Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
The scope of the devastation wrought by abusive members of the clergy took center stage at TCA this afternoon during a panel on the HBO documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God, which premieres on the network February 4. The doc from writer-director Alex Gibney examines the abuse of power in the Catholic Church through the stories of four deaf men who were involved in one of the first cases of young sexual abuse victims exposing their abusing priest. One of those interviewed in the piece, a former Benedictine monk and mental health counselor named Richard Sipe, has spent most of his life researching and serving as a crusader in the field. Now 80, he discussed how his piercing the denial of abuse in the United States was initially wildly unpopular. The first indicators were studies conducted of the 1966 and 1972 graduating classes of the major seminary of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. “Thirty percent of the two classes (had engaged) in the sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church”, Sipe said. “It was just so unique to find this among a group of men whom we say are entirely sexually safe, who do not practice sex in any form at any time. And that is the myth that I have had to be faced with in my life”.
Related: Q&A: Director Alex Gibney On ‘Mea Maxima Culpa’, Sex Abuse & Taking The Film To Italy
Sipe maintains that the scandals that have been made public regarding minor sexual abuse within the church remains simply the tip of the iceberg in the U.S. “It isn’t merely some bad apples but a systemic problem. At least 6% of Roman Catholic priests in this country get involved sexually with minors. That’s the baseline.” His research has told him that at any given time, a majority of Catholic priests “are sexually active in one way or the other”. And as far back as 1983, he reports that 11.5% of members of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was sexually active in all of the parishes in terms of reported abuse of minors. “It’s about power and control,” he believes. The Mea Maxima Culpa panel also featured one of the deaf sexual abuse survivors, Terry Kohut, who spoke through an interpreter and praised Gibney and HBO for telling his story “and helping to bring this out into the public”.
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