Richard Sipe

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Aquinas Walter Richard Sipe (December 11, 1932 – August 8, 2018) was an American Benedictine monk-priest for 18 years (1952–70 at Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota[1]), a psychotherapist and author of six books about Catholicism, the clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and clerical celibacy. Born in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, he was an American Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor trained specifically[2] to deal with the mental health problems of Roman Catholic priests. He practiced psychotherapy, "taught on the faculties of Major Catholic Seminaries and colleges, lectured in medical schools, and served as a consultant and expert witness in both civil and criminal cases involving the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests". During his training and therapies, he conducted a 25-year ethnographic study published in 1990 about the sexual behavior of supposed celibates, in which he found more than half were involved in sexual relationships. In 1970, after receiving a dispensation from his vows as a priest, Sipe married a former nun, Marianne; they have one son together.[3]

Sipe was a witness in more than 57 lawsuits, testifying on behalf of victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

Research on homosexuality[edit]

A number of small-scale studies by Sipe and others have not found evidence that homosexuals are more likely to break the vow of celibacy than heterosexuals.[4][5]

Abuse in Burlington diocese[edit]

In a May 2009 study, Sipe found that there were extensive problems in the sexual behavior of Burlington, Vermont Catholic clergy. He examined the records of 102 priests "whose records were available" between 1950 and 2002. He claimed that, out of this group, 23 priests were sexually involved with children under the age of 13 years, 15 were reported for involvement with married women and 19 priests were said to have had sexual relationships with adult men. He asserted that 49 priests could be said to have had a homosexual orientation.[6]

Media coverage[edit]

Sipe participated in 12 documentaries on celibacy and priest sexual abuse aired by HBO, BBC, and other networks in the United States, United Kingdom, and France and was widely interviewed by media including CNN, ABC, NBC, CNBC, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, People magazine, Newsweek and USA Today.[7] On 21 January 1995 he made an extended appearance on a special edition of the British television discussion programme After Dark, alongside among others Garret FitzGerald and Sinéad O'Connor.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

Sipe's research and his book Sex, Priests and Power are specifically referenced in the 2015 film Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy, as being crucial in the story of the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize–winning 2002 investigation of predatory priests and the decades-long cover-up of the crimes of such priests by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The 1995 book is shown onscreen in its bright-red-covered hardback edition when the investigative team meet their first victim, Phil Saviano, the founder of the New England chapter of SNAP.[9] As a favor to director McCarthy, actor Richard Jenkins, who starred in McCarthy's 2007 film The Visitor, performed uncredited as the voice of Sipe in three phone calls in Spotlight, each based on real-life conversations with Spotlight reporters.[10] This includes one critical conference call which proves to be a turning point in the investigation: Sipe made the metric calculation that 6 percent of priests are pedophiles, which is then verified by the investigative team's subsequent research.[11]


Sipe was quoted (in part) as saying that "There are a pope or two who have resigned, several popes have been murdered but it's a very stable organization from the top down. What other monarchy do you know that's lasted for 2,000 years?"[12]

"The most valuable development since 2000 has been the open exposure of the misbehavior of priests and religious. This has been one element that alerts not just Catholics but members of other religious groups to the potential sexual dangers posed by men and women in positions of power over young people. The church has contributed to the education about child abuse and the need for prevention of abuse and to provide education for protection for all children and the vulnerable. Unfortunately the efforts of the Catholic Church have been forced on them by the public outcry, victims’ testimony, and the legal system that calls bishops and religious superiors to account for their gross neglect, conspiracies to conceal crimes, and fraud to keep abuse secret. It is an ongoing fight to keep the church honest. Catholic laymen and women (Governor Frank Keating and Chief Justice Anne Burke) who have worked closely with church officials say that the bishops do not want to change, but only want “business as usual.” The encouraging thing is that people do not accept the word of bishops as true, necessary or important anymore. Over thirty percent of men and women brought up as Catholic no longer identify themselves as Catholic."[13]


Sipe died on August 8, 2018 of multiple organ failure in La Jolla, California at the age of 85.[3][14]

Books by Sipe[edit]

  • Courage at Three AM (a book of poetry), FriesenPress, August 3, 2017, 72 pages
  • A Secret World: sexuality and the search for celibacy, Routledge, 1990, ISBN 978-0876305850, 324 pages
  • Sex, Priests, and Power: anatomy of a crisis, Routledge Mental Health, 1995, ISBN 0-87630-769-1, 220 pages
  • Celibacy: A Way of Loving, Living, and Serving, Liguori Publications, 1st edition (May 1996), ISBN 978-0892438747, 197 pages
  • Psychiatry, Ministry, and Pastoral Counseling - Paperback – March 1, 1984 ISBN 978-0814613245, 384 pages
  • Celibacy in Crisis: A Secret World Revisited, Brunner-Routledge, New York and Hove 2003, ISBN 978-0415944731, 368 pages
  • Living the Celibate Life: A Search for Models and Meaning, Liguori (November 2, 2004), ISBN 978-0764810985, 192 pages
  • The Serpent and the Dove: celibacy in literature and life, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007, ISBN 0313347255, 262 pages.
  • Abuse by Priests: Why? (Audio Cassette)

See also[edit]


External links[edit]