05/26/17

From ‘Spotlight’ to ‘Keepers,’ Richard Sipe sees celibate priesthood as problem for the Catholic Church

Former Baltimore priest lends expertise on sexual abuse to ‘Spotlight’ and ‘The Keepers’

Richard Sipe, center, a former Baltimore-based priest who wrote several books on priests and sexual abuse, with Phil Saviano, left, a victim, and Terry McKiernan, who runs a nonprofit group that tracks the Catholic clergy scandal, at a screening for ‘Spotlight’ in 2015.

By Dan Rodricks

Richard Sipe, the former priest who spent 25 years studying the sexual behavior of the Catholic clergy, appears in “The Keepers,” the Netflix documentary series about the unsolved murder of Sister Catherine Cesnick and the monstrous abuse of some of her students by the chaplain of a Baltimore high school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sipe is the bearded fellow with the cool eyeglasses in Episode 4.

A Benedictine monk and priest for 18 years, Sipe came to Baltimore to study counseling at the old Seton Psychiatric Institute. He left the priesthood at 38 and married a former Maryknoll sister. He practiced psychotherapy in Maryland before moving to California with his wife in the late 1990s. He has written six books and contributed to numerous documentaries on the celibate priesthood and sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. He estimates that he has reviewed more than 1,500 cases and provided expert testimony in 230.

Sipe famously helped the Boston Globe reporters who broke the story of widespread abuse by priests in Massachusetts. In “Spotlight,” the Oscar-winning film about the Globe’s investigation, the actor Richard Jenkins plays Sipe – or at least his voice, by phone – telling reporters that his lengthy study of priests found that six percent of them had had sex with children. Sipe provided the Globe Spotlight team with guidance throughout its lengthy investigation.

So he’s an old hand at this. He’s heard a lot of stories and told many.

And Sipe had already heard firsthand the story of Jean Hargadon Wehner, one of Maskell’s victims, because he had been a consultant on her civil suit against the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Sipe found credible Wehner’s story, including her claim, made some 25 years after Cesnick’s murder, to have been taken by Maskell to see the slain nun’s body in a secluded, wooded area. Sipe believes Wehner and other victims can repress their memories of traumatic experiences for years.

And while repressed memory is still a debated concept in psychiatry, his embrace of it is not what made Sipe prominent and controversial. Rather, it was his research and his published findings about the abuse of minors by priests, accompanied by his criticism of celibacy, that brought Sipe to public attention and earned him the ire of Catholic hierarchy.

He argued then, and argues now, that child sexual abuse by the clergy should be addressed as part of an examination of celibacy, which, he says, stunts the psychological development of priests, leaving them emotionally unprepared for the celibate life.

“Don’t say we have celibacy,” he corrects me during an interview. “We have only a rule of celibacy. We have a large number of priests who claim celibacy but who do not practice it. And 6 to 9 percent of priests are involved with minors sexually.”

When Sipe first made that disturbing claim years ago, church officials criticized him and some, he says, told him to shut up about it. He says he was invited, then disinvited, to sit on a Maryland state council on the abuse of minors.

“I was blackballed,” he says. “Bishops wouldn’t have anything to do with me.” Among his critics was the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, one William E. Lori, now the archbishop of Baltimore. “Mr. Sipe’s approach is not helpful,” Lori told The Baltimore Sun in 1994. “It’s an approach that is anti-celibacy. He seems to relate the tradition of celibacy to sexual immaturity. Celibacy is not the problem.”

But it is, insists Sipe, now 84.

A five-year study in Australia, he says, supported his findings. And a comprehensive study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, published in 2004, confirmed his original estimate of the percentage of American priests involved with minors. The study found, he says, that more than six percent of priests ordained between 1960 and 1984 were alleged to have had sex with children. A longer look, from 1950 to 2002, found 10,667 children allegedly victimized by 4,392 priests. Half of their victims were found to have been between 11 and 14 years of age; about 80 percent of them were male.

Sipe had seen the scandal that rocked the church coming.

In his 1990 book, “A Secret World,” he described a system in which church officials held celibacy as an ideal, yet ignored violations. Priests who had an interest in women were advised to “take a housekeeper.” Priests who abused children were routinely recycled, moved from parish to parish by superiors, their problems never addressed. Those who went after children, Sipe argued, had been locked into an adolescent stage of development.

Over the last three decades, the Catholic Church has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by thousands of victims, male and female, around the world. Popes, cardinals and bishops have apologized numerous times for the church’s complicity in the offenses of priests. And yet, for Sipe, the condition that fostered the abuse of minors, celibacy, remains in place.

“I said it in 1992,” he says. “I knew enough by then. I said, ‘The problem we’re looking at is the tip, and if we follow it to its foundation, it will lead to the highest corridors of the Vatican.”

But still? Hasn’t an epic lesson been learned from all this?

“I’m convinced we’re not past it,” Sipe says. “People have sexual impulses that they have to deal with, and the church doesn’t deal with them. Church leaders hold up celibacy, as if it is some kind of ideal, as if it is even possible.”

And what if the Roman Catholic Church were to do away with the all-male, celibate priesthood?

“I think it would lead to a flourishing,” Sipe says. “I think we would see a renewal of men and women committed to the priesthood. We have nuns with advanced degrees ready to step in . . . The danger is, it will upset the power structure. The resistance would come from the established male hierarchy; they don’t want to give up power and entitlement.”

Still, Sipe believes, there will come a day for the married priesthood. “The Catholic religion will evolve,” he says. “The church will not prosper without woman and marriage in the priesthood.” 

Complete Article HERE!

03/16/17

80 percent of Catholics are ‘comfortable’ with idea of women priests: Poll

Evangelicals the most Christian demographic most ‘uncomfortable’ with idea of women clergy

Representatives of the Women’s Ordination Conference stage a protest in front of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Tuesday, June 8, 2010. Holding a poster are (from left) Therese Koturbash of Dauphin, Manitoba; Mary Ann Schoettly of Newton, N.J; and Erin Saiz Hanna of Washington.

By Ken Shepherd

Survey data from the Barna Group, a research firm that specializes in polling Americans on issues of religious concern, finds that eight out of 10 Catholics are “comfortable” with the notion of having a woman priest.

That’s just one finding from “What Americans Think About Women in Power,” a Barna publication released last week.

Protestants overall were slightly less approving of women as pastors, with 71 percent saying there comfortable with the idea. And with only 39 percent of them saying they are comfortable with women preachers, evangelicals were the Christian demographic least favorable to women clergy.

The Vatican officially teaches that the priesthood is reserved exclusively for men and has defrocked clerics who have participated in ceremonies to order women to the priesthood. Rome often defends the male-only priesthood by pointing to Jesus as the model of the priesthood and observing that Jesus’s apostles were all men.

“The son of God became flesh, but became flesh not as sexless humanity but as a male,” Fr. Wojciech Giertych, who served as a papal theologian under Pope Benedict XVI, told the National Catholic Reporter in February 2013.

Evangelicals, by contrast, tend to point to New Testament passages laying out the criteria for church elders and pastors, including the Apostle Paul’s admonition to his protege Timothy that he did not permit women to teach or exercise authority over men.

While evangelicals tend to oppose women in governing roles in the church, however, Barna’s research finds most (77 percent) are comfortable with women as CEOs or as president of the United States (73 percent).

What’s more, 94 percent of evangelicals said they would be comfortable if women were to comprise half of the U.S. Congress, which is eight percentage points stronger than GOP respondents overall and just two points shy of the 96 percent of Democrats comfortable with gender parity in the legislative body.

Barna’s report can be found online here.

Complete Article HERE!

12/12/16

When it comes to ordination, Pope Francis is still a puppet of the church

By refusing the ordination of women and gay priests, Francis is limiting his own legacy despite his declaration that ‘God is not afraid of new things’

‘Unless Francis expands and changes who makes decisions and how decisions are made in the Catholic church, his papacy will risk changing nothing in the long run.’

By

There’s a deep struggle going on in the Catholic church when it comes to power and who exercises it.

Pope Francis has shaken things up, and he has some of the bishops and cardinals mightily unnerved. The Vatican bureaucrats, known as the Curia, are unhappy with this pope.

On matters of faith and morals, Francis is mostly winning so far.

Francis is comfortable with “speaking truth to external power”: demanding governments pay attention to refugees and asylum seekers, to growing economic inequality, and to climate change.

Francis is also at ease with a less-than-certain church, particularly when it comes to questions of human relationships and moral prescriptions. Unlike his predecessor, the current pope is insistent that issues like birth control, divorce and remarriage are not black and white issues.

Earlier this year Francis released a document Amoris Laetitia, (On Love in the Family), in which the pope encouraged Catholic priests to confront the reality that human lives are messy and complex. He asserted that complicated moral issues that arise in human relationships must be responded to not with hard and fast rules, but rather by making conscientious decisions in the sight of God.

As Francis put it, the church is there to form consciences, not replace them.

This approach hasn’t sat well with some. Four cardinals recently sent Pope Francis a letter demanding yes or no answers to five questions they say he has left unanswered in Amoris Laetitia.

It’s unlikely Francis will give them the certainty they want. He wants them to get used to uncertainty, and discern the right approach in these modern times.

However, there is one area where Francis is ceding ground to the cardinals and the Curia: ordination.

Ordination equals power inside the Catholic church. Only the ordained can contribute to theology, form church teaching and set church rules. Only the ordained can control the money and the property. Only the ordained can respond to issues like the child sexual abuse crisis. Only the ordained can choose new bishops and cardinals. Only the ordained can administer the sacraments. Only the ordained can vote for the next pope.

On ordination, the Curia are pulling the pope’s puppet strings.

Case in point: gay priests.

Just a few years ago, during a “free-wheeling” conversation with reporters on a flight back from Brazil, Pope Francis was asked about gay clergy. Here was his response:

There is so much being written about the gay lobby. I haven’t met anyone in the Vatican yet who has “gay” written on their identity cards. There is a distinction between being gay, being this way inclined and lobbying. Lobbies are not good. If a gay person is in eager search of God, who am I to judge them? The Catholic Church teaches that gay people should not be discriminated against; they should be made to feel welcome.

That was 2013. Last week the Vatican’s Congregation on the Clergy last week released a document titled The Gift of Priestly Formation:

The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’ Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.

It seems the Curia decided that gay priests needed to be judged, after all.

In fact, the prohibition against homosexual men receiving ordination as cited above first appeared in 2005. The fact that this paragraph re-appeared, word for word, in 2016 seems to indicate that the Curia felt it necessary to clarify that the pope’s words – “who am I to judge” – in no way replace or modify formal church teaching when it comes to homosexual priests.

This new document last week follows last month’s declaration by Francis that women will never be ordained as Catholic priests.

Francis’ pronouncement on women priests didn’t come out of the blue. It was a sop to the Curia and those bishops and cardinals alarmed by the pope’s promise earlier in the year to review the question of whether women can be ordained as deacons.

Many assume that if women were granted ordination as Catholic deacons, ordination as priests would inevitably follow.

The Curia has for many years hoped a pope would declare the ban on women’s ordination as infallibly held – the highest, most solemn form of church teaching and most difficult to overturn. Pope John Paul II came close to doing so in 1995, and Francis’ statement this year, while not infallibly issued, made clear there would be no room in his papacy to move toward the priestly ordination of women.

Francis is fond of saying that “God is not afraid of new things.” But when it comes to ordination, Francis seems afraid of the Curia, and the Curia in turn seems afraid of women priests, married priests and gay priests.

This is the fatal flaw in Francis’ approach: by not speaking truth to internal power, by refusing to contemplate how ordination could be expanded, Francis is limiting his own legacy.

Unless Francis expands and changes who makes decisions and how decisions are made in the Catholic church, his papacy will risk changing nothing in the long run.

All his emphasis on the poor, the dispossessed and the climate will end up being just that – emphasis only. All his commentary about facing uncertainty and complexity of modern life will be just that – commentary.

Francis said he imagined his papacy will be short, maybe only four or five years.

Once Francis leaves the papacy who will hold the power? Who will make the black and white rules? The all-male priesthood, the traditionalist cardinals and the Curia, no longer unnerved, and back in charge.

Complete Article HERE!

02/12/16

Catholic bishop to women, gays: I’m sorry

By Michael O’Loughlin

Hands-clasped-forgiveness

If you’ve ever felt unwelcome at Church because of your gender, race, or sexual orientation, a Massachusetts bishop has a message for you: I’m sorry.

Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield used the occasion of Ash Wednesday to mark Pope Francis’ Jubilee of Mercy by apologizing to and seeking reconciliation with Catholics in Western Massachusetts.

Rozanski, sent from Baltimore to lead the 217,000-member diocese in 2014, said that ongoing fallout from the clergy sexual abuse scandal, shuttered and merged churches, and less than welcoming parishes have caused a rupture between the Church and some of the faithful.

He says he is seeking forgiveness.

“There are many people hurting in our Catholic community from the pain caused by our past failings as a diocese, as well as the grievous actions of some who ministered in our church,” he wrote in a pastoral letter on evangelization. “The reality of this pain is that it still echoes many years later, as was given witness in our recent diocesan survey.”

Through that survey, completed by 3,000 local Catholics, Rozanski said he learned that some Catholics don’t feel welcome in churches and thus stop participating in the faith.

“Still there are others who have distanced themselves because they feel unwelcomed. The reasons here can vary, but key among them are race and cultural differences, a sense of gender inequality as well as sexual orientation,” he wrote. “Others have been treated unkindly, impatiently, or rudely by clergy, religious, ministers, and staff of parishes — all which is unacceptable.”

Mitchell-T.-RozanskiI ask your forgiveness,” he continued.

He said parishes “must be inviting and energetic environments, founded both in our traditions but also the reality of everyday life,” and urged local Catholics to “to evangelize those who were once, but are no longer with us.”

“We need you, we need your presence, your gifts and your talents. We need you to complete our community, to enrich it, to make it better and more effective,” he wrote.

He quoted one of the people who took part in the diocesan survey, who wrote, “The gay community feels that they aren’t welcome. They don’t want to espouse another religion; therefore, they don’t attend church at all. Hopefully, a special outreach could be done to them.”

Rozanski said that revitalizing the diocese through evangelization would be a “daunting task,” but urged Catholics “to walk beyond our parish boundaries, without fear, to demonstrate the faith we celebrate in liturgy takes form in the reality of the world around us.”

Rozanski opened the letter by asking several questions about love and forgiveness, urging Catholics to look the Pope Francis as an example of how to love like God, who “looks beyond our faults and failings and loves us just as we are.”

Pope Francis launched the Jubilee of Mercy in December, opening a special holy year during which Catholics are encouraged to go to confession and walk through designated holy doors in order to have their sins forgiven. The pope has made mercy and forgiveness the hallmarks of his papacy.

“Do you believe in a God who loves you?” Rozanski asked. “Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?”

Complete Article HERE!

10/28/15

Gay priest decries ‘inhuman’ treatment of homosexual Catholics

Krzysztof Charamsa

A senior Vatican priest, stripped of his post after admitting being in a gay relationship, has launched a scathing attack on the Roman Catholic Church.

In a letter to Pope Francis this month, Krzysztof Charamsa accused the Church of making the lives of millions of gay Catholics globally “a hell”.

He criticised what he called the Vatican’s hypocrisy in banning gay priests, even though he said the clergy was “full of homosexuals”.

Pope Francis has yet to respond.

Until 3 October, Monsignor Charamsa held a senior post at the Vatican at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department that upholds Roman Catholic doctrine.

The Vatican immediately stripped him of his post after he held a news conference in a restaurant in Rome to announce that he was both gay and in a relationship. Roman Catholic priests are meant to be celibate.

At the time, the Holy See said the priest’s decision to come out on the eve of the Vatican’s synod on the family had been “irresponsible, since it aims to subject the synod assembly to undue media pressure”.

‘Rights denied’

The Polish priest has released to the BBC a copy of the letter he sent to the Pope, written the same day as the announcement, in which he criticises the Church for “persecuting” and causing “immeasurable suffering” to homosexual Catholics and their families.

He says that after a “long and tormented period of discernment and prayer”, he had taken the decision to “publicly reject the violence of the Church towards homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual people”.

Krzysztof Charamsa (left) and his partner Eduard

The priest has accused the Church of causing “immeasurable suffering” to homosexual Catholics

Spanish Cardinal Ricardo Blazquez Perez (right) reads a newspaper showing a picture of gay bishop Krzysztof Charamsa and his partner Eduard before the start of the morning session of the Synod of bishops on family issues at the Vatican (09 October 2015)

His decision to “come out” has caused consternation in some Roman Catholic circles

The 43-year-old says that while the Roman Catholic clergy is “full of homosexuals”, it is also “frequently violently homophobic”, and he calls on “all gay cardinals, gay bishops and gay priests [to] have the courage to abandon this insensitive, unfair and brutal Church”.

He says he can no longer bear the “homophobic hate of the Church, the exclusion, the marginalisation and the stigmatisation of people like me”, whose “human rights are denied” by the Church.

Church attitude unchanged

The priest goes on to thank Pope Francis – who is thought to have a more lenient attitude on homosexuality than some of his predecessors – for some of his words and gestures towards gay people.

The Pope recently met a gay former student of his during his recent visit to the US, and has previously said that gay people should not be marginalised in society.

But Krzysztof Charamsa says that the pontiff’s words will only be worthwhile when all the statements from the Holy See that are offensive and violent against homosexuals are withdrawn.

He also urged the Church to annul a decision taken by his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to sign a document in 2005 that forbids men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies from becoming priests.

The Polish priest terms “diabolical” Pope Benedict’s statement that homosexuality was “a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil”.

Pope Francis (left) greets cardinals and bishops at the end of a mass for the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at St Peter's basilica (25 October 2015)

Pope Francis is thought to have a more lenient attitude on homosexuality than some of his predecessors

Pope Francis leads a mass to mark the closure of the synod on the family in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican (25 October 2015(

The Synod on the Family ended on Sunday, but made no change to its pastoral attitude to gay Catholics

The priest writes that LGBT Catholics have a right to family life, “even if the Church does not want to bless it”.

He later criticises the Vatican for putting pressure on states which have legalised equal or same-sex marriage.

He also expresses his fears about the impact his coming out may have on the treatment of his mother in Poland, “a woman of unshakeable faith”, saying she bears no responsibility for his actions.

The synod ended on Sunday, but made no change to its pastoral attitude to gay Catholics.

The final document agreed by the Synod Fathers reiterated Church teaching that gay Catholics should be welcomed with “respect” and “dignity”. But it restated that there was “no basis for any comparison, however remote, between homosexual unions and God’s design for marriage and the family”.

The synod voted through a paragraph saying that it was unacceptable for pressure to be put upon local churches over their attitude towards same-sex unions, or for international organisations to make financial help contingent on poor countries introducing laws to “allow or institutionalise” marriage between people of the same sex.

Complete Article HERE!

03/12/13

LGBT Stations of the Cross

Mary Button is the creator of the Stations of the Cross: The Struggle for LGBT Equality. Congregations and faith groups are encouraged to use these stations during the Lenten season for prayer and reflection. Download the entire series from Believe Out Loud’s flickr site.

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