One priest reported 200 sexual encounters, including some with students at St. John’s University and prep school.
Another recorded the names of dozens of boys he brought to a cabin, some of whom he sexually abused.
Another abuser was paid $30,000 by St. John’s Abbey to support him as he left the clergy.
These are among findings from the first batch of personnel files from St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville made public Tuesday. The abbey was required to release its internal files on priests credibly accused of child sex abuse as part of a lawsuit settled earlier this year. It marks the first time the abbey — implicated in clergy abuse cases for two decades — has opened its confidential files.
The files include the abuse accusations, abbey response, and psychological assessments of the men from roughly the 1960s to a few years ago. That includes a 2012 assessment of the Rev. Finian McDonald, who told a psychologist that he had about 200 sexual encounters as a priest.
McDonald reported that his youngest victims were 13- or 14-year-old prostitutes in Thailand, that he had 18 victims while serving as a prefect at St. John’s dormitories, and that he had acted out sexually and abused alcohol during most of his 29 years as a dormitory prefect. Sexual encounters also occurred with adults.
The abbey issued a written statement in response to the document release by victims’ attorney Jeff Anderson.
“There are documents in each file which may be quoted and framed in a lurid context,” wrote abbey spokesman Brother Aelred Senna. “But the huge majority of the documents in each of these files acknowledges the very real failures of some monks while showing each of the accused monks as a fallible, relatable person.”
The files “show that the Abbey did not try to cover up allegations and did a reasonable job of managing the monk and the problem,” he wrote.
However, Anderson, whose lawsuit forced the file release, said the magnitude of sexual encounters reported in just the five priest files indicates that many more students or other minors have not stepped forward to report abuse.
“So many offenders were allowed access to so many kids for so many years,” said Anderson at a news conference. “This reflects to us … that there are dozens and hundreds of survivors that are yet to be known.”
In addition to McDonald, files were also released on the Rev. Tom Gillespie, former priest Fran Hoefgen, the Rev. Bruce Wollmering and the Rev. Richard Eckroth. Eckroth and Wollmering are deceased.
Hoefgen was acquitted earlier this year of sexually abusing a boy while he was a priest in a Hastings parish. However, the files show that Hoefgen admitted to abusing a teen in the early 1980s. And in 1994, Hoefgen reported to then-Abbot Timothy Kelly that he had a sexual encounter with a St. John’s student in the student’s dorm room, the files show.
The abbey eventually gave Hoefgen a $30,000 “gift” to help him transition out of the priesthood.
St. John’s is one of the largest Benedictine monasteries in North America. It shares a campus with students at St. John’s prep school and those at St. John’s University. Many of its priests also have served Twin Cities parishes.
Both McDonald and Wollmering worked for decades as student counselors. The files show that Wollmering received a psychological diagnosis in 2004 of “sexual disorder with compulsive and exploitive behaviors.” A St. John’s student reported in 2006 that Wollmering bragged to him that he had 300 “sexual partners.”
Anderson said the abbey allowed known offenders to have access to minors, and he questioned the enforcement of the safety plans that are supposed to restrict the priests’ access to kids.
Gillespie, for example, abused a child in Stillwater in 1978 and had restricted access to minors, the documents show. But in 2013, a student complained that Gillespie was sending him e-mails and showing up unwanted at his school events.
Eckroth, meanwhile, brought boys to a St. John’s cabin for years, giving and getting massages to the boys while naked in the sauna.
Troy Bramlage is the St. Cloud man whose lawsuit against the abbey was settled with the provision that the personnel files be released. He said he hopes that more victims will step forward, as the scope and details of the abuse is revealed.
“People need to know they don’t have to suffer alone,” he said.
The abbey has identified 19 priests credibly accused of child sex abuse. Files on the others will be released in the months ahead, said Anderson.
Have you ever wondered about the term, sex positive?
If you’re like me you see it all over the place, especially on sex-related sites. I confess I use it way more often than I should. It’s become one of those industry buzzwords that has, over time, become so fuzzy around the edges that it’s now virtually meaningless. In fact, if the truth be known, I believe the term sex positive has been taken over by the sex Taliban who have made it a cover for their strict code of political correctness. Oddly enough, this is the very antithesis of its original meaning.
If you want to shame someone in the sex field—be it a sex worker, blogger or adult product manufacturer—you label that person as sex-negative. You may not know anything about that person other than you were offended by something they did, said or made. But still, you hurl the epithet as if you were exorcising a heretic. This is a very powerful tool for keeping people in my industry in line. But I’ve begun to wonder, who is setting themselves up as the arbiter of what is and what is not sex positive? I have to ask: What is the agenda? I mean, could compulsory ideological purity of some artificial standards of thought or behavior be “positive” anything? I say, no!
Like all good ideas that have gone bad due to overuse—or worse, sloppy use—the sex positive concept once had meaning that was life-affirming and enriching. Sex positive has been in the lexicon at least since the mid-1950s. It frequently appears in journals and research papers to describe a movement that examines and advocates for all the other beneficial aspects of sex beyond reproduction.
I’ve been using the term since 1981 when I opened my practice in Clinical Sexology and Sexual Health Care. The opening words of my mission statement read: “I affirm the fundamental goodness of sexuality in human life, both as a personal need and as an interpersonal bond.” Way back then, I was flush with my quixotic pursuit to stand steadfast against all the cultural pressures to negate or denigrate sexuality and pleasure. I dedicated myself to spreading the gospel that healthy attitudes toward sex not only affect a person’s sex life, but his/her ability to relate well with others.
This came relatively easy for me, because I’d learned something very important about evangelization in my life as a Catholic priest. (Another quixotic pursuit, but we’ll have to save the details of that misadventure for another time. Or you could read about it HERE!) One of the first things one learns in seminary is how to proselytize, to sow the seeds of a creed, and then nurture them taking root by endless repetition of the articles of faith. Of course there is a downside to this, too. Repetition fosters mindlessness, stifles creative thought, and worse makes things boring.
But the creed statements of the world’s three great monotheistic religions are masterful works of theological art.
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam!
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
Each contains the most profound kernel of religious truth the believer needs to know, but all are easy enough for a child to learn. And like I said, the secret is in the repetition. For the true devotee, these creedal statements are uttered dozens of times a day and to great effect.
Early on in my career as a sexologist, I decided to put the principles I learned in the Church into disseminating my new belief system. First, keep the message simple! I settled on: “Sex is Good—and Good Sex is Even Better.” This has been my mantra for decades. It contains everything you need to know about being sex positive, but it’s easy enough for a child to learn. Even now it soothes me to hear myself say these words. And it comforts me in the same way blessing myself did in my priestly days.
Despite my apprehensions, I continue to be an apostle of the sex positive doctrine. I know that even though my industry has corrupted the concept, others have yet to hear the good news. And there’s something almost spiritual about seeing someone grasp the idea for the first time. Let me tell you about one such instance. Some time ago I was asked to address a group of doctors on the topic Health Care Concerns Of Sexually Diverse Populations. Unfortunately, just a handful of doctors attended the workshop—which was pretty disconcerting, considering all the work I’d put into the presentation. I guess that’s why kinksters and pervs, as well as your run-of-the-mill queer folk, are often frustrated in their search for sensitive and lifestyle-attuned healing and helping professionals.
Since the group of doctors attending was so small, I decided to ask them to pull their chairs in a circle so that our time together could be a bit more informal and intimate. Frankly, I’ve never found it easy talking to doctors about sex; and discussing kinky sex was surely going to be very tricky. So, I decided to start off as gently as I could. My opening remarks included the phrases “sex positive” and “kink positive.”
Sitting as close to my audience as I was, I could see at once that these fundamental concepts weren’t registering with them. I was astonished. Here was a group of physicians, each with a large urban practice. Could they really be this out of touch? I quickly checked in with them to see if my perception was correct. I was right! None of them had heard the term, sex positive. The two who hazarded a guess at its meaning thought it had something to do with being HIV+. I had my work cut out for me.
I decided to share my creed with them. “Sex is Good—and Good Sex is Even Better.” I asked them repeat it with me as if I were teaching a catechism to children. Surprisingly, they did so without resistance. After we repeated the mantra a couple more times, I exposed them to the sex positive doctrine unencumbered by political correctness.
Sex Is Good! Sex is a positive force in human development; the pursuit of pleasure, including sexual pleasure, is at the very foundation of a harmonious society.
And Good Sex Is Even Better! The individual makes that determination. For example, what I decide is good sex for me, may be boring sex to someone else. And their good sex may be hair-raising to me. In other words, consensual sexual expression is a basic human right regardless of the form that expression takes. And it’s not appropriate for me, or anyone else, to call into question someone else’s consensual affectional choices.
Sex Is Good! Everyone has a right to clear, unambiguous sexual health information. It must be presented in a nonjudgmental way, particularly from his or her health care providers. And sexual health encompasses a lot more then just disease prevention, and contraception.
And Good Sex Is Even Better! The focus is on the affirmative aspects of sexuality, like sexual pleasure. Sexual wellbeing is more than simply being able to perform. It also means taking responsibility for one’s eroticism as an integral part of one’s personality and involvement with others.
Sex Is Good! Each person is unique and that must be respected. Our aim as healing and helping professionals is to provide information and guidance that will help the individual approach his/her unique sexuality in a realistic and responsible manner. This will foster his/her independent growth, personal integrity, as well as provide a more joyful experience of living.
And Good Sex Is Even Better! Between the extremes of total sexual repression and relentless sexual pursuit, a person can find that unique place, where he/she is free to live a life of self-respect, enjoyment and love.
Finally I told them they ought to think creatively how they could adapt this concept to their own practice. It was up to each of them to make this creed their own. As it turned out, this primer was just the thing to open my planned discussion of health care for kinksters.
In a way this experience was a bit of a spiritual reawakening for me, too. Despite my misgivings about the contamination of the sex positive doctrine by malicious people bent on using it as a weapon against those they disagree with. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to watch these sex positive novices hear, and then embrace, the message for the first time. It was nothing short of a religious experience.
In the new movie “Spotlight,” a character describes Richard Sipe as a “hippie ex-priest shacking up with some nun.”
When the real Sipe heard this line, he laughed. The 82-year-old La Jollan is often called worse: Traitor.
Sipe never appears on screen in “Spotlight,” a dramatization of the Boston Globe’s 2001-02 investigation of the Catholic Church covering up the crimes of pedophile priests. Yet his insights, formed after decades of research on priests, permeate the film.
A psychotherapist who treated troubled clergy, Sipe drew on about 500 case files for his 1990 study of celibacy, “A Secret World.” Another 500 priests were also interviewed, plus an equal number of lay people who had been sex partners — as adults or children, willing or unwilling — of Catholic clergy.
His conclusions: At any one time, no more than half of priests are practicing celibacy. Most of the others are engaged in sexual relationships with women or men, but Sipe found that 6 percent prey on minors. (After further research, he revised that figure to 6 percent to 9 percent.)
A scholarly work from a small publishing house — New York’s Brunner/Mazel — “Secret World” nonetheless rocked a 2,000-year-old global institution.
“This is very important and has to be published,” an abbot told Sipe after reading the manuscript. “But it’s a good thing the church no longer castrates or burns at the stake, or you would be in trouble.”
While he escaped execution, Sipe has been verbally flogged for 25 years. TheMediaReport.com, a website decrying “media bias in coverage of sex abuse in the Catholic Church,” calls Sipe “an angry ex-priest” who uses “the issue of clergy sex abuse as a means to advance his attack on the Catholic Church, especially its teachings regarding human sexuality.”
Victims of sexual abuse, though, praise the man and his work.
“He’s an absolute hero,” said David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “He’s just a very wise and compassionate man who has made an enormous contribution to understanding and exposing this crisis.”
In his office at home, the walls are covered with reproductions of murals depicting the Last Judgment. A computer dominates one desk, a sculpted nude female torso another. In his lair, Sipe looks neither angelic nor demonic. He looks frail — a walker waits by his chair, thanks to old skiing injuries — yet joyful.
“I don’t have any regrets about what I went through,” he said. “I couldn’t have accomplished any of this without being a monk and a priest.”
‘What it’s about’
Sipe grew up in Minnesota, part of a large Catholic family. He remembers his parents as faithful, not fanatical. It was his idea, not theirs, for the naive ninth-grader to enter a Benedictine seminary.
“I was one of 10 kids,” he said. “You had to stand out in some way!”
He was allowed to date through high school, and 70 years later can still rattle off the names of girlfriends. His monastic preparations continued, though, through college. He became a Benedictine monk in 1953 and a priest in that order in 1959, vowing obedience, poverty and chastity.
That last vow didn’t worry him, Sipe said, thanks to his ignorance. “You don’t know what it’s about, what sex is about, what an adult sexual relationship is or what it’s like to fall in love.”
While studying psychiatry and religion in Rome, he grew fascinated by the question of why some priests — such as the Very Rev. Ulric Beste, a Vatican official and a mentor — remained celibate and others did not.
He continued his studies at St. John’s University Mental Health Institute in Minnesota and as a fellow at the Menninger Foundation. At Maryland’s Seton Psychiatric Institute, a hospital where struggling priests were sent for treatment, he collected data on the sexual lives of his patients.
In 1966, Margaret Mead toured Seton. The anthropologist encouraged the priest to study this matter in a dispassionate manner. To this day, Sipe doesn’t refer to errant priests as “pedophiles.”
“I say they are priests who have sex with minors,” he said.
Sipe’s tone, especially in “Secret World” and a 2003 sequel, “Celibacy in Crisis,” is free of outrage and judgment. Some victims are disturbed by this clinical approach, but not SNAP’s executive director.
“There’s just way too much blaming and shaming and anger by people from all sides in this crisis,” Clohessy said. “Richard does a superb job of focusing on behavior and not beliefs, on facts and not theories.”
He’s also more than a scholar. As a fellow priest, he understood his peers’ struggles.
“I was part of the culture,” he said. “And I was a data keeper.”
That data would help direct the Boston Globe’s investigation, which inspired similar probes. As the church’s sex scandal erupted around the world, it seemed that no diocese was free of predatory priests — including San Diego.
Persona non grata
In his 30s, Father Sipe fell into a severe depression. In therapy, he came to the conclusion that he could no longer serve as a priest. In 1970, he was granted dispensation from his priestly vows.
Soon after, he married Marianne Benkert, a former nun and psychiatrist who had worked at Baltimore’s Loyola University. He opened a private practice, taught, wrote and devoted himself to his new role as husband.
Soon, he was a father. Walter Sipe, the couple’s son, graduated from Harvard and enrolled in the UC San Diego School of Medicine. His parents bought a La Jolla home in 1996, where their son took up residence. Three years later, after he graduated, his parents moved in.
Sipe was in La Jolla when the Globe learned of his research. In October 2001, he and Marianne flew to Boston to meet with the journalists. After the Spotlight team’s first stories on sexual abuse by clergy appeared in 2002, Sipe was contacted by media from around the world.
He’s still sought as a source and an expert witness. To date, he’s testified in about 250 cases brought against Roman Catholic priests accused of rape and other sexual crimes. He’s also been invited to speak on college campuses, in public forums, in conferences addressing this crisis.
One place he hasn’t been invited: The offices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego.
“I’ve been blackballed,” Sipe said. “Bishop Robert Brom sent his chancellor here to say I was not welcome in the chancery. If I came, it would only be in the presence of a lawyer.”
In San Diego, so many victims came forward that the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2007. Later that year, the church agreed to pay $198.1 million to 144 victims. The diocese’s bankruptcy petition would be terminated in January 2014.
The diocese, Robert McElroy said when he was named San Diego’s bishop this March, had to do a better job of preventing these crimes.
“We can never relax on that issue,” McElroy said then. “We can never think we have done enough to have put that in the past.”
This week, the diocese declined several Union-Tribune requests to outline steps it has taken to prevent a recurrence.
In the long run
These crimes are not committed only by Catholic clergy, a truth that was underscored last week by two news stories. Former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle was sentenced to prison for possessing child pornography and having intercourse with two minors; and the Associated Press reported that military prisons contain more sexual abusers of children than any other type of offender.
Next year, Sipe himself will testify in child sex abuse cases involving two non-Catholic religious leaders.
Yet he is convinced that the crisis in the Catholic Church is unique, and rooted in that institution’s attitudes toward sex and gender. While he welcomes the new tone set by Pope Francis, he doesn’t expect any rapid changes.
“I think there is something starting,” he said. “But the real change will not come until the church allows optional celibacy and the ordination of women.
“And these changes will cause more problems, and then more changes. This is an evolutionary process.”
Change is constant, even in an institution that seems to move at a glacial pace. Those images of the Last Judgment on the walls of Sipe’s study? One is a reproduction of an 11th-century work, showing a welcoming Christ in a vast paradise. Hell is almost an afterthought, shunted to a small corner of the canvas.
“Now look at Michelangelo,” Sipe said, gesturing to the framed poster of the 16th-century painting on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Half of this masterwork is devoted to souls being hurled into damnation.
Sipe laughed. “That says it all.”
Years ago, Sipe stopped attending weekly Mass. He’s not a member of any parish and doesn’t regularly partake of the sacraments. But ask if he’s given up on the faith of his childhood, and he smiles.
“My view of being a Catholic is that I am a Catholic in the long run of things,” said the former priest and ex-monk. “I am a part of the change.”
U.S. Roman Catholic bishops, at their first assembly since gay marriage became legal nationwide, vowed Monday to uphold marriage as only the union of a man and a woman and to seek legal protections for those who share that view.
Some bishops said they were committed to reversing the U.S. Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling last June. Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, said a concerted effort was needed to “build a consensus” to do so. As a model, he pointed to new state laws that have made it harder to obtain an abortion, even as the procedure remains legal nationwide.
“I don’t think because five Supreme Court justices changed the public policy on such a fundamental issue that we should just accept it. I think we have to be as strong as we have on the pro-life issue,” Naumann said at the gathering of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.
Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Alabama, said the bishops should join other religious groups in working to protect government workers who refuse to participate in same-sex weddings. The bishops have not said specifically what kind of conscience protections they support for civil authorities.
“I hope we will not back away from that advocacy,” Baker said.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the bishops’ conference, highlighted the bishops push for religious exemptions for charities, schools and individual for-profit business owners who oppose gay marriage and other laws and regulations.
Dozens of U.S. dioceses and Catholic nonprofits are suing the Obama administration over the birth control coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act. President Barack Obama created an accommodation that requires insurers to provide the coverage in place of objecting religious nonprofits. The bishops and other faith groups said the change did not go far enough. The Supreme Court recently announced it was taking up lawsuits challenging the accommodation, with arguments scheduled in March.
“What a great tragedy it will be if our ministries are slowly secularized or driven out of the public square because of short-sighted laws or regulations that limit our ability to witness and serve consistent with our faith,” said Kurtz, of Louisville, Ky.
The bishops’ meeting came just days after the Islamic extremists attacked Paris. U.S. bishops said they were praying for victims of the violence and renewed their commitment to resettling Syrian refugees, as some U.S. governors threatened to stop accepting them. American dioceses have a vast network of charities that help resettle refugees.
Still, religious liberty and marriage were the focus of the gathering Monday, the first of two days of public sessions. Among the issues they discussed was how they should include children of gay parents in church life. Last week, the Mormon church sparked a backlash with new, strict limits on participation in church rites by children with same-sex married parents.
The bishops’ conference also heard an address from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican’s U.S. ambassador who was behind Francis’ controversial meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who briefly went to jail rather than comply with a court order to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Vigano had invited Davis to be among those greeting the pope in the Vatican embassy in Washington last September during Francis’ visit to the country. Her lawyer caused an uproar when he announced the meeting soon after Francis returned to Rome, describing it as a papal affirmation of Davis’ approach to conscientious objection. The Vatican insisted the meeting was not an endorsement and said she was one of several dozen people who had greeted Francis. The U.S. bishops’ conference has never commented on the meeting.
In his speech Monday, Vigano urged the bishops to persevere in working to “preserve a moral order in society” and said they should not “fall prey” to “secularized and increasingly pagan” practices in broader society. He said Catholic colleges and universities, specifically those founded by Jesuits, should do more to shore up Catholic identity at the schools.
The ambassador received two standing ovations from the bishops. He turns 75 in January, the age when bishops are required to submit their resignations to the pope.
A “Jesus 2 dads” sign has rocked a Catholic Church in Buffalo, New York, after the Reverend, who had it placed on the church’s street sign, mistook it for a sign of encouragement to children from stepfamilies.
“Jesus had 2 dads, and he turned out just fine,” the sign read (see image below from Yahoo! Parenting.)
Reverend Roy Herberger of the St. Columba-Brigid Roman Catholic Church confessed to Yahoo! Parenting that he had no idea he was using a sign that in reality supports same-sex marriage.
The 73-year-old reverend said he got the “Jesus 2 dads” sign idea from a Google search for “funny street signs” and that, once he learned the true meaning, he could “see why people are upset.”
“I only had one purpose,” Herberger continued. “After 48 years in the church, I see so many kids with stepparents, or even in single-family homes or being raised by grandparents, who feel that they’re not as good as other kids who have a nuclear mother-and-father family. I’ve seen what that does sometimes when they’re comparing themselves to that nuclear family and I wanted to say, ‘Hang in there. You’re good. Things will work out for you.’ I wanted to provide support and understanding for kids in that situation.”
Herberger also insisted that he was not trying to cause problems, and that he had “no trouble” taking the sign down once it had come to his attention.
One look at the church’s guestbook page online, however, shows that some Christians aren’t so quick to forgive, and at least one doubts that Herberger is giving a truthful explanation behind his intent.
“That billboard was set up with both meanings in mind,” said a commenter going by the name of Jason, who added that it’s bad enough the Church “is attacked by the evil, secular gay mafia on a daily basis,” but that it’s even worse when there are “priests within the Catholic Church implicitly supporting it!”
“There is no room in the priesthood for anyone, including bishops, cardinals, and even the pope, that in any way support or promote sodomy,” Jason continued.
Some of his detractors have suggested that he may have known what he was doing, pointing to an emotional interview that Herberger shared over the closure of St. Ann’s church in Buffalo three years ago.
According to the YouTube video notes, Herberger spoke out against the sudden closure, claiming that the closure process “mistreats people.”
In 2011, the church appealed to the Vatican to avoid Kmiec’s decree that St. Ann merge with nearby St. Columba and Brigid Parish.
You can view the video below and decide for yourself whether this is the makings of a rogue parishioner.
On another note for Herberger, it appears that some of the more negative comments are starting to dissipate as supporters chime in, applauding him for his message of inclusion for any children, who come from less traditional households.
As for the origins of the “Jesus 2 dads” sign, the reference is that Jesus was the earthly son of Joseph, but that he was spiritually conceived in a virgin birth to Mother Mary, making God his true Father.
The “Jesus 2 dads” sign itself has origins within growing sects of Christianity that are opening up more to support of same-sex marriage.
If you search “Jesus 2 dads” on Google Image, you will find signs from more than one denomination — mainly Methodist and Anglican.
Catholicism has never been accepting of homosexuality, though, so it was quite the eye-opener when this message appeared in front of Herberger’s congregation.
What do you think of the “Jesus 2 dads” controversy, readers — justified or overblown? And did Herberger secretly know what he was doing? Sound off in the comments section.