Richard Sipe's Work...Extremely Discouraging

Dear Father Bloom,

Let me start by thanking you for the work you put into your website. It is a tremendous resource! Something is bothering me...I'm having real difficulty with whether or not the Church's discipline of mandatory celibacy for priests -- and Deacons, too, after their wives pass away -- is something that we can truly live by or not.

I have become aware of Richard Sipe's work on sexual issues and the Catholic clergy. Now, I know men are sinners, and just as married people can be unfaithful to their vows, so can priests. But can the statistics quoted by Sipe really be accurate? He claims that 30% of priests are homosexual in orientation (no big deal in itself) but that half of those are active! He further goes on to make the case that up to 50% of priests are involved sexually with somebody. He is also quoted as saying only 2% of priests achieve celibacy.

This is extremely discouraging to me. Is it possible that the Church is asking the impossible from men and women called to the religious life? If Sipe is all wet about his data and assertions, who says so? And based on what?? I would like to find the truth of this matter, but have no earthly idea of where to look.

I am going to take your advice and read Priests and Pedophiles. Can you recommend anything else? I'm not after a white-wash. After all, Christ Himself warned us that scandals would come. But at the same time there is such an anti-Catholic bias in some quarters that truth seems hard to come by.

Thanks for your time and ministry, Father.




Dear John,

Good to hear from you. Sipe's book does address a very real problem and challenge. One of my priest friends, inspired by St. Therese, has taken on the apostolate of prayer for priests. More people need to do that if we are ever going to overcome the crisis Sipe's and others describe. A priest can do such terrible damage - as well as great good.

It has been quite a few years since I read Secret World, so I am not sure what to say about the specific statistics. I did have a feeling while I read it that, altho Sipe commands a lot of data and clinical experience, some of it was colored by a need to justify his own decision to leave the priesthood and marry. Not that he was out to do some kind of hatchet job, but if you do an internet search, you will find many who jumped on his statistics to attack the priesthood.

Fr. Groeschel has an excellent article on priestly celibacy: Priestly & Religious Celibacy: Is It Dead, or Should It Be?. I encourage you to read the whole article, but here is a paragraph which mentions Secret World:

"Celibacy in Catholicism has always meant complete sexual abstinence. It requires no great insight into human nature to realize that so rigorous a discipline has never been and could never be completely successful. Some writers like Richard Sipe, a former priest and critic of celibacy, make much of this fact (4 Secret World, 1990). It is difficult to imagine how any intelligent person could ever think a discipline as demanding as this one could be totally successful. Have the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes been successful, or even the speed limit? In an important way they have been successful since all three have significantly influenced human behavior for the better, but it is perfectly obvious that they have been and will continue to be violated many times. This is true of any discipline or law that challenges human nature."

Another very good book is Priests For the Third Millennium by Bishop Timothy Dolan. He deals with almost every aspect of priesthood that I can think of - and he does so in way that presents the exalted ideal without ever becoming unreal - or a whitewash. I'm sure as a layman - especially discerning a possible vocation to the diaconate - that you will find it very helpful.

There of course is much more to say on this topic, altho it inevitably involves revealing a certain painful intimacy - and exposing oneself to those who wish to attack us. Nevertheless, I have tried to give a couple of reflections: Is Celibacy Outdated? and Why Don't Priests Get Married?

God bless,

Fr. Phil Bloom

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