SAN DIEGO (ChurchMilitant.com) - Clerical sex abuse investigator Richard Sipe died Wednesday at his home in California.
A former priest and pioneering researcher, through his work, Sipe was foundational to exposing rot inside the Church. Notably, he was among the first to go public with former Cdl. Theodore McCarrick's crimes, identifying him as a serial sexual predator in a 2008 open letter to Pope Benedict XVI.
"I know the names of at least four priests who have had sexual encounters with Cardinal McCarrick," said Sipe. "I have documents and letters that record the first-hand testimony and eyewitness accounts of McCarrick, then archbishop of Newark, New Jersey actually having sex with a priest, and at other times subjecting a priest to unwanted sexual advances."
"Such behavior fosters confusion and makes celibacy problematic for seminarians and priests," Sipe warned. "This abuse paves the way for them to pass the tradition on — to have sex with each other and even with minors."
While I was Adjunct Professor at a Pontifical Seminary, St. Mary's Baltimore (1972–1984) a number of seminarians came to me with concerns about the behavior of Theodore E. McCarrick, then bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey. It has been widely known for several decades that Bishop/Archbishop now Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick took seminarians and young priests to a shore home in New Jersey, sites in New York, and other places and slept with some of them. He established a coterie of young seminarians and priests that he encouraged to call him "Uncle Ted." I have his correspondence where he referred to these men as being "cousins" with each other. ... And even at this point the complete story cannot be published because priest reporters are afraid of reprisals.
He urged the pontiff to "seek out and listen to these stories, as I have from many priests about their seduction by highly placed clerics, and the dire consequences in their lives that does end with personal distress."
Ordained a priest in 1959, Sipe was assigned as high school counselor in Cold Spring, Minnesota. Even then, he discovered, unchastity was sweeping the priesthood. To his shock, in the confessional, he learned that priests were having sex with other priests, with minors and with women.
Over time, disillusionment set in and his own priesthood began to fray. He came to believe that celibacy was the root of the problem.
In 1967, Sipe was named director of family services at Baltimore's Seton Psychiatric Institute, a treatment center for troubled priests. There, he met Marianne Benkert, a former nun and psychiatrist; in 1970, he left the priesthood and married her.
During his time at Seton, Sipe gained deeper insight into clerical sex abuse and cover-up. He learned that some abusers had been molested by priests themselves and that even then Church leaders were concealing reports of abuse.
Sipe started collecting data. By the 1980s, he estimated that at least 6 percent of priests were serial abusers of minors and that half of priests were sexually active.
In 1986, Sipe submitted his research to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It was ignored.
He went on to become an author and advocate for clerical sex abuse victims, consulting on or testifying in some 250 abuse trials.
For his work, Sipe was blacklisted by several dioceses. But in time, he achieved a revolutionary breakthrough: In 2001, his research was discovered by The Boston Globe's "Spotlight" investigative team.
In January 2002, Spotlight reporters went public with the story, exposing the epidemic of clerical sex abuse and the cover-up orchestrated by Cdl. Bernard Law.
Though he failed to recognize the root cause of the abuse crisis, to the very end, Sipe warned that predator priests and prelates still infest the Church.
In a 2016 letter to homosexualist Bp. Robert McElroy of San Diego, Sipe wrote: "Sooner or later it will become broadly obvious that there is a systemic connection between the sexual activity by, among and between clerics in positions of authority and control, and the abuse of children."
"When men in authority — cardinals, bishops, rectors, abbots, confessors, professors — are having or have had an unacknowledged-secret-active-sex life under the guise of celibacy, an atmosphere of tolerance of behaviors within the system is made operative," he added.
Post-McCarrick, Sipe's supporters point out his work is more important than ever.
"The pattern and practice of priests in positions of responsibility for the training of men for the priesthood — rectors, confessors, spiritual directors, novice masters and other clergy — who have sexual relations with seminarians and other priests is rampant in the Catholic Church in the United States," he wrote in 2008.
"I have reviewed hundreds of documents that record just such behavior and interviewed scores of priests who have suffered from this activity," he added. "Priests, sexually active in the above manner have frequently been appointed by the Vatican to be ordained bishops or even created cardinals."
Things will not change, Sipe warned, until bishops are held to account.
"I defy you to find where the system has changed," he said in 2008. "Bishops are not accountable, they can — and do — do what they want."