Voice Of The Faithful Conference
St. Thomas University, St. Paul Minnesota November 7, 2004
by Richard Sipe

I am deeply thankful for your invitation to be here with you.

We all are united in 3 goals:

  • To support those sexually abused.

  • To support priests and bishops of integrity.

  • To help shape the structural integrity of the Church.

The focus of my considerations is forgiveness and healing—principally forgiveness of sexual abuse by bishops and priests. I invite you to struggle with me around 10 rules for forgiving the Church and clergy—steps that can lead to healing.

Rule One: Forgive life. Life is not fair or just. Physical, intellectual, emotional, environmental, and even spiritual gifts and limitations are bestowed with a mysterious haphazardness. Life endows more of its benefits on some for no special reason. Fate dispossesses others of advantages with an equal caprice.

Some of us grow up in homes, neighborhoods, and circumstances that are nourishing and supportive. Others have endured unspeakable hardship and neglect growing up. Some of us enjoy good health; others are afflicted with pain, suffering and loss. Life gives each of us some good things and deprives us of others.

We can't control these endowments or events.

Life is what it is. No one can change his or her inheritance from life. But we can modify life's endowments—enhance the gifts, and temper the effects of life's limitations. To do so we have to accept life and give up our resistances to reality. Forgive life! Accept life! Acceptance of life—forgiveness of it—gives us freedom to live.

[To put this in religious terms it means to accept the will of God.]

Rule Two: Forgive yourself. Who of us has not made misjudgments and taken missteps? I like Flannery O'Connor's reflection "Human nature is so faulty that it can resist any amount of grace and most of the time it does". Even the most blessed among us, if honest, will have had thoughts, words, and actions to regret—all have made some lamentable and reprehensible choices.

If we can bring ourselves to forgive ourselves—and we should repent and forgive ourselves for any guilt that is rightfully ours—we will come to understand what it is to forgive another. "Forgive as we have been forgiven." That is the gold standard, and it applies to us as forgivers in need of forgiveness.

It is important for us to be grounded in an honest sense of our own guilt and self-forgiveness because abuse—sexual violation and betrayal by the trusted—distorts the realities of our merited guilt and our justifiable self-recrimination.

The guilt, the shame, the loss of dignity that rightfully belongs to the abuser for his behavior is thrust into the soul of the innocent victim. This venom poisons the soul of the victim, sometimes even to death. The cancer of this unmerited guilt has to be excised because it is foreign, false, and cannot be incorporated into a system of honest responsibility.

The self-distortion that results from the sexual abuse of one who advertises himself as holy and sexually safe is almost unbearable. The burden becomes incomprehensible when an institution that calls itself the Body of Christ heaps opprobrium and vilification on the victim and colludes to hide its part in the process of abuse rather than healing the virus at its source—which is itself.

Are we all burdened by the abuse of the clergy? Yes. Are we all confused by the clear part the church hierarchy has played in the drama of hypocrisy that we call the crisis of sexual abuse? Certainly! Forgiveness of others and us is a process of separating out responsibilities and realities.

Jesus never softened his condemnation of anyone who would "scandalize one of these little ones." - A millstone around the neck and thrown into the sea. That millstone does not belong to the victim. That is the burden of the abuser and his supporters. He must work that out by himself with his God.

Rule Three: We have a Christian model of forgiveness. There are a number of models of forgiveness—good psychological models that promote physical and mental balance. None of them are inimical to Christian forgiveness. Each of them involves letting go of our own suffering. None of the models include condoning the behavior of the abuser. None of them excuse the offending person. None of them, including the Christian model, demands a reconciliation that requires association with the abuser.

Forgiveness does not require a feeling. It requires a declaration: I am a Christian and I forgive. Forgiveness is not earned, merited, or deserved.

Forgiveness is a gift.

The center of the Christian mystery and Christian life is the act of redemptive forgiveness on the cross that is reenacted daily in the Mass. Inexhaustible and infinite forgiveness becomes available to anyone who avails him or herself of it. Sublime in mystery, simple in theory and unspeakably complex in human application.

The value of this forgiveness was the sacrifice of life: Love unto death.

The price for this forgiveness was truth. Jesus was crucified because he told the truth. We can only enter into redemptive forgiveness by struggling for radical truth within ourselves and in our church. Each day at Mass we make a stab at radical truth: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. We have sacramental confession, to explore the deeper truth about ourselves because our daily struggles sometime fail.

Ritual forgiveness is perhaps easier to comprehend and utilize when we are reconciling our own faults than when we are faced with the morass of corruption in the ministry and the church. What rituals are there to forgive the Church?

How can we understand? How can we compute the sexual violation—the rape—by a priest or bishop who says daily Mass and who absolves sinners in Confession? How can I endure the betrayal that was executed in the name of religion, under the guise of ministry?

We are not Christ. But we are Christians. We have a right to expect our Church, our bishops and our priests, to bring us closer to Christ's example and aid us in our Christian striving. We are disappointed and disillusioned by the number of priests and bishops who violate their celibate commitment, many times in vicious ways.

In spite of widespread betrayal we need to struggle like Christ for truth and love. We need to enter into the process wherein we decipher what it means both to forgive and be forgiven.

But we must humbly realize that just as Christ's infinite forgiveness has not, and cannot reform those who refuse to respond, neither can an individual or the collective power of our forgiveness reform our church. But we can make a dent. We are making a difference. In Christ we can succeed. In the process we may feel isolated because the familiar religious supports are no longer available to us or trustworthy. But we have each other to explore the practical ways back to reconciliation and reform. Christ's truth and love is our guide.

Entering into the process of forgiveness frees us from suffering—makes our suffering, like Christ's redemptive—and gives us the freedom of the children of God.

Rule Four: Do not forget. To forgive does not mean to forget. In fact, remembering is essential to the healing process. Covering an abscess, shielding it from light and air fosters festering and decay. The Church cannot heal if she forgets her past. The Church is creating a huge moral chancre by working to forget its part in the dynamic of abuse, and pretending clerical abuse is "history." Clerical abuse truly has a long and inglorious history extending back as far as church records exist. Attempting to keep the history of clerical abuse secret has been a contributing factor to the current crisis. (1)

Absolution for any person asking for forgiveness involves a process in which he must remember. First: He must remember and acknowledge the full extent of his violations. Second: He must take complete and full responsibility for his actions or negligence and their consequences. Third: He must compensate adequately for the abuse and the harm done. And Fourth: He must effectively and positively determine that he will not repeat the behavior for which he wants forgiveness. The cost of being forgiven is truth—plain, simple, unvarnished truth.

Nothing less than truth and reformation will do for the priests or bishops who have taken sexual advantage of a boy, girl, or vulnerable adult. Nothing less than reformation is required from bishops and priests who have countenanced abuse, covered up abuse, neglected to respond to reasonable indications of abuse, excused or protected abusing clergy. All of these men ignored the "scandal" suffered by the little ones. They are guilty.

Where have the 90% of clergy been who have not abused minors sexually?

Had they no suspicions? Had they heard no rumors? How many fellow priests and bishops disregarded complaints and reports? After all, even a "suspicion of abuse or neglect" noted by a physician, teacher, or therapist is enough to trigger an investigation by civil authorities who must protect children.

I have reviewed thousands upon thousands of pages of depositions by priests, church officials, and bishops. I have seen others on videotape. Mine has been a sad education in arrogance, evasion, and mendacity. Several Catholic lawyers have said to me, "I never could have imagined that bishops could lie like this." Several Catholic victims' lawyers have entered therapy to help them come to grips with the personal trauma they have suffered because of revelations about their church that they have been forced to face.

How sad it is to note the denial of responsibility by many of our religious leaders. Some bishops stand up to say they are "sorry for the pain that victims have suffered." Apologies unaccompanied by personal creditability and repentance will not heal. I have heard many ministerial excuses: "We didn't know! The state of knowledge was different then. Psychiatrists misled us! We were only following our lawyers advice!" What bishop does not, and did not know that sex between a minor and a priest is a serious violation of celibacy? What bishop does not know that sex (by anyone) with a minor or vulnerable adult is illegal? No bishop needs a psychiatrist or a lawyer to enlighten him about these basic facts.

The fact that such activity is sinful does not offer forgiveness as a convenient cover up. Forgiveness is not an excuse for secrecy, covering up, and "forgetting" reality.

Where is the bishop who is free enough to stand and ask forgiveness for his neglect, his blindness to the real harm done to victims, his collusion in covering for abusing priests, his preference for preserving image over the protection of his flock, his unwillingness to assure the celibate practice of his priests? The Church in the United States has not yet produced the Archbishop Romero we need to reestablish moral leadership in the American Church.

Remembering is of the essence of being forgiven and healed. The cost for being forgiven is the truth, the price of being forgiven is reformation. There are no cut rate, half measures that can merit forgiveness or insure healing and health. Reform! or whither away!

The process of forgiving a transgression or violation has its unique process.

Forgiving means freeing oneself of the bonds of resentment, grudge, hate, and retaliation. It means standing up for the truth. Resentment, grudge, hate, and retaliation are burdens. Once we free ourselves from these negative weights—they are like carrying a ten-pound brick in each hand—we can heal. No excuses!

Drop them. They do nobody any good.

Freeing ourselves—forgiving—does not mean we roll over and die or become toadies of an abusive system or institution. No. To remember in freedom allows us to see things clearly, to refocus our vision to heal others and ourselves.

Rule Five: Be not afraid. Jesus said, "Let not your heart be troubled nor let it be afraid. If you believe in God believe also in me." These are not merely words of consolation. They are a testimony about where our security really rests. Our security does not reside in popes, bishops, or priests, no matter how holy. Our security is in Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Theologian Romano Guardini used to say: "The Church is the cross on which Christ is crucified daily." It is. The hierarchy attempts to mitigate the sting of clerical celibate failure by saying, "We are a church of sinners." When we take them at their word they become incensed, defensive, attacking and retaliatory. They say it, but they can't apply it themselves. That's when we become the Church.

We happen to have lived during an historical phase when singularly holy Popes have sustained the throne in Rome. We have to remember that such has not always been the case. Much of the history of the Roman Catholic Church reads like a cheap paperback novel. Some popes have been lechers, murderers, pedophiles, and there have been others who were even less qualified to be called the Vicar of Christ.

Our faith in Jesus Christ is not dependent on the sanctity or the sins of our priests and bishops. But the moral qualities of bishops and priests do have profound effects. Pope Pius X said that more souls are lost because of miscreant priests than from any other source.

It is understandable that some who have been sexually and administratively abused (raped) by the Catholic Church no longer can tolerate any association with the institution. The loss of the religion of one's birthright is a severe deprivation. To have one's faith ripped from one's soul by the betrayal of those trusted leaves scars on the soul that only Jesus, not religion, can transform to badges of moral honor. Jesus does not abandon. He is faithful. Not all priests and bishops are. Not all the successors of the apostles are credible.

We can only pray that a sufficient number of clergy of every stripe can rise to the moral and spiritual challenge facing the Church today. It will take clergy who are what they claim to be - Celibate for the Kingdom.

Rule Six: Channel positive anger. Anger is not an evil word. However, it has been vilified in the clerical dominated culture where docility and subservience are extolled above self-assertion and independence (and even reason). Anger is more than a negative emotion. Anger provides energy necessary for survival. It is a normal consequence of being betrayed, of being molested, of being victimized, of being deceived, of being persecuted (like Christ) by religious authority.

St. Augustine said: "Anger is the beginning of courage."

If Jesus Christ is the model for our forgiveness, He is also the model for our anger. Christ expressed his anger directly and forcefully. The two most prominent instances of Christ's anger are when he cast the moneychangers out of the temple and when he riled against hypocritical religious authorities.

And he was severe in his criticism. "Whitened sepulchers! Appearing clean on the outside, but the inside filled with rot and dead men's bones!" Plain talk.

Justice un-tempered by political correctness or respect for office. Justice based on fact—on truth. Who can deny that it takes courage to speak truth to power? Corrupt power is the focus of our anger. We have a formidable enemy!

The sexual abuse crisis continues to expose the unimagined hypocrisy of the Catholic Church in matters sexual and financial. There is no other way to say it. There is no gentle way to realize that the Church, our Church, when measured by the yardstick of hypocrisy, is every bit as corrupt sexually and financially as she was at the time of the Protestant Reformation. That is not hyperbole. (2) Cf. a document written by a group of Vatican officials —Via col vento in Vaticano.)

Without just anger none of us is capable of handling such a harsh and astounding reality that challenges us. We need the courage and tenacity that the cultivation of just anger generates. We need the experience of forgiveness to energize ourselves and give us the freedom to be angry.

Rule Seven: De-emotionalize responses. The struggle against hypocrisy and abuse is a most serious business. We are not involved in some kind of moral pep rally. I learned long ago as a therapist that I could not help people even begin to solve their problems and heal themselves until they were willing to engage in a modicum of emotional neutrality. To see clearly and rationally one has to move beyond feeling.

After all, are not the misguided, unbridled, malignant, and malicious sexual emotions of abusing clergy at the core of the problem of abuse? Abusers might try to disguise and justify their feelings as love. Not real! Whatever the host of emotions, intentions, or rationalizations that trap a priest or bishop into sexually abuse, the behavior remains destructive, irrational, and indefensible. There is no rational defense of sexual abuse by one who portrays himself as "celibate" for the Kingdom (sexually inviolate and safe), and who poses as worthy of trust and obedience.

It is clear also, that the response of the Church to the public revelations of abusing bishops and priests has been knee jerk emotion to protect image and money. The history of the current response to celibate violations remains for the most part reactionary. This has not always been so. There are well-documented periods in church history when the church has taken strong leadership to combat celibate violations by its clergy.

But now, rational moral action on the part of the hierarchy to the sexual abuse crisis has been forced by the unstinting analysis by the press, law enforcement, lawyers, and victims, and lay people such as yourselves, who have focused on the facts. A huge puzzle remains for me: why should the hierarchy, or any of us, resist considering the facts?

We need facts, not emotion, to solve the epic challenge before us. I trust Pope John Paul II's evaluation of the resources we have to bring to bear on problem solving:

"It always has been the conviction of the church" he said, "that God gave man the ability to arrive, with the light of his reason, at an understanding of the fundamental truths about his life and his destiny and, concretely, at the norms of correct action."

Now is not the time for recriminations, drama, weeping and gnashing of teeth, grand gestures, or emotional diatribes from any side. Now is the time for facts and reason to guide our thinking and decisions about sex and our faith.

Reason gives us freedom from emotional traps.

Rule Eight: Examine obedience, sex, and charity: Charity is the real essence of Christianity. But theologian Yves Congar, O.P. once said. "In the Catholic Church it has often seemed that the sin of the flesh was the only sin, and obedience the only virtue." There are reasons for this overshadowing of charity.

Sex and obedience are intimately connected at the core of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II has clearly declared that celibacy is essential to the priestly vocation.

First, celibacy is central to the social contract between priest and people.

The priest promises to give up all human sexual involvement. The assurance of celibate practice by Catholic clergy is exchanged for the trust, respect, belief, support, obedience, and allegiance of the faithful. They in turn are to receive comfort, forgiveness, and salvation. (3)

That social contract has been seriously violated by a sufficient number of bishops and priests to bring the Church to an epic confrontation. Through their violations bishops have relinquished moral credibility in every matter of human sexuality. Sexual abuse of minors is merely the poster issue for the crisis. (As the sale of Indulgences was for the Protestant Reformation.) The present crisis is about non-celibate (sexual) behavior of priests and bishops and their disregard for the rational judgments of married Christians in regard to human sexuality.

The hierarchy has concentrated much emphasis on the selection of candidates for the priesthood as if a bad influence were invading seminaries and the priesthood causing the sexual crisis. Much evidence shows that clerical candidates are subjected to sex in seminaries and from sexually active priests, even spiritual directors. Corruption of the priesthood is not coming from outside forces; it is specious to blame candidates or culture. Corruption of the priesthood is generated and perpetuated within the clerical system. Corruption does not seep up from the bottom. Corruption is raining down from the top.

Second, the current crisis will not be solved easily. If celibacy is central to the priesthood as the Pope declares (and I have never argued against the Pope's judgment) then the church must first acknowledge that it does not take training for celibacy seriously. At one time a man had to memorize the whole of the New Testament to qualify for ordination to the episcopacy. Now, at least a three-year sequence in biblical studies is required for priestly ordination.

If celibacy is important to the priesthood why is any less study than a three-year/ six-semester sequence required? Critics say there is nothing to teach or learn, or that seminaries are now doing an adequate job. Facts speak otherwise.

Third, there are voices saying that the sexual crisis is of recent origin, caused by Vatican II and stimulated by the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s. Even the Vatican once implied that abuse was simply an "American" problem. Nonsense! Father Tom Doyle, Patrick Wall, and I have already prepared a preliminary outline of Church documents that record the long-standing, widespread prevalence of celibate violations, including clergy sex with minors. Written accounts and concerns go back to the year 309 and continue with remarkable frequency up to the present time. (We are in the process of collecting the documents themselves into volumes available for everyone to read.)

The sexual crisis of our time is not a new phenomenon. Sadly, past realities are being reincarnated in the American church today. Credible celibacy does not exist in a significant proportion of the American clergy. The social contract with the laity has become strained to the breaking point as corruption of the priesthood becomes ever more evident, and the credibility of the hierarchy is ever more compromised. It is not a problem of politics or public relations and cannot be cured by either. The demise of obedience to church leadership is not the cause of the crisis in our church (as Cardinal Stickler maintains ); it is a result of clerical malfeasance. Respect, trust, and obedience can no longer be operative in the Church.

But, with genuine charity on all sides, this crisis provides an opportunity to revivify the pastoral care of the Church and a chance to rededicate the priesthood to celibate integrity and the hierarchy to honesty and accountability.

What else is a reformation all about? Charity should win the freedom of us all in the end.

Rule Nine: We are not alone. It may not be of immediate consolation to victims of abuse to know the extent of the abuse problem in the American Church.

But I hope a review of some facts will extend a bit of comfort. Facts of the abuse should also challenge all Catholics (priests & people) who care about the Church. The scope of sexual abuse by the clergy goes far beyond any of us as individuals.

The John Jay study commissioned by the American Bishops said that between 3 and 6% of Catholic priests abuse minors. They also cautioned that the figures they reported could not accurately determine the exact dimensions of the problem because of under-reporting. The bishop of my diocese acknowledged that 66 priests had been reported for abuse. He, using only his own judgment, dismissed 22 of the reports as "unreliable." The diocese, however, now has 150 civil law cases pending against it. Documents to be produced in court will give us a more accurate account.

The Boston Archdiocese recorded that 7.6% of its priests abused minors during the same period recorded by the John Jay study. Because of further revelations, (the inclusion of religious) that percentage is now approaching 10%.

New Hampshire reported 8.2% of its priests were abusers. Twenty-four per cent of the priests serving in the diocese of Tucson, Arizona in 1986 were sexual abusers. Fifty-six of 710 priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1991 were sexual abusers. That figure includes two bishops. LA is a jurisdiction where 244 priests have been acknowledged abusers.

Seventy-five per cent of the parishes of the Los Angeles archdiocese have had one or more abuser serving them. At least forty-five per cent of the parishes in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese have had sexual abusers on their staffs. Boston registers the same.

Studies of the number of priest abusers belonging to religious orders have not been completed, but preliminary indicators point to figures over 10%.

All figures available do not include the abuse of vulnerable adults. And knowledgeable experts in the field of child abuse state that the number of victims who have come forward so far (10,000) should be multiplied by a factor of ten ( 100,000 at least).

VOTF can play an important role in assembling accurate data. Precise data supports victims, the integrity of the priesthood, and the good of us all. We must not shy away from the reality that bishops violate their celibacy in equal proportion as priests. Therefore many bishops are not in a position that makes celibate regulation or oversight plausible.

The Church has resisted co-operation and even defied legitimate civil authorities striving to determine the parameters of the problem of clergy abuse. So far reports from Grand Juries have produced the most reliable picture of the dynamics of abuse and conspiracies to cover it up in specific dioceses. The picture they paint is dire indeed. (4) We need the freedom of the community to make forgiveness realizable.

Rule Ten: Act as the Church you are. Church documents from 1517 clearly state: a "functional diocese had no need for lay interference." And an analysis of contemporaneous church legislation defines the five functions of a secular priest in order of importance.

  1. Primarily the priest was to preserve his image ; his behavior should not provide cause for scandal about the priesthood or the church.

  2. The priest's most important function was to protect the income of the church.

  3. The priest was the protector of the "sacred," the church building, and its vessels and vestments.

  4. The priest had the cura animarum or duty to hear confession, distribute communion, administer the last sacraments, and to instruct his flock.

  5. "Finally, the priest functioned as an agent of the bishop, transmitting and receiving information concerning the desired diocesan order." (5)

Is it not remarkable how operational this outline of clerical functions is in today's church? As effective as those priorities of functions may have been at one time, their breakdown and inadequacies are brutally apparent now. The church needs to reevaluate its pastoral priorities. And the Church does need involvement from the laity. Not window dressing involvement. Operational involvement.

Time after time I have seen (Arch) bishop after bishop resort to a function of image preserver, income supervisor, property protector, administrator above all and before any consideration of the care of souls. Bishops have become CEOs and CFOs not in addition to, but rather than pastors.

Public relations (image preservation) have been a principal and primary response of the hierarchy to the abuse crisis. Slogans—Restoring Trust—rather than substantial moral leadership have occupied bishops' efforts. The Cardinal of Los Angeles employs the firm of Michael Sitrick and Associates as his public relations firm. They are good. (This is the same firm employed by the tobacco companies and Enron Corporation.) At an estimated cost of 50 thousand dollars a month public relations have reportedly cost LA over a half million dollars already. The USCCB reportedly has PR projects costing millions. One courageous, completely honest bishop who would lift his head above the crowd would be worth more than all PR campaigns put together. Of course all Christians know what it would cost. Another crucifixion!

Whatever genuine progress has been made to meet the sex abuse crisis has not been the result of PR. Nor will it be. Progress, reformation and reconciliation, will result from lay pressure. The isolation from solid common sense lay involvement in clerical determinations has resulted in continuing harm not just to the violated minors and faithful, but to the bishops themselves who continue to shoot themselves in one foot after another.

(Two examples: Cases of sexual abuse in Dallas could have been settled with several victims of Fr. Rudy Kos in 1995 for a few hundred thousand dollars and some consolation from the bishop. Instead, church authorities chose the corporation route. A jury in 1997 appalled by hearing what the Dallas Archdiocese knew and did awarded the plaintiffs $119.6 million dollars in compensation. (finally settled for 32.5 million) The bishop of Dallas still reigns.

A young man violated by Msgr. Michael Harris cost Los Angeles and Orange Diocese 5.2 million dollars. The victim had simply requested 300 thousand dollars to pay for therapy and the chance to continue his education. The unwillingness of the Church to be open, accountable, and clean its own house, is costing it dearly financially and spiritually. The latest church maneuver to protect its "assets" is to file for bankruptcy.

This tact demonstrates where exactly bishops' treasures reside. They are not in people! Not in pastoral integrity! Not in truth and openness! Bishops' security and hope resides in property and power. Many people will be unjustly harmed by this political end run. But as the saying goes, "The Church turns to politics when it fails to produce enough saints." (Francois Mauriac) The Archdiocese of Portland and the diocese of Tucson have already filed for bankruptcy. (Others will follow) I know a good deal about sexual abuse of clergy in those places. The violations of celibacy at top administration posts, the toleration of abuse on all levels of the clergy, and corruption are horror tales yet to be reckoned with.

Perhaps some good for the reformation of the church can be retrieved in the end from bankruptcy procedures. Already the Department of Justice from Washington DC is involved in both cases. The cold analytical eye of a bankruptcy judge may sort out the actual financial dealings of these churches and give an honest accounting the faithful deserve. (For instances some bishops claim that compensation to victims hinders a diocese from continuing its works of charity, when in truth the diocese pays only 8% of the monies for Catholic Charities.

The rest comes from federal and civic sources.) We will find out how much money dioceses have spent on their lawyers. Do these funds exceed the expenses of plaintiffs lawyers and compensation to victims?

What has the American Church spent on public relations? An external accounting will validate church priorities.

The kind of obedience that has kept the laity quiet and subservient is over.

We witness the moral bankruptcy of our hierarchy. The laity must focus a cold and analytical eye on the dynamics of that demise.

It is clear that the bishops cannot reform themselves or adequately manage the sexual behavior in the ministry. They will never be able to achieve the integrity demanded by their office without the pressure, support, and supervision of the laity who are the Church. This is not a contest, but an invitation to cooperation.

Those who are The Church must demand the accountability and the transparency to which the Pope and some bishops have pledged themselves. Together we need to review all the documentation that records the path taken into this abyss.

There is no other way to repair current pitfalls and forge a better path to the forgiveness and healing only possible in Jesus Christ. (6)

Conclusion: We have come together to support victims of clergy abuse. We assembled to encourage clergy of integrity and we look for ways to stimulate structural integrity in our church. I hope that the "rules of forgiveness" can provide us some direction toward those objectives in the midst of the fog of degradation we find our church in today. Finding facts and facing them puts us on solid ground to pursue forgiveness.

In this confusion we can use some simple guidelines for our individual growth too. (* Cf. Alternate Conclusion)

  • Forgive and be willing to be forgiven.

  • Forgiveness is a declaration not a feeling.

  • Forgiveness is not an event. It is a constant process and a way of being.

  • Forgiveness breaks the cycle of resentment and revenge.

  • Forgiveness does not imply approval of those we forgive nor does it impose an obligation to associate with them.

  • Forgiveness is a gift. It is not earned or deserved.

  • Forgiveness frees us from the burdens of regret, grudges, retaliation, and fear.

  • Forgiveness is an acceptance of life and frees us for living.

  • Forgiveness is good for us.


  • Demand the truth from yourself and those with whom you wish to relate: especially representatives of religion.

  • Deal constructively with reality, no matter how harsh.

  • Be willing to change. Personal healing is not possible without changing.

  • Work toward freeing yourself from symptoms, tensions, and anxieties that were produced by violations and betrayal by religious powers.

  • Find satisfaction in forgiveness, giving and receiving it.

  • Establish close relationships of mutual satisfaction and helpfulness, free from the traumas and scars of the past.

  • Direct your instinctive angry energy into creative and constructive action.

  • Expand your capacity to love. Love is more powerful than any violation personal or institutional.

  • Charity does really heal. Perfect charity heals perfectly.

Richard Sipe


  • 1. T.P. Doyle, A.W.R.Sipe, P.J. Wall, An Outline of Canonical Documents of Clergy Sexual Abuse. Precept Press, Chicago, 2004.

  • 2. Millenari, Shroud of Secrecy (Italian original: Via col vent in Vaticano).

  • Key Porter Books, Toronto, 2000.

  • 3. Anson Shupe, Spoils of the Kingdom: Clergy Misconduct and Social Exchange in Religious Life. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 2005.

  • 4. Cf. Grand Jury Reports long Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Phoenix, etc.

  • 5. Richard C. Trexler, Synodal Law in Florence & Fiesole, 1306-1518. Vatican Press, Rome, 1971.

  • 6. www.BishopAccountability.org is a competent and reliable source of facts and data about the sexual abuse crisis.