La Jolla, California
April 18, 2008
Your Holiness, I, Richard Sipe, approach you reluctantly to speak about the problem of sexual abuse by priests and bishops in the United States, but I am encouraged and prompted by the directive of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, Chapter IV, No. 37. "By reason of knowledge, competence…the laity are empowered—indeed sometimes obliged—to manifest their opinion on those things that pertain to the good of the Church."
As the crisis of sexual abuse of our children and vulnerable adults by priests and bishops in the United States is unfolding the dynamics of this dysfunction are becoming painfully clear.
This sexual aberration is not generated from the bottom up—that is only from unsuitable candidates—but from the top down—that is from the sexual behaviors of superiors, even bishops and cardinals.
The problem facing us in the American church is systemic. I will present Your Holiness with only a few examples:
Bishop Thomas Lyons, now deceased, who was an Auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. groomed, seduced, and sexually abused a boy from the time he was seven years old until he was seventeen. When that boy grew into manhood he in turn abused his own child and young relatives. When I asked him about his actions he said to me, "I thought it was natural. Father (Lyons) told me a priest showed him this when he was growing up." A pattern was perpetuated for at least four generations.
Abbot John Eidenschink of St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota sexually abused some of his young monks during confession and spiritual direction. He admitted this behavior in regard to two of the monks I interviewed. They described the behavior in disturbingly graphic detail. Older monks that I interviewed told me that they knew that John's Novice Master was inappropriately affectionate with him during his two years as a novice. More than a dozen of the monks of this monastery have been credibly accused of abuse of minors while Abbot Eidenschink was promoted to President of his Monastic Congregation, the American Cassinese.
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.
Catholic journalist Matt Abbot already published on February 6, 2006 reports of two priests who provided first hand witness regarding this behavior of Theodore McCarrick.
I do know the names of at least four priests who have had sexual encounters with Cardinal McCarrick. I have documents and letters that record the first hand testimony and eye witness 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. This abuse paves the way for them to pass the tradition on—to have sex with each other and even with minors.
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. I have reviewed hundreds of documents that record just such behavior and interviewed scores of priests who have suffered from this activity. Priests, sexually active in the above manner are frequently appointed by the Vatican to be ordained bishops or even created cardinals.
I approach Your Holiness with all due reverence, but with the same intensity that motivated Peter Damian to lay out before your predecessor, Pope Leo IX, a description of the condition of the clergy during his time. The problems he spoke of are similar and as great now in the United States as they were then in Rome. If Your Holiness requests I will submit to you personally documentation of that about which I have spoken.
Your Holiness, I submit this to you with urgent concern for our Church, especially the young and our clergy.