotomy between teaching and practice as it applies to itself?

Fact: The Vatican teaches homosexuals are intrinsically disordered and homosexual acts are intrinsically evil. However, homosexual acts within the clergy abound. This is not limited to the American hierarchy. A Vatican official wrote about how Rome works: "In the list of hopefuls for promotion, the one who gives himself from the waist down has a better chance than the one who gives his heart and mind to the service of God and his brothers…For many prelates in the Curia, the beautiful boy attracts more good will and favor than the intelligent one." (Millenari, p. 110)

Question: Who of the American hierarchy are or have been homosexually active?

Fact: The Vatican and the American hierarchy, as well as other observes, say that the problem of abuse of minors will be curtailed by a better screening process of candidates for the priesthood. But the record shows that a substantial number of vocation directors, priest trainers, spiritual directors, and men already within the priesthood have sex with young candidates and young priests. There is no reason to believe that sexual activity of priests within the system (save sex with minors) has diminished or in any way been addressed by the hierarchy. One Cardinal vowed that no homosexually oriented candidate would be admitted to his seminary. Of course that is comparable to saying that one will eliminate homosexual activity in prisons by allowing only heterosexual men within its walls. Human nature is not that simple. Sex is not that uncomplicated. The clerical system is not that refined.


Fact: The Church is against abortion. Some bishops are saying that any Catholic [and I quote] who "thinks it is acceptable for a Catholic to be pro-abortion is in very great error…and puts his or her soul at risk" and should "refrain from taking Communion." Never have I heard any bishop speak up and say that any priest who is involved in a sexual relationship should refrain from "taking Communion."

Question: The right to abortion is the law of the land. Can one support the legal rights of others without choosing to take advantage of that right for reasons of conscience? A moral stance! Sexual abuse of minors is a crime. Why has the hierarchy been so adamant to oppose a legal right they feel endangers life and so indifferent and neglectful of child protection laws, reporting laws, and statute of limitation laws that do protect life? Sexual abuse of minors by the trusted kills the soul. Time and time again the hierarchy has been complicit in this crime—soul murder. Why do they fight laws that protect minors?

Fact: Forgiveness is among the noblest of virtues—to forgive divine. The example of Christ on the cross is among the most enduring symbols of universal acceptance and love. But Jesus was the aggrieved. He was the victim. The aggressor, the perpetrator, the abuser has the more complicated role in the process of forgiveness. It goes without saying it is nothing he deserves. A simple, "I'm so sorry" does not merit forgiveness. The expressions of sorrow about the harm done by abusive priests have become formulaic. Most of the time they ring hollow because they are words not accompanied by real contact with the victims and an understanding of their horror stories. No bishop that I know of has been converted. I mean that in the sense that Romero was converted by contact with the poor or Gandhi was converted by the direct experiences of racial degradation. Three things are required of the party who requests forgiveness. First he must accept full and unconditional responsibility for his sin, his crime, his neglect, his arrogance, his heartlessness, his misplaced loyalties, or his oversights. Second he must make restitution for the harm he has caused. This compensation must not be grudging or niggling. It must be free and delivered with the sense of just reparation. [What is the price of a soul?] Third there must clearly be present a firm, real, practical, effective, and demonstrable proof that he has changed. He will not repeat his behavior.

Question: Which members of the hierarchy merit forgiveness? Who of the hierarchy really cares about the harm done by the sexual activity of those who pretend to be celibate? W ho are the men of transparency and integrity? Who are the hypocrites?

Fact: In truth, those are the most dangerous questions. Only the American hierarchy can answer them.