February 18, 2021
By Peter Keough
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You might not remember the moment, but the title subject of Joe Cultrera’s “Sipe: Sex, Lies, and the Priesthood” is depicted, vocally that is, by Richard Jenkins in a brief scene in the Oscar-winning “Spotlight” (2015). “Guys, I’ve got Sipe!” exclaims a member of the Boston Globe Spotlight team in the film. On speakerphone Richard Sipe reveals the extent of sexual activity within the priesthood, the Catholic Church’s knowledge of it, and its coverup.
It was a reality that Sipe, a former Benedictine monk, priest, and psychotherapist, had been studying for decades. While serving the Church as a therapist, he treated some 6,000 members of the clergy and found that the rule of celibacy had led priests into secret sexual behavior, often with minors vulnerable to their authority. His warnings to the hierarchy were ignored, and he was ostracized. He left the priesthood and authored several books on the subject, becoming an expert witness for the prosecution in hundreds of clergy abuse cases.
Cultrera interviews Sipe at length in the film. As a boy, he was enraptured by the church and priesthood. But the pomp and glory that beguiled him as a youth proved to be a mask covering corruption. Courageously and with good humor Sipe continues to pursue his investigations, which he hopes will help restore decency and integrity to the institution he still loves.
“Sipe: Sex, Lies, and the Priesthood” can be streamed live as part of Salem Film Fest’s winter screening series on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion that includes Richard Sipe’s wife, the psychiatrist Marianne Benkert Sipe; abuse survivor and activist Phil Saviano; Robert Orsi, the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair of Catholic Studies at Northwestern University; and Kara French, associate professor of history at Salisbury University. Go to salemfilmfest.com. The film can then be seen on VOD until March 4.
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