NCR and Sipe on “Scandal vs. crisis”

Ex-priest Richard Sipe has a piece in the National Catholic Fishwrap:

My emphases and comments:

Scandal vs. crisis; PR vs. raw data
by A.W. Richard Sipe on Jul. 09, 2010

Examining the Crisis

Ron Westrum, professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University, suggests that organizations react in a series of stages to “anomalous reports.” [This is interesting…] They are: 1) suppression, 2) encapsulation, 3) public relations, 4) local fix, 5) global fix, and 6) investigation of root causes. He came to his formulation through the study of the battered child syndrome that many people, even professionals, found hard to admit was a widespread phenomenon.

It is not difficult to match the trajectory of church response to allegations of hidden clergy sex abuse against Westrum’s model. It’s a good fit.

Even in the United States the church is not near the final stage — the process of resolving root causes. [What will he offer as a "resolution"?  Will it involve a change to the Church’s discipline of celibacy or the "ordination" of women?] Since the eruption of revelations in 2010 spotlighting sexual activity by priests across Europe it is obvious that even the U.S. church is still suspended between public relations and “fixes.” People in the pews need to know and evaluate the bishops’ public relations efforts against the raw material in church files. [Ah… it’s the "Watergate" approach.] Those documents indicate what the bishops (pope) knew and when they knew it.

The church in the United States and Ireland worked hard at the suppression and encapsulation of the sex abuse among its ranks. The Vatican and Europe are struggling with that now, but the public relations fight everywhere is reinvigorated. Roman minions [Just in case you thought Sipe could write an objective piece…] have begun pointing fingers and are repeating the defenses the United States suffered throughout the past two decades.

Pope Benedict XVI is raising the PR stakes by flirting with the idea that the “sin is inside the church” at the same time that he blames the devil for the scandal. But he is still stuck on scandal and avoiding the crisis. Nonetheless, the public relations program follows a programmed pattern beginning with accusations of “anti-religion.” [But… that doesn’t deal with the possibility that that’s true!  That at least in part it is anti-religion.] The PR sequence is organized and transparent enough to diagram — “there is no crisis; the media is causing the scandal; there may be a “few bad apples” causing a problem; [But that it true.] if any, it is only a small problem; there is a problem, but no bigger than in any other organization; [Also, true, though the Church must have a higher standard.] abuse is not connected with celibacy; [There it is!] abuse is a societal problem; homosexuals cause it; [What were those statistics again?] we have done more than any other organization to combat with the problem of child abuse.” [They have.]

After 20 years the schema is familiar to most U.S. observers. However, a new crop of bishops is recycling the old pattern — beginning by blasting the press for reports of clergy malfeasance as unfair and anti-Catholic, anti-clergy, anti-religion. [Two things: The press forced the Church to do something.   The press also has its own agenda.] One recent example: Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, accused The New York Times of bias: “It is not hyperbole to call prejudice against the Catholic church a national pastime,” he wrote on his blog. The attack was against Catholic columnist Maureen Dowd’s spirited defense of nuns — Laurie Goodstein’s reports on a dying 22-year-old abandoned son of a still active priest — and the paper’s lack of “outrage” at reports of pedophile attacks in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. From the Vatican, Cardinal William Levada, also reprimanded the Time for what he termed “attacks on the Holy Father concerning sex abuse” within the church. He pronounced them “deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness.”

Dolan’s rant is reminiscent of Bernard Law, [Huh?] Cardinal of Boston in 1992 rankled by news reports about Fr. James Porter who admittedly abused 200 minors in five dioceses. Law riled against a biased anti-Catholic secular press he claimed was actually causing the scandal by writing an overblown account. “By all means,” he said, “we call down God’s power on the media, particularly the Globe.” That didn’t work. More stories came out.

The public relations efforts of the church have voiced interesting spins. In 2000 Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, spokesperson for the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, asserted twice on national TV, “I’m convinced that ’99 and 44/100%’ of priests keep their celibacy.” ("99 44/100% Pure" is the old Ivory soap slogan.) In 2004 Bishop Wilton Gregory proclaimed that the problem of clergy abuse was “history.” In 2010, a John Jay spokesperson preparing a report for the bishops declared that Catholic clergy abuse is a historical and time-limited phenomenon.

Catholic clergy abuse stories in the United States now generally meet a media-weary reception. Does this mean that the crisis is over? No. The public relation efforts whether from the Vatican or home grown, so far are aimed at control of a scandal and its aftermath.

Every Catholic boy and girl learned in grade school that “scandal” should be avoided at all costs. We may not have known any formal definition, but we knew it was bad. Public school kids and non-Catholics should never be given a reason to criticize our church. A scandal is “a widely publicized set of allegations that damage the reputation of an institution, individual or creed” and we have it.

The scandal has partly gone cold — it is old news. Most people now know that some Catholic priests are sexually active, some abuse minors, and bishops try to cover up. [What the press doesn’t say is how much the Church has done to deal with the problem.]

The Catholic crisis remains. One key to addressing the crisis, and ultimately in fixing it, is in the review, revelation, and analysis of the documents that record the behavior of the clergy. That factor made The Boston Globe’s reporting seminal and preeminent in making “hidden events” available for reform (Westrum, defines hidden events as an “occurrence so implausible that those who observe it hesitate to report it because they do not expect to be believed.”). Bishops fight to keep the truth (documents) secret.

The church has not yet addressed the crisis; in fact, most bishops are still resistive and mired in an old familiar pattern of obfuscation if not deceit. [Are they?  Can that be backed up?] Public relations efforts are aimed at damage control, not change. Crisis presents a decisive turning point that demands a “fix.” Two lay Catholics chosen by the bishops to chair the National Review Board, Governor Frank Keating and Justice Anne Burke, rendered their opinions: Keating said bishops operate like “cosa nostra”; Burke pronounced a judgment that the bishops are primarily interested in pursuing “business as usual.”

Investigative reporter, Jason Berry already notable for forcing the crisis of abuse into U.S. public attention in 1984, labored intensively and extensively for a full decade to help victims of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado tell their story of abuse, only to witness a 2004 PR photo of Pope John Paul II embracing and blessing this notorious founder of a religious order. [How much can really be made out of that?] There can be no doubt that the pope heard the stories about Maciel [That I am not entirely sure about…. but it is possible.  Certainly the Sec. of State at the time knew what was going on!] and discounted them as he had the well-founded reports of sex abuse by Cardinal Groer in 1995. The Vatican’s belated official verdict on Maciel in 2010 — that he was dismissed in 2006 for immoral behavior, criminal acts and demonstration of “a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious feeling” — can hardly compensate for the laborious pain of discovery in addition to the rejection and humiliation involved in the battle to speak truth to power that Berry and the victims had to endure for two decades.

A more intrepid and dedicated advocate for victims of clergy abuse than Fr. Thomas Doyle is impossible to find. He describes his 25-year crusade for justice, accountability and transparency as “wading through a cesspool of toxic waste.” These men among others working to document facts and reveal healing truth are neither anti-religion nor anti-Catholic. Indubitably there are temptations to despair as we read what bishops have done and continue to do in their effort to deny truth and destroy evidence behind a pious PR curtain.

Those of us who have reviewed church documents — raw data including the depositions of bishops — and write about what we find do know what bishops knew about abuse and when they really knew it. There are records. We are not interested in scandal. [Some are.] We are concerned with the welfare of children. We are interested in a crisis that distorts and destroys peoples’ lives and hope. We are interested in change–reform of a corrupting system and concerned about religious hypocrisy. We are respectful of a church that does much good despite its corruption. [And I think we know what that agenda includes.]

PR campaigns by the bishops and the Vatican evade the historic and monumental crisis of epic proportions that is upon us. That is an additional scandal. The crisis awaits a fix.

[Richard Sipe is a mental health counselor and author who earlier spent 18 years as a Benedictine monk and priest.]

There is much of merit in this article.  But I believe the writer goes off the rails on certain points.

The part at the top was pretty interesting.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Biased Media Coverage, Clerical Sexual Abuse, SESSIUNCULA and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. torch621 says:

    The Church is a “corrupting system”? Off the rails is putting it lightly, dear Father.

  2. Thomas G. says:

    His definition of scandal is rather limited, and not at all what I have learned. Scandal is a condition that tends to lead others to sin, not simply allegations that harm the reputation of a person or institution. Avoiding scandal is not simply a self-serving act, but one that is necessary to avoid the sin of leading others to sin or weakening their resolve to pursue virtue. There are times, of course, when “avoiding scandal” becomes itself a scandal if it interpreted too narrowly in terms of self-interest (as Sipe himself does). Nevertheless, “giving scandal” is itself a sin.

    As a Benedictine monk and priest for 18 years, I would expect him to know that.

  3. phd12699 says:

    I wonder if the NCR will express this much concern and outrage at the Swiss government for their failure to extradite child abuser Roman Polanski. I somehow doubt it.

  4. Thomas G. says:

    “As a Benedictine monk and priest for 18 years, I would expect him to know that.”

    Sorry for the pronoun confusion, that should read, “As a Benedictine monk and priest for 18 years, he should know that.” I have not been a monk and priest for 18 years.

  5. Supertradmum says:

    The NCR seems to want to bring down the hierarchy of the Church. This article reveals the hidden agendas of not only the writer, but the editorial staff. The enemy is within…

  6. Ralph says:

    Some will use any leverage available to pry away at the foundation of the Church.

    How is it that it’s always the bishops to blame for every ill in the Church? Why is it that no blame is given to wrongs like the acceptance of homosexuality, “trial priesthood” such as the one of Sipe, divorce and the loss of liturgical norms? What about the our gradual acceptance of sin in the daily lives of we laity?

    I’m no church historian, nor a master of theology. But I am growing so weary of men the likes of Sipe harping away at the Church without taking any look into the mirror.

  7. Jordanes says:

    Richard Sipe is a mental health counselor and author who earlier spent 18 years as a Benedictine monk and priest.

    I’m probably not far off in suspecting the bolded part as having a good deal to do with what he gets wrong in his piece.

  8. R. Sipe is an enigma.
    The conflict within him may well be tranfered into his “work”. Just read his website. It’s a confusing mix of things you can understand and well sympathize with as well as a veiled (or not so veiled) nastiness towards the Church and the hierarchy.
    Take this with a ton of salt.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    nazareth priest,

    The trouble is that many “good” Catholics read and believe this stuff.

  10. irishgirl says:

    I’m with you, Ralph!

    I am sooo tired of constant ‘bashing’ from within the Church, especially by ex-priests like this guy Sipe.

  11. Peggy R says:

    Some bishops are being criticized for defending against lawsuits that go beyond the statute of limitations. A judge here in IL has disregarded the operative statutes in a particular case, which the plaintiff thus won as a result. The Belleville diocese is appealing. It is important that they do b/c the same plaintiff attorneys have hit pay dirt and found more eligible victims given the timeline games the judge agreed to play.

    So, when SNAP and NCR et als criticize bishops these days, it’s not so much b/c bishops are lying or covering up for abusers, but because some bishops are taking the financially prudent decision to protect the treasure of the faithful against the shyster lawyers who are trying to go beyond the law.

  12. lmgilbert says:

    I did not read the article closely, but I have to agree with one thing- the Church is nowhere near getting at the root causes of the scandal. So many people are horrified at the way the Bishops managed the scandal, but I see very little discussion of WHY IT HAPPENED IN THE FIRST PLACE. To me that is the truly horrifying thing.

    Does all this business about “protecting our children,” even begin to get at the root causes? Are all the classes, forms and fingerprinting and diocesan offices of child protection anywhere near the mark? I wonder. Is it not a total disgrace that we need, or think we need, diocesan offices of child protection? And who are we protecting our children from? Priests!

    No, something is fundamentally askew here, and we have very little idea what. We are embarked on a very costly (in so many ways) course of treatment, but we are missing one little thing- a diagnosis!

  13. TJerome says:

    I have actually read one of Sipe’s books and I find him fairly balanced, unlike left-wing loons like Father McBrien. In very simple terms, the scandal was caused because certain bishops didn’t take the Church’s own doctrines seriously enough. They treated the whole issue as a social problem, rather than a spiritual crisis. They used the tools of the world to address it, rather than the power of Christ.

  14. Imgilbert: Amen.
    We share the same surname, by the way!
    After taking the “Safe Environment” course, I was, let us say, unimpressed.
    The anecdotes and stories presented in the video(one involving a permanent deacon’s teenage son who was allowed to take little girls into the restroom unattended (!) whereby he molested them (does it take a rocket scientist to figure this out?…No, no. no!))…were situations could be have prevented by just either good common sense or they were patronizing (don’t you dare touch ANYBODY!)…don’t close that door, for heaven’s sake, at the worst.
    I guess good common sense has not been in good order these past years.
    Too bad.
    We’re left with idiotic programs, paranoia, lawsuits, and gremlins (like J. Anderson, lawyer extraordinaire) calling for the Pope to testify in the “world court” (my words).
    This is the 21st. century, folks.
    Tighten your seatbelt. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

  15. frjim4321 says:

    Some of his materials are pretty good. Yes, his website is very cluttered, and the quality of material is uneven. He makes many good points, but does seem over the top on occasion.

    I remain very much interested about priest abusers who were diocesan yet mysteriously entered religious orders in the late ’70’s and ’80’s. Their paper trail is different than the ones who were removed in the wake of the Charter, and seem to have been protected by their superiors.

    That is not a hypothetical, rather it’s based on my experience.

    As for “safe environment” programs, they may have their place, but they seem to be coming out of the insurance industry and have as their goal liabilitiy mitigation; also think their greatest success is in providing aspiring abusers with useful information on how to more effectively fly beneath the radar.

    Fr. Jim

  16. Supertradmum says:

    The diagnosis-homosexual men being allowed into the priesthood (still happening), and not enough supervision of bishops over those who are and were pedophiles.

    May I add that not all who have been abused sue the Church. Three people in my family were abused for years by a priest in face-to-face Confession and none of them sued. Pre-Vatican II practice with children in some institutions, by the way. Heroic virtue.

  17. The Cobbler says:

    The Church identified the root causes ages ago — what did people think she meant when she spoke of deadly sins and such and the principle virtues by which we must counter them? Nowhere near diagnosis my fanny. What she needs is to break out of her amnesiac stupor and remember the understanding of roots given to her by Christ.

    This, incidentally, is why GK Chesterton said that the Church is called “behind the times” precisely because she’s so far ahead of the world. “She discussed everything so long ago that everyone has forgotten the discussion,” if I’m recalling the quote correctly. Obviously that doesn’t mean the world never develops particular means of living the virtues the Church was first told of while she bumbles around in said amnesiac stupor, but you can’t claim that only moderns understand sin — rather, it’s much closer to the truth that only moderns have failed to understand sin.

  18. 1) suppression, 2) encapsulation, 3) public relations, 4) local fix, 5) global fix, and 6) investigation of root causes…

    What kind of logic places a “global fix” ahead of identifying “root causes?” Wouldn’t that qualify as PR in and of itself? The writer, BTW, may well be right in the case of the U.S. hierarchy as the “fix” is obviously in alright, but not in the sense that he refers to it.

    The John Jay researchers have already put us, and the USCCB who agreed to hand over $1 million of our hard earned money for the privilege, on notice that they will have no part in pointing out the obvious connection to homosexuality, evidence be damned. (Not to self-promote. It’s just easier than rehashing the entire story.)

    They have even gone so far as to compare priests living in a rectory to men incarcerated in a penitentiary, and to claim that an adult male who derives sexual gratification from sexually molesting teenage boys isn’t necessarily a homosexual. (And according to reports they somehow managed to do this with a straight face.)

    I suppose that’s exactly the kind of logic that pretends to institute a “global fix” before identifying the cause of the problem.

  19. I meant to say this earlier.
    Laicized priests/monks who are now psychiatrists/psychologists make me “cold”…Eugene Kennedy comes to mind here (read his outrageous screeds in the NCR fishwrap…makes me want to vomit) yet, I digress.
    R. Sipe, may, in fact, have some important things to say.
    Knowing where he spent his time as a monk (I did MY time there in the early ’80’s…Jesus, mercy!)…a hotbed of homosexual orgies and whatnot (read the documentation if you don’t believe me!) I am a bit shy of taking what he says with “full force”.
    St. John Abbey, Collegeville, is (was) a horrid center of dissent, liturgical abuse, homosexual debauchery, and in my own experience there, a hell-hole that promotes depression, alcohol abuse and just plain nastiness.
    Call me negative.
    But Fr. A. Ruff can wax eloquently on all kinds of everything in his “cute” little “Pray Tell” blog, which to me, is just a load of b.s.
    You’re either with the Church or you are opposing her…A. Ruff doesn’t “get it”, evidently;
    and he is just as “out to lunch” as A. Sipe, as far as I’m concerned.
    Dissent breeds immorality; liturgical abuses breed immorality. Go figure!

  20. Supertradmom: I am just horrified by what you stated…children victimized in “face to face” confession…I am so sorry to hear this. My prayers for all involved.
    This is the very reason material separation between the penitent and priest is ABSOLUTELY required, unless the penitent is dying, and that would not be an occasion one would hope for sexual molestation.
    The Church, in Her wisdom, required a separation, grille and solid wall, for the Sacrament of Penance, at least for women (men were another matter, but usually, if not heard in the usual confessional out in the open where sex would not be an issue (one would hope!).
    The Seventies were a real time of insanity; “reconciliation rooms” were the rage and we have lived to regret this (one anecdote here in Parish in which we presently live concerned a young lad who read the words on the confessional “Come be Recycled”! (Reconciled)!…)LOL!
    We have a long way to go. Our Lady and St. Joseph help us!

  21. frjim4321 says:

    supertradmum, homosexuality as a cause to pedophilia is a canard without any kind of emperical support. Even the John Jay study debunked that myth. Homosexuality does not cause pedophilia or ephebophilia. Meanwhile newfangled pogroms in the seminaries in the wake of the post-crisis vatican visitaion won’t downward adjust the (possibily elevated) representation of homosexually oriented persons within the priesthood; they will simply be forced to dive deeper into the closets at their own peril and that of the church.

    Fr. Jim

  22. AnAmericanMother says:

    Fr Jim,

    My mother has been a professional (contemporary) dancer since before I was born; both my parents are also musicians. The male contemporary dancers I have known have always been overwhelmingly (though not exclusively) homosexual; there is a much lesser but significant homosexual presence in the music world.

    I have been familiar with that scene since I was a small child, a matter of fifty years or so of observation. Homosexual seduction of teenagers (in the parlance, chicken-hawking) is sadly routine. I wish I had a dollar for every graying queen I’ve seen squiring around a kid young enough to be his son (or grandson). The sub-culture worships youth and beauty; moreover, the ‘literature’ (read pornography) is filled with idealized stories of the ‘initiation’ of youngsters. It’s a destructive, predatory, insane culture. But that’s what it is, although apologists certainly don’t want to talk about it or even acknowledge it.

    Why should homosexuals in the priesthood be different from homosexuals anywhere else? They certainly weren’t any different among the Episcopal clergy.

  23. Fr. Jim,

    I wouldn’t be so quick to cite the John Jay study.

    Karen Terry, one of the John Jay researchers told the USCCB in a preliminary report, “Even though there was sexual abuse of many boys, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person had a homosexual identity. It’s important to separate the sexual identity and the behavior. Someone can commit sexual acts that might be of a homosexual nature but not have a homosexual identity.”

    She then said that greater access to boys is one of the reasons for the skewed ratio of male victims, and her colleague Margaret Smith even went so far as to raise the analogy of homosexual activity among prison populations as supporting evidence.

    This is John Jay’s spin. Even Robert Gibbs would choke on it.

    I’m no psychologist, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say that 100% of those grown men who target post-pubescent teenage boys for their sexual gratification are homosexuals.

  24. Thomas G. says:

    Fr Jim – your post is a perfect example of why the Church will have great difficulty getting at the root causes of this scandal. Getting at the root causes will mean denying the very politically correct dogmas you cite.

  25. Scott W. says:

    Again, 70% to 80% of the abuses are between priests and post-pubescent males. One can’t have the cake and eat it too. If one wants to say that pedophilia has no connection to homosexuality, fine by me. (However, I’ve asked several times what the breakdown of true pedophilia cases is as far as male/female and have never gotten an answer); but one still has to account for the vast majority of post-pubescent cases. As I see it, the “What homosexuality?” crowd has only two choices: either acknowledge that the majority of cases do in fact demonstrate a homosexual problem, or pretend that those 70% aren’t really abuse but rather (as the secular world has largely accepted) “coming of age” stories.

  26. Henry Edwards says:

    Fr. Jim: homosexuality as a cause to pedophilia is a canard

    Perhaps so. But, of course, the Church has no particular problem with pedophilia. the incidence of which is far lower in the Catholic Church than an any other identifiable segment of our society.

    It has (or had) a problem with homosexual seduction of teenage boys by homosexual priests. And if you don’t understand that the way to get rid of this problem is to get rid of homosexual priests, it’s not because of a difference of opinion or orientation or theology, but a simple matter of understanding the English language.

  27. Onesimus2 says:

    The initial sociological observation seems worthwhile to hold onto. Much like Kubler-Ross’s stages of Dying they provide a framework to view the process from a social scientific model. I don’t see parents finding it much help in instructing or protecting their children from sexual predators. The finding may be somewhat helpful among the various judicatories of the Churches who want to look for markers in their process of responding to this and many other problems.

    We are, I think, looking at major reform regarding the matter of sexual identity and behavior among the baptized faithful. Terms such as “Same-Sex Attraction” Homosexuality, Sexuality, Bisexuality have been squeezed through the APA blender, leaving all of us with more confusion than understanding but less compassion than guidance. Sexual activity outside of the context of marriage (sacramental or natural) is proscribed by reason. Sexual activity within the context of marriage is guided by reason and revelation. All of the baptized faithful are bound to follow the Moral Law. There is no caste system among Christians that permits immorality for one group while prohibiting it for all others. Everybody needs to grasp THAT point.

    The elimination of sexual sin (including all abuses) is unlikely to take place either by the action of the Civil State, the Universal or particular Church or any other authority. Education will not remove it nor will punishment. Personal conversion and sanctification, however, can be nurtured and held as a expectation among the baptized faithful (rather than held as an exception). Nothing less will be effective and pastors need to preach this sort of reform and to life it in their own lives.

  28. robtbrown says:

    supertradmum, homosexuality as a cause to pedophilia is a canard without any kind of emperical support. Even the John Jay study debunked that myth. Homosexuality does not cause pedophilia or ephebophilia.

    Generally, pedophilia is not gender specific. Ephebophilia is. And acc to the JJ Rept, 81% of the victims were male.

    Meanwhile newfangled pogroms in the seminaries in the wake of the post-crisis vatican visitaion won’t downward adjust the (possibily elevated) representation of homosexually oriented persons within the priesthood; they will simply be forced to dive deeper into the closets at their own peril and that of the church.
    Fr. Jim

    I definitely agree that pogroms aren’t the answer, just stop gap measures. On the other hand, I do know of cases in which admission and formation committees were informed of a candidate’s homosexuality, but nothing was done.

    IMHO, it is proper formation (incl silence) that weeds out those with sexual problems.

  29. robtbrown says:

    Also: Proper formation includes Latin liturgy.

  30. Scott W. says:

    Everybody needs to grasp THAT point.

    I didn’t read anyone here who didn’t grasp that point. Concentration on homosexuality is in proportion to the recent onslaught to secure approval of it by society at large.

  31. Ismael says:

    Ah… Sipe!

    I read his website. Lots of info but I got the taste that his reaserch is fully biased on proving one single point ‘Celibacy causes pedophilia’ or ‘Celibacy makes you sexually imature’.

    I give him an A for trying but a D- for execution. His research might be valuable, for sure, but it needs to be viewed by an wide numer of peer reviewers (to make it as objective as humanly possible).

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