Richard Sipe on the John Jay report

by Thomas C. Fox

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A. W. Richard Sipe, a clinical mental health counselor who earlier spent 18 years as a Benedictine monk and priest, has been a long time critic of the way our church has handled the sex abuse scandal. His credentials for knowledge of the subject are solid. He has spend some 25 years studying the celibate/sexual behavior of the clergy population and is considered one of the leading experts in the field.

An ocassional contributor to NCR, I take his opinions seriously, as do many others who have followed this tragic story. So his views on the John Jay report, released yesterday, should be considered as significant. In an email I received from him, this is what he writes:

This is an important study because it outlines the geography of the Catholic Church’s problems with human sexuality as they impact its clergy. It shows how the church wants to be perceived: A preponderance of the data comes from church records.

  • It points to the areas about the priesthood that still need exploration.

  • It acknowledges that some Priests do have sexual experiences before, during and after their seminary training with varying consequences.

  • It recognizes that there are deficiencies in seminary formation regarding human sexuality.

  • System support for priests after ordination is lacking.

Aspects of the report are incomplete or deficient:

  • Not one of the research team has any experience within the system as a seminarian or priest.

  • Important lay voices who have intimate knowledge of the dynamics of the hierarchy regarding the crisis are not part of the research team (i.e. Anne Burke, Frank Keating)

  • The substance and conclusions of Grand Jury reports that investigated the crisis are not in evidence.

  • The structure, pattern, and practice of Church response revealed in civil and criminal cases and trials are not taken into account.

  • Clinical observation and data is absent.

Some of the information is inaccurate:

  • Pedophilia is a psychiatrically defined syndrome, but the report does not accept the official definition (i.e. 13 years as the age of puberty not 10)

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