Two years before long-running rumors about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick made headlines around the world, America’s most outspoken clergy sex abuse activist, Richard Sipe, met with his local bishop – Bishop of San Diego, Robert McElroy.
“It was clear to me when we last met in your office, albeit cordial, that you had no interest in having any further personal contact,” wrote Sipe, now deceased, a former Benedictine priest who worked then for the Seton Psychiatric Institute in Baltimore. . As church officials asked him to report to McElroy, “your office has made it clear that you do not have time in your schedule either now or ‘in the foreseeable future’ to have the meeting they suggested”.
Sipe’s 2016 letter to the bishop of San Diego was later published online and is frequently cited as an example of the bishop ignoring warnings about the now defrocked McCarrick, who often bragged about his influence as a doer. of Vatican kings. Now he will get more attention because Pope Francis has appointed McElroy to the Sacred College of Cardinals. This promotes the bishop of San Diego above several prominent archbishops – including Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez, who heads America’s largest Catholic archdiocese and is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In his hand-delivered report, Sipe told McElroy that his ongoing research indicated that 6% of American priests were guilty of sex with minors. Meanwhile, a “systemic” trend was clear: “At any given time, no more than 50% of priests are practicing celibacy.”
As for the mighty McCarrick, Sipe noted, “I interviewed twelve seminarians and priests who attest to proposing, harassing, or having sex with McCarrick, who said, ‘I don’t like sleeping alone.'”
Debates over McElroy’s elevation have focused on other issues that divide Catholic life, though decades of sexual abuse crimes loom in the background. He has, for example, supported the ordination of women to the diaconate, allowing them to preach, perform marriages and serve – a step away from the priesthood – at Catholic altars.
McElroy has openly clashed with U.S. bishops keen to address “Eucharistic coherence” as prominent Catholics, particularly President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, argue — with words and deeds — abortion and LGBTQ rights.
It was McElroy who told a Georgetown University online forum in 2021: “I don’t see how to deny the president or other political leaders the Eucharist based on their position on public policy. can be interpreted in our society as something other than the militarization of the Eucharist and an effort not to convince people by argument, by dialogue and by reason, but rather to compel them to submit on the issue.
In this context, McElroy’s elevation sends a “strong message to the American hierarchy”, tweeted Christopher Lamb, Vatican correspondent for The Tablet. And it’s significant, he added, that McElroy “called for a more welcoming stance towards LGBT Catholics by saying, ‘What we need to project into the life of the church is, ‘You are part of us and we are part of you”.
Papal adviser Father Antonio Spadaro also said giving McElroy a red hat was “a loud and clear message for the Church in the United States,” noted JD Flynn of The Pillar. Catholics will now reflect on the significance of this message from Rome.
In terms of abortion strategy, in 2019 McElroy told the U.S. bishops that their efforts to focus “abortion as the overriding priority – the killing of nearly one million unborn children each year — were ‘discordant with the teaching of the pope, if not inconsistent.’” Flynn noted. On this and other divisive issues, the “Cardinal-elect is not aligned with most American bishops…and didn’t seem bothered by it at all.”
As a leftist, Sipe agreed with McElroy on many, if not most, of the issues of modern Catholicism. However, he confronted his bishop because he believed the sexual abuse crisis is an issue that transcends left-right arguments.
So, after 12 pages of text and footnotes, Sipe concludes, “I have tried to help the Church understand and heal the wounds of clergy sexual abuse. My services were not well received.
“I have appealed to you for pastoral attention to the victims of abuse and the long-term consequences of this violation. This includes the effects of suicide attempts. Only a bishop can heal these wounds.
Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.