Sipe Comments
 by A.W. Richard Sipe
September 13, 2012

When Peter Damian sent a report to Pope Leo IX in 1049 C.E. laying out in detail the sad state of clergy sexual activity, especially abuse of minors, the pope responded that severe steps against the offending cleric should be taken only if the abuse persisted and had occurred more than once.

Father Benedict Groeschel quickly backed away from his remarks quoted in the National Catholic Register that indicated minors are sometimes responsible for the sexual seduction of priests and that priests with only one offence should not be punished.

Spokesmen for the church were quick to distance themselves from this well-known defender of Catholic orthodoxy calling indefensible "blaming the abused" for their abuse. Some even credited the priest's age (senility) and ill health for this lapse in judgment.

I, for one, credit his good memory of the genuine clerical stance toward minors who are sexually involved with clergy. Loras Watters, bishop of Winona, Minnesota remarked on hearing that one of his priests had sex with a youngster "Little boys heal".

More directly, another American archbishop wrote in the 1990s that 'Streetwise kids often seduce naive priests' - to which I responded, "who is responsible for producing naive priests?" Bishop Norman McFarland of Orange California put the burden of abuse on victims when he said, "many adolescents are fully developed and precocious". What is a poor priest to do when faced with temptations of such overwhelming odds?

Robert Finn, bishop of Kansas City was convicted for his failure to report one of his priests who came to his attention for abuse. A staff member told Finn about the discovery of hundreds of lewd photographs of young girls discovered on the priest's laptop. She testified under oath in deposition quoting the bishop..."you know, sometimes priests do things that they shouldn' know, 'Sometimes boys will be boys,' "

Of course, part of the trouble is clear - too many priests are just boys.

That computer systems manager for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who gave the testimony wants to revise her memory and now doubts the accuracy of her recollection that the bishop said "Sometimes boys will be boys".

Truth sometimes slips out in spite of our best efforts to cover up.

Finn is also credited with the remark, "it is just pornography". In that he is behind the curve. Pope Benedict added pornography to the list of sexual offences that should not be tolerated among clergy where it is a significant concern.

It is, however, still common for the church to defend priests who act out sexually and blame the victims in sexual exchanges. It is unpopular and impolitic now for bishops to take the side of the abuser, but that really is the honest attitude of the church when abuse involves its priests.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League and mouth piece for many bishops issued a statement on August 30 defending Father Benedict Groeschel and all of his good work for the Archdiocese of New York with the assertion that in a "lot of the cases, the youngster - 14, 16, 18 - is the seducer."

No one can doubt Groeschel's good works and intentions; this does not obviate his errors about the dynamics and responsibilities for priests or bishops having sex with minors. And church history records a sad trail of this clerical behavior and its dismissal as a simple human failing initiated by stronger malevolent forces - such as a child.

From my years within the priesthood I have some understanding of this clerical bias about the power of young people's sex drive. Priests used to hear lots of kid's confessions that were filled with sexual anxieties and concerns about sexual thoughts, words, desires and actions; all mortal sins meriting condemnation to hell.

Since then I have learned how vulnerable these trembling and threatened kids can be to the lecherous kindness and assurances of boy-priests who want to play sex-love with unsuspecting victims.

I wish I had kept statistics on the proportion of clergy abuse cases that began in confession in the thousands of cases I have reviewed.

Kids, and adults, going to confession are not seducers. But confession should be labeled as an area of danger to the safety of people - it is an arena of risk and should be treated as such.

Too many times sex-hungry and underdeveloped priests set their sights on a vulnerable penitent - they spot potential victims in sacramental confession or counseling sessions. What is meant to be an occasion peace of conscience and spiritual reconciliation becomes the seedbed of seduction for the priest. Blame the vulnerable? No, hold the priest to full account.

On September 3, 2012 when stories about abusive priests hit the local paper the news included that Honolulu's Bishop Clarence Silva "blames victims for not coming forward to him, [and] his predecessors for covering things up." To that list he indicts enemies of the church who "capitalize on this very real problem."

Who are these enemies of the church and priests? He echoes Donohue's favorites - proponents of gay marriage, pro-life advocates, and just about everyone else who does not toe to the Vatican line - anybody except himself.

I cannot count the number of times in the past 25 years I have heard or seen recorded in cases of a priest abusing a child, "father is only human." Humanity is not a defense for malfeasance. Also a common defense expressed within the clerical system is: "priests need love, too". Be that as it may, it is not a justifiable excuse to impose one's affective needs on a youngster or any other vulnerable person.

Impolitic as it is to express it the attitude of blaming the victim and espousing the easy forgivability of clerical sin that attitude persists and remains dominant in clerical thinking. The serpent, the apple and the woman (and now children) remain the cause of sexual sin and corruption in the preconscious of Catholic clerical judgment.

In my experience it is common for defenders of the faith to back away from truthful slips or ridiculous lies. For instance, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh spokes person of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoing the perennial advertisement for the purity of Ivory soap, twice asserted her conviction on an edition of a 20/20 television special exploring the practice of clerical celibacy in the United States that "99 & 44/100 % of priests practice celibacy". In a panic she called the producer to try to extricate herself from her inexcusable hyperbole - actually a lie.

This demonstrates the quality of prevarication I have witnessed many times in the depositions of bishops and cardinals who consistently operate on the moral assumption that they do not have to answer questions truthfully if the questioner does not have "a right to know".

Churchmen have great difficulty articulating the simple truth about all clerical celibacy or sexuality - especially evident when it comes to sex with minors or their own proclivities or practices.

Some in the Vatican are aware that bishops are deceitful when it comes to abuse of minors. In February of this year Monsignor Scicluna in Rome spoke of "those bishops who have not tackled, and still aren't tackling today, cases of child abuse committed by priests, in line with Vatican laws."

In many ways this is a strange situation. The problem is so ancient. It is so well documented. Repeatedly the church has put out statements and implemented punishments for clergy child abuse - even death in certain instances. (Cf. Sex, Priests & Secret Codes, 2006)

St. Basil at the council of Ancyra in 415 acknowledged there was a problem and imposed a remedy. Peter Damian referred to the same formula in 1050. How unlike it is from the attitude of discounting the behavior or trivializing it as Fr. Groeschel and Bill Donohue do. It is a long paragraph, but well worth considering:

"A cleric or monk who seduces youths or young boys or is found kissing or in any other impure situations is to be publicly flogged and lose his tonsure. When his hair has been shorn, his face is to be foully besmeared with spit and he is to be bound in iron chains. For six months he will languish in prison-like confinement and on three days of each week shall fast on barley bread in the evening. After this he will spend another six months under the custodial care of a spiritual elder, remaining in a segregated cell, giving himself to manual work and prayer, subject to vigils and prayers. He may go for walks but always under the custodial care of two spiritual brethren, and he shall never again associate with youths in private conversation nor in counseling them." 

There is no hint here that the child/youth is to blame.

No one today in the U.S. (or Ireland) has to be convinced that sexual abuse of minors is a deadly serious social problem. It is a longstanding and widespread crime - it knows no cultural, ethnic, economic or religious boundaries.

A great deal of attention and justifiable media criticism has deluged the Roman Catholic Church during the decade after the Boston Globe's 2002 investigative team under the direction of Mike Rezendes and others documented and exposed the fundamental dynamic of the pattern and practice of clergy abuse and bishops hiding abusive clergy and covering up their crimes.

Twelve U.S. Grand Jury investigations validate the existence and extent of priests abusing minors and the repeated cover up of criminal activity by bishops - 111 have been recorded implementing this pattern in the U.S. (Cf. Brooks Egerton, Dallas Morning News). And even now there are many more unrecorded cases of abuse and cover-up.

So what is the problem? Why perpetuate the centuries-long dance of shock and denial?

Sexual activity by bishops and priests, including abuse of the young, is supported and exacerbated by the system and structure of the Roman Catholic clerical culture.

There are systemic factors within the Catholic Church that favor the selection, development, preservation (advancement) and protection of abusive clerics. All of the church's historical documents point to abuse of minors as a recurring-perennial and systemic situation.

Modern studies are reliable; they demonstrate that the level of psychosexual development is deficient in the majority of catholic clergy  (Cf. Kennedy-Heckler 1972). The reliance on conformity and obedience favor adolescent-like men.

A system that teaches "ontic superiority" of priests and their entitlement contribute to the development of sociopathic tendencies. Once a man is immersed in the system noble intentions and normal healthy narcissism transforms into "altruism in the service of narcissism" and the clerical system of obedience demands the development of "acquired situational narcissism" in order to fit and function in the power system. Both elements favor sexual acting out, a double life and sociopathy.

Bishops argue endlessly and uselessly about numbers of abusers in their ranks. They cannot accept facts.

The more we get to know about the sexual habits of Catholic bishops and priests the more ominous the picture becomes. Current records even now confirm that between 6 and 9 percent of Roman Catholic clergy have abused minors.

The John-Jay report of 2004 prepared for the U.S. bishops from their records (Pp. 30-7) reported that 6.5 percent of priests ordained between 1960 and 1984 were involved eventually in sex with minors.

Studies of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles show that 11.5 percent of the priests in active ministry in 1983 subsequently proved to be alleged abusers. Thirty percent of the priests graduating from their major seminary in 1966 and 1972 later abused minors.

Over 7.6 percent of Boston priests, 8.2 percent of New Hampshire priests abused. Those are 2004 figures; both are now closer to 10 percent.

The diocese of Tucson AZ listed 23 percent of its priests for sexual offenses in its 1988 Sensitive Claims Committee records.

Many religious orders retain 10 to 12 percent of abusers among their ranks.

There are no comparable numbers or studies that I know of from other religious groups although examples of abuse can be found and are being litigated in other faiths (Mormon, Jehovah Witnesses, Baptist and Jewish). Despite that I know of no comparative studies that exist between Catholic clergy and ministers of other faiths or between priests and the general population.

Sexual activity of adults with minors is and has been a common and recalcitrant problem in society as a whole. Some American studies claim that 1 in 3 or 4 girls and 1 in 6 or 9 men in U.S. are victims of abuse before they reach their 18th birthday. Sex within the family or with relatives (incest) or family friends remains the most common source of violation.

Newsweek magazine is in error and has no basis for its statement that, "Priests seem to abuse children at the same rate as everyone else." Our documentation already belies that claim. It is unfair and inaccurate, to compare clergy with the general population. Incident rates and equivalent structural factors involved such as similar levels of education, age, and professional expectation (doctors, lawyers, educators, other ministers) could give a fair comparative judgment. However, with our present lack of facts, who would claim without a lot more evidence that 11.5 percent of the doctors, lawyers, and teachers active in LA in 1983 were involved sexually with minors?

If the claim of "priests are no worse than anyone else" often made to defend the church were true it would constitute a powerful indictment of clergy and church!

It is a simple fact that sexual activity with minors by clergy on any level (the Vatican included) is criminal behavior.

What confuses church apologists is something they know very well: the oft-made claim that most Catholic clergy practice celibacy is a myth.

Despite active sexual lives many priests offer good service to the church and the clerical system. The compromises they make are hypocritical, but the obligation and the ideal of celibacy remains. But sex with a minor by a bishop or priest under any pretext - humanity, love, or need - is not acceptable and never has been.

The secret system at the heart of church power accepts and tolerates "sinful" behaviors and claims superiority over civil structures to forgive them.

When the church relegates any and all clerical sexual behavior to the wastebasket of "sin" they retain the power to forgive. But bishops have forgotten their own ancient tradition that maintains some clerical sexual activity - albeit sinful - is also criminal.

The cover up of sexual abuse by Catholic bishops and priests has deep roots in the whole Catholic clerical and celibate system. Father Groeschel is just "one of the boys" when he articulates the real convictions of the church: "others are to blame" for the sexual transgressions of bishops and priests.

No, they are not.

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