Ex-Questa Priest and Sexual Abuser Reflects on His Sin
By Tom Sharpe
Associated Press State & Local Wire
April 17, 2002
Vincent Lipinski says he is gay, abstains from sex and regrets that his "singular act" with a 14-year-old boy hurt people in Questa and kindled a scandal in the Roman Catholic Church that reverberates worldwide today, a decade later.
"The fabric of the faith was frayed; now I fear it's being torn to shreds," Lipinski said recently.
"No day passes that I don't weep and pray for true renewal and healing."
Lipinski was the Questa priest charged with sexual misconduct in 1992 - allegations that opened the door to an investigation of sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
In recent months, similar allegations of misconduct and cover-up around the country, most prominently in Boston, have rocked the Roman Catholic Church. After agreeing to a plea bargain on two charges involving the incident in October 1992, Lipinski served no time in jail but spent seven months in therapy for sex abusers. He also lost his credentials as a Roman Catholic priest.
Today, Lipinski, 40, is back in his hometown of Albuquerque, living with his widowed mother and working as a secretary for a lawyer. And he is a pastor again - not in the Roman Catholic Church, but at the Holy Spirit Catholic Charismatic Church in Albuquerque's South Valley.
The church follows a Roman Catholic liturgy, but it is not connected to the Vatican. It has six priests, including two women. Lipinski said his position is unpaid, and as the only pastor with a divinity degree or experience as a Roman Catholic priest, he trains the others in how to develop an effective ministry, write a sermon, preside at services and interpret church law.
In a recent telephone interview from his North Valley home, Lipinski said he is been open to his new parishioners about his past and tells anyone who asks he is a celibate homosexual. Lipinski said he has had homosexual desires since he was a teen-ager.
"I just accepted it," he said. "I wasn't remorseful. I wasn't raised in an environment where homosexuality was condemned. My parents never thought homosexuality was wrong. It just wasn't discussed. It wasn't an issue."
Lipinski recalled only one sexual relationship with a boy his own age during high school in Albuquerque.
He said he doesn't fit the pedophile profile of having been molested himself, but he recalled that, as a teen-ager, he drove priests to Ojo Caliente, where they stripped, soaked in mineral baths and used bawdy language in front of him.
He said they did not try to touch him and he did not consider their behavior sexual, but sex-abuser training teaches such behavior is inappropriate with adults outside one's family.
When he began abstaining from all sex after enrolling in Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Santa Fe at age 17, he said, "that pretty much ended my sexual development."
He was ordained in 1987. After serving as a priest in Albuquerque, he was assigned to St. Anthony's Parish in Questa. He remembers his tenure there from 1989 to 1992 as "a blessing to me, a time of maturing and spiritual growth."
He said that before the scandal, he believed every problem could be solved.
Now he is more circumspect when he looks at the human condition.
"One of the illusions we've created is a sort of utopian world," he said. "When this happened, I said, 'My God, humans are good, bad and indifferent.' "
He said promiscuous priests, both heterosexual and homosexual, are a fact of life in the priesthood, where debates rage over the meanings of chastity and celibacy. He said the terms commonly are thought to mean complete sexual abstinence, but the Greek roots of chastity imply "faithfulness to one's lifestyle" and celibacy refers "to being alone, living a solitary life."
"Lots of friends who are priests struggle constantly between sexuality and being celibate," he said. Homosexual lapses in priestly celibacy are shielded "partly because of the priestly fraternity," he said.
"It's all male. It's very secretive. It protects its own ... like any other organization."
Lipinski said his lapse in priestly celibacy was wrong, "but the greater part is that there were certain individuals who by some degree were hurt. That's the tragedy. If it were just me alone, it wouldn't have been so much."
But his act psychologically damaged the young man, "hurt his family, the friends, and then there was the ripple effect all across the
diocese," he said.
Lipinski says the Questa incident was a one-time event and that as a priest he had never made a sexual overture before, nor has he since.
Despite reports of alleged misconduct in 1989, Lipinski said there was no incident.
"But, of course, because of the question over the other thing, there's no credibility to my word," he said.
After his arrest, he said, he was kept from talking about his situation, so "people could say and dream up whatever."
He said he has never been threatened and that most of the hundreds of letters he has received after his arrest a decade ago have been supportive and recalls only one critical one from an anonymous person who wrote, "God hates homosexuals."
After spending seven months in sex-abuse therapy at a Roman Catholic retreat in Maryland, Lipinski returned to Albuquerque, enrolled at The University of New Mexico and studied anthropology. With a bachelor's degree from UNM, he studied for a master's in the same subject from New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M., but has yet to complete his thesis.
Lipinski says he is celibate today because he doesn't have time for a relationship with his job, volunteer church work and other responsibilities.
"It wouldn't be fair to another person," he said. "I see people who are married with kids, jobs and volunteer work. That's not something that's part of my experience. To some, happiness means having a partner, but my life has always been one led by celibacy, being alone. I feel my life is full and complete. Maybe it's just that I've got 40 years of being single. As they used to say, I'm a confirmed bachelor."
He said that he recognizes and accepts his sexual urges for men: "I live a celibate lifestyle, but just because I'm not involved with anyone doesn't mean I think homosexuality is evil."
He said that while some fundamentalist Christians condemn homosexuality owing to admonitions in the Bible, charismatic churches generally welcome all people. Lipinski said that while he plans to continue abstaining from all sex, he believes celibacy should be optional for today's Roman Catholic clergy as it is in his independent church.
At his new church, leaders recognized him from news reports when Lipinski first approached them. "I told them, 'Would you consider me working in whatever capacity-' These folks went off and discussed it among themselves," he said.
"Then I sat down with one of the leaders and he asked me basically the same questions you're asking now."
Lipinski said he has mixed feelings about leaving the Roman Catholic Church.
"I remember walking through St. Peter's," he said. "I got the sense that 'I belong to this.' What a sense of belonging. The other side to that is that we are all called to have a deep relationship with our God."
He said recent decades have seen a great change in the types of men the pope appoints as bishops. Thirty years ago, the church hierarchy sought bishops who managed priests under them as a parish priest would his congregation, emphasizing the Gospels, Lipinski said. He said that more recently, the hierarchy has looked to fill bishop positions with canon lawyers who emphasize church doctrine.
Lipinski recalls taking training for sexual abusers in Maryland with "men from all over the U.S. and different countries, of all different ages from their 20 to 70s. These were intelligent, genuine and sincere men - art historians, accomplished musicians, canon lawyers, highly educated men.
"One day, it occurred to me, 'A bishop would kill for a team like this."'
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