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New Documentary Celebrates Life and Work of Clergy Abuse Scholar & Activist A.W. Richard Sipe

“Aquinas Walter Richard Sipe creates, and now leaves for all of us and those to come, a legacy of love, light and grace, a safer world for every child born and yet to be.”

On Saturday, February 20, a new documentary on the life and work of A.W. Richard Sipe, certified clinical mental health counselor and former priest whose landmark research and expertise directly helped blow the lid off the Boston Globe’s Spotlight 2002 investigation into clergy abuse, made its debut at the Salem Film Festival. In 54 short minutes, Sipe: Sex, Lies, and the Priesthood paints a detailed, inspiring, tender, and intimate portrait of a man who tirelessly dedicated his life to the study of celibacy, exposure of the secrecy and the child sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and revolutionary activism and advocacy at the side of thousands of adult survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Essential viewing for survivors, advocates, and allies in the child protection movement, the film will be available to stream until March 4 as part of the Salem Film Fest 2021.

Sipe died on August 8, 2018, of multiple organ failure in La Jolla, California, at the age of 85. His life was celebrated by friends, family, and coleagues at a small ceremony in La Jolla. Among the eulogists were fellow clergy abuse revolutionaries and longtime friends, Fr. Tom Doyle and attorney Jeff Anderson. Below is a recording and transcript of the eulogy Jeff read at Sipe’s funeral.

Aquinas Walter Richard Sipe 

Tribute by Jeff Anderson 

I am Jeff Anderson and I am going to give and record the comments I made in tribute and eulogy to Richard Sipe on September 22nd in San Diego, a couple days ago. 

A beautiful soul, unable to reconcile a deep faith with the indifference of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy.

Elie Wiesel says, “The opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference.”

Aspiring to follow the path as spoken in the Gospel of Thomas, bringing forth scholar, teacher, brother, monk, priest, counselor, seeker. Tensely, very tensely adhering to the confliction and the torment hearing Confessions, yet observing; the superior requiring the young seminarians to sexual submission. A soul awakening; conflict holding fulfillment in devotion to helping others cope.

Led by conscience. Assembling the data.

Following the exhortation of Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Always on the trail of the truth; the deeper truths.

This must be understood.

This must be recorded.

This must be reported.

The stakes are high. The decisions complex. The data damning. There is no escape.

Just as Thomas Merton came to precisely the same conclusion after decades of spiritual practice, he wrote, “Every man has a vocation to be someone: But he must understand clearly that in order to fulfill this vocation he can only be one person: himself.”

Unable to live a lie, or to let the lie live.

In that surrender, there is “The Choice”: Compliance or courage. Obedience or disobedience. Ascent or descent.

Jane Goodall, the world’s leading primatologist, spent decades studying, observing the behaviors of chimps in Africa. The first scientist to document chimps making tools, not just using them. Her observations revolutionized our view of the primate world.

As she is publishing a reason for hope, a secret world is published; after decades of documentation and observation, the observations designed and dedicated to revolutionizing the clerical culture and to awaken the world to the peril within it.

Ignored, scorned, attacked. Finding the ineffable, idiosyncratic; seeds of possibility already planted inside, the seeds of hope sown to action. Inspired now by the pillars of faith, courage and freedom from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Mandella: Civil disobedience.

In 1992, the first national conference and assembly of survivors, survivor advocates; Chicago, Illinois, gather. Journalists and media are in attendance. [Holds up photograph] And the man in the middle – the man in the middle – opens the conference. And as he comes to the podium, he opens his arms wide as his heart has always been, open and wide, with the declaration: “Welcome to Wittenberg. The second reformation has begun!”

After the man in the middle opened with the exhortation to reform, Tom Doyle, who had been blowing the whistle from the inside for almost a decade, followed with the reality he had been living and knowing.

I followed Tom Doyle with the exhortation and the invitation to lawmakers, survivors, advocates and public policymakers across this country that, “If we and you want to protect our kids, we must reform and repeal statutes of limitations across this country. And until we do, we are protecting the wrong class of people; the predators and those that would choose to protect them instead of our kids.”

Andrew Greeley; priest, sociologist, commentator and critic followed. Then by Jason Berry; journalist, who had been breaking the story as it had been unfolding for almost a decade and now just finishing his leading work, “Lead Us Not Into Temptation.”

Like Martin Luther centuries before, also married to a former nun, now a radical religious reformer, bold leader; “The boldest acts of dissent are often carried out not by the radicals seeking to overthrow the system, but by true believers who cling with unusual fierceness to their convictions.”

Now, full solidarity with the survivors, the authoritative source, the expert witness to the horrors that have been and continue to be, the chronicler of the painful truths. Scrupulously rigorous. Yet all publications, all declarations, all expressions, never copying or plagiarizing anybody that had gone before. Original in all his work – with one exception: He copied my glasses. He is – and this is Exhibit A [holds up glasses] – he is a copycat.

24/7, day and night, answering the call from the media, from the moviemakers, from the survivors, from the survivors’ families, from other authors and essayists. He writes, he records and he takes these calls. Mariannne knows this. Day and night.

There lies within him an ever-present pugnacious verve, laced with grace, and an impish sense of humor. He would always laugh — and I’ll never forget it — as he would recount having been blackballed, uninvited and unwelcomed from the San Diego Diocese bishop’s chancery because he was, and had declared himself to be, a friend of Jeff Anderson.

Aquinas Walter Richard Sipe creates, and now leaves for all of us and those to come, a legacy of love, light and grace, a safer world for every child born and yet to be.