A.W. Richard Sipe, a Leading Voice on Clergy Sex Abuse, Dies at 85

A. W. Richard Sipe, a researcher, psychotherapist in addition to former priest who spent his life studying the roots of sex abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, becoming one of the subject’s leading experts, died on Wednesday inside the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego. He was 85.

His wife, Marianne Benkert Sipe, said the cause was multiple organ failure.

Mr. Sipe’s research into celibacy in addition to sexuality within the clergy helped establish a foundation for those studying, investigating in addition to responding to the sexual abuse crisis of the 2000s. Along with describing how celibacy was lived, his work resulted in several striking estimates arrived at inside the 1980s.

One was that will fully 6 percent of all priests were sexual abusers of children in addition to minors. Another was that will at any given time, only 50 percent of priests were celibate — an estimate that will the church said was overblown.

although Mr. Sipe’s most far-reaching conclusion was that will those two phenomena were linked. Failures of celibacy among church leaders, he argued, even if they happened with adults, created a system of hypocrisy in addition to secrecy in which the abuse of minors could take place.

that will link is usually one that will the church is usually still wrestling with, as suggested by recent disclosures that will Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who resigned in July, rose to the highest levels of the church despite warnings that will he had been inappropriately touching adult seminarians.

“Sooner or later that will will become broadly obvious that will there is usually a systemic connection between the sexual activity by, among in addition to between clerics in positions of authority in addition to control, in addition to the abuse of children,” Mr. Sipe wrote in a letter to Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego in 2016.

“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 usually made operative.”

In 1986, Mr. Sipe presented his findings to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, although nothing was done, Dr. Benkert Sipe said. So Mr. Sipe began working on the problem in some other ways, becoming active inside the early days of clergy-victim advocacy, writing books, consulting or testifying in some 250 trials on clergy abuse as an expert witness, in addition to never backing down through his initial assertions.

“He had such an effect on so many different people in that will he was a truth teller, in addition to when people found him, they found a sense of being,” said Paul Livingston, a clergy abuse victim in addition to friend. “He is usually irreplaceable.”

Walter Richard Sipe was born on Dec. 11, 1932, in Robbinsdale, Minn, as the fourth of 10 children of Walter C. Sipe, who owned several gas stations, in addition to Elizabeth (Altendorf) Sipe, a homemaker.

His family were observant Catholics, in addition to through an early age he was entranced by the church. He attended a high school in addition to a college run by Benedictine monks at St. John’s Abbey in nearby Collegeville in addition to became a monk himself. In 1959 he was ordained a priest. (He added the name Aquinas, after the theologian St. Thomas Aquinas, when he became a brother in addition to then used the initial A. in his name.)

although that will was not long before he realized to his shock that will just below the surface of the church lay secrets that will its hierarchy protected.

In his first posting, to Cold Spring, Minn., to work as a high school counselor, he heard inside the confessional about priests who were sexually involved with some other priests, priests who had girlfriends, in addition to even priests who were involved with minors, he said in an interview in 2008 for a documentary film, “Sipe: Sex, Lies, in addition to the Priesthood,” which is usually to be released that will year.

He also learned that will his predecessor had abused girls. Yet these men remained in Great standing with the church, he said.

“So I asked myself, What is usually that will celibacy, in addition to how is usually that will practiced by those people who claim to be celibate?” he said inside the interview, giving voice to the research question that will would certainly animate his career.

In 1967, he became the director of family services at the Seton Psychiatric Institute in Baltimore, a treatment center where bishops sent problem priests. As he got to know the troubled men, he said, some revealed that will they had been abused by clergymen themselves. He also heard stories about how church leaders had been dismissive of reports of abuse.

He began formally collecting data, seeking patterns. Leaving the priesthood in 1970, he married Marianne Benkert, a former nun who was doing her residency in psychiatry at the institute. In addition to her, Mr. Sipe is usually survived by a son, Walter, who is usually also a psychiatrist, in addition to six siblings, Thomas, John, Bernadette, Michael, Elizabeth in addition to Rosie.

With Dr. Benkert Sipe’s help, Mr. Sipe published his research in 1990 in a landmark ethnographic study of celibacy in addition to abuse within the Catholic Church.

The book, “A Secret World: Sexuality in addition to the Search for Celibacy,” drew on case files in addition to 25 years of interviews with hundreds of sexually active priests in addition to victims of clergy sex abuse.

Mr. Sipe had naïvely assumed that will his study would certainly be welcomed by bishops, Dr. Benkert Sipe said. Instead, he was blackballed in some dioceses.

“When he wasn’t listened to, in addition to wasn’t believed, that will was actually hurtful to him, because he cared about the church,” she said.

although there were also triumphs. One was the investigation into clergy sex abuse by The Boston Globe in 2002. that will exposed widespread abuse in addition to a cover-up inside the Archdiocese of Boston in addition to spawned a nationwide reckoning. Mr. Sipe’s finding that will the problem was systemic guided the Globe’s Spotlight investigative team of reporters, whose work was portrayed inside the Academy Award-winning 2015 film “Spotlight.”

inside the movie, the reporters listen to Mr. Sipe, played by Richard Jenkins, as he explains by speaker phone his finding that will 6 percent of priests abuse minors. The reporters quickly calculate that will that will would certainly mean 0 priests in Boston.

“is usually that will possible?” one reporter asks.

“Yes, that will would certainly certainly be in line with my findings,” the Sipe character says.

Since then more studies have come out showing that will the 6 percent estimate may be conservative. In 2017, an investigation by the Australian Royal Commission found that will 7 percent of priests inside the Australian Catholic Church had been accused of sexually abusing children through 1950 to 2010. A study commissioned by the American bishops in 2004 put the percentage at 4 percent.

“He lived long enough to see many of his predictions come true,” said Phil Saviano, a clergy-abuse activist in addition to friend.

Still, accountability for bishops continued to elude Mr. Sipe, frustrating him.

“I defy you to find where the system has changed,” he said in 2008. “Bishops are not accountable, they can — in addition to do — do what they want.”

In recent weeks, a wider swath of the church appeared to be coming around to accepting that will statement. Mr. Sipe had been warning on his website about the sexual activities of Cardinal McCarrick since 2008. After a substantiated report of abuse was revealed in June, followed by more allegations, some of the nation’s leading bishops began calling for reforms in how allegations against bishops are investigated.

Though Mr. Sipe had devoted his life to understanding the issues of celibacy in addition to abuse, the deeper question of why the problem could persist unaddressed for so long still eluded him, said the Rev. Tom Doyle, a friend in addition to longtime advocate for abuse victims.

On Tuesday, at Mr. Sipe’s bedside, the two men pondered the moral mystery of how so many clerics could look the some other way, putting ecclesiastical ambition above doing the right thing by children.

“ ‘Will we ever find the answer?’ ” Mr. Sipe asked, Father Doyle said. “in addition to I said, ‘You will know that will, sooner than I will.’ ”