SEX & ABUSE BY CATHOLIC CLERGY
Plenary Session July 27, 2013
3:00 — 4:15
SIPE ON THE PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE
PAST: Putting sexual abuse in perspective.
Sexual abuse of minors is not a recent phenomenon; the reality of
clergy sexual activity has existed, as long as there have been priests and bishops
Church documents from the earliest centuries record the ideal of
religious celibacy and its violations. (Cf. Doyle, Sipe & Wall 2006)
There is an element of basic asceticism in the practice of religious
Celibacy — the imitation of Jesus in having nothing: not a place “to lay
his head”; poverty by choice; and forsaking all family relationships in
order to be like Jesus. Treating others as Jesus did was the object
of the discipline.
This ideal was found especially in the earliest monks of the desert.
But the other side of the coin is the corruption of the ideal.
In our time, publicity about abuse has refocused our
knowledge of the frequency of sexual violations by clergy
and the horrendous and long lasting damage done to victims.
Purity was thought to be the source of clerical power.
Sexual abuse of minors does not stand alone within clerical culture.
It is a symptom and always has been of a corrupt system of
double lives and duplicity that reaches from local parishes to the
Vatican; it destroys the myth of clerical purity.
The whole idea that clergy practice celibacy has imploded.
Celibate practice of clerics (even the appearance of it) gave early
Christians considerable power .The early institution attempted to
“bottle” this element of power as early as the 4th Century. (Cf.
Council of Elvira 309 C.E.) That earliest council record dealt explicitly
with many sexual aberrations of the clergy. By the way , records of
the Desert Fathers also include accounts of their sexual struggles
including some accounts of violations of minors by “holy” men
The institution wrestled for centuries to control its clergy and its property
This process of consolodating power political, religious
and temporal was furthered by three medieval church maneuvers:
1.) In 1049 C.E. St. Peter Damian wrote to Pope Leo IX and decried
the prevalence of sexual abuse by clergy that he called “criminal
vice” and said it was epidemic (Letter 31) Even then he
encouraged the pope to have zero tolerance and have offending
priests reduced to the lay state. The pope was more tolerant and
thought that was too stringent and said steps should be taken
only if the behavior was persistent
2.) Mandating in 1139 C.E. (1074) that all men ordained to
and perpetual chastity that involved celibacy, (non marriage ). The
rule was never very successful. Deprived of a chance to marry a
majority of the clergy continued to have sexual companions.
[Even in the 1960s Jesuit sociologist Joseph Fichter estimated
that 30% of priests in Germany were living intimately with
women.] Although statistics are hard to come by sophisticated
estimates from scholars around the world do not support
a vigorous practice of celibacy, from cardinals to parish priests.
3) In1215 C.E. The IV Lateran Council proclaimed that everyone
-----2-----had to confess his/her mortal sins to a priest in the private and
personal sacrament of penance at least once a year Every sexual
thought word desire and action constituted a mortal
sin according to church teaching We were all taught this in grade school
.Control by guilt and shame forms powerful and destructive”Confession is the only ordinary way to receive the forgiveness of
shackles for priests and people. The chasm between the law
imposed by Vatican decree and the practice of the clergy renders
the teaching unbelievable. Essentially the priest is touted as
another Christ (Cf. statement from IV Lateran) ...
God for serious (mortal) sins , which if unforgiven condemn a
person to Hell. The Church teaches that Catholic priests have
been given the authority by God to exercise the forgiveness of
sins here on earth and it is in God's name by which the person
confessing is forgiven. In theological terms, the priest acts in
persona Christi and receives from the Church the power of
jurisdiction over the penitent."
The reason I point out these dates is to show how the church tried to
expand its control over human sexuality in priests and people, at the
same time its countenanced corruption and constructed structures
that were dangerous under the guise of pastoral care
Personal confession was and is a precarious site for domination and
potential sexual abuse of the vulnerable. I wish that I had kept a
record of the number of cases in which confession was the occasion
for a violating cleric to target his victim.
Abuse knows no social, economic, ethnic or religious
boundaries. You are one important voice among many
The work that abuse survivors, their supporters, lawyers,
and press do is tremendously valuable beyond the boun
daries of the Catholic Church.
Your witness is now taken seriously. The clergy victim/survivors
movement contributes to the understanding of the dynamics of
minor abuse in every other cultural system from the family to
colleges to the military and beyond the U.S. This makes you
You are real. You are telling the forbidden truth
Sexual abuse and cover up is central to clerical culture and its
inherent narcissism. The future cannot sustain a culture that
.imposes impossible and irrational sexual standards
.extolls itself as unerring.Sex is the core problematic issue for religion in our time. The
already in 1986: "family life, divorce & remarriage, premarital &
This morass requires not a simple tweak, but a Copernican shift
builds its sexual is false. We must be part of the solution.
What is a vision for the future? Pope Francis has
already said that "Ecclesiastical Narcissism" is one of the
fundamental sources of the current corruption in the church
Certainly ecclesiastical agencies and power have not been
proactive but strongly resistant to coming to grips with the crisis
of clerical abuse Every action they have taken has been reactive
and largely continues in every possible way.
We can divorce ourselves from the institutional church all we
want, but we cannot shake our own narcissism so easily. We
AU Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s voice is worth hearing and his
The Capuchins of Milwaukee have been unique and bold in their
efforts to review the records of all their personnel.
Our own integrity is our primary concern and responsibility. But
integrity does exist even in the midst of corruption. Seek, find,
and support the reformation of an institution that is sexually
and financially distorted. Truth will out.
SPIRITUALITY BEYOND TRAUMA
physical/medical, psychological and spiritual. (cf.
ACE Study- adverse childhood events)
As you know those effects can be dire.
Sexual trauma or betrayal by a clergy person often leaves
deep scars that some times necessarily involve the rejection
of the structure of any church and hierarchy. (23.9 % of
No one can fault anyone for rejecting Catholicism. Co-
compromised that it is empty. An institution that cannot tell
the truth about itself has nothing to say.
Individuals of integrity exist (they are not generally the
hierarchy of the Church).
We can exist without a church, without rules and without
We cannot exist without spirituality. One of the great
leaders of the 20th Century said: “We must find some
spiritual basis for living, else we die.” (Bill W)
fulfillment that go beyond institutions
and clerical control.
STEPS TO A SPIRITUALITY
* We need powers beyond ourselves.
Awareness that we are not spiritually self
sufficient is essential to a spiritual life.
*It takes daily attention in mindfulness or meditation.
*Honesty is necessary for any spirituality.
*Empathy, gratitude and forgiveness are also required.
*A system or group of like minded people may be helpful.
The 12 steps demonstrated by AA is one of
the most profound spiritual programs ever devised.
*Spirituality is beyond rules and dogmas. It is an
internal process that will demonstrate itself to others
on the outside.
St. Augustine in his confessions articulates the core of his
personal spirituality: It is an internal relationship that is not
institutionally confined: Late have I loved you, Beauty ever
ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within, but I
unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things that you created. You
were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from
you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You
flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed
your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I
have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You t
ouched me, and I burned for your peace. (St. Augustine, Confessions)
Tureluurs, pimpelmezen en nijlganzen