Richard Sipe, in an interview with the liberal National Catholic Reporter, claims that the problem we are seeing in the Scandal is that the Church is all wrong on sexuality and that a reformation like Martin Luther’s is what will set it right. Um, didn’t Luther cause a schism and break away from the Church and cause a big mess we now call Protestantism? (No offense to our Protestant brethren, but 40,000 different denominations can’t be what Christ had in mind when He prayed that “all would be one.”)
Sipe says the Church’s teachings on sex are unformed and just like the Church’s condemnation of astronomers who said the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe. I won’t get into why that’s an overly simplistic view of the Galileo case, but suffice to say that they are two completely different things.
I do agree with Sipe when he says that many bishops, especially non-Americans, have the faulty view that the Scandal is a media creation. The media just kicked over the barrel, and whatever their motivations for it, the fact is that there was a very big mess in that barrel and it needs to be cleaned up.
But it’s when Sipe turns to the area of sexuality in general that he goes furthest afield.
- “Add in the questions the people have solved for themselves,? said Sipe, ?say contraception, or masturbation, or sex after divorce, and I think this is at the start rather than at the end of a cycle of an understanding.”
Engaging in self-destructive behavior is not solving it for yourself. As your mom used to say, “Just because everybody’s doing it doesn’t make it right.” Ah, but Sipe says that “everbody doing it” is an expression of Revelation.
- ?The laity is the force,? he said. ?Articles say, ?Oh, it?ll be different when we get a new pope.? It may or may not. That?s not the real force in this. The real force of this is in the sensus fidelium, because, if the people don?t believe it, it?s not true.?
That’s about as faulty a definition of sensus fidelium as I’ve seen. The sensus fidelium is not what’s most popular. If that were true, we’d all be Arians today, denying the divinity of Christ, since by most accounts the vast majority of Christians subscribed to the heresy at one point. The sensus fidelium is the authentic expression of Revelation by the pious practices of the people as validated by the bishops in union with the pope. Most importantly, it can’t contradict already defined dogma.
Sipe makes the classic modernist error when he separates belief (doxos) from the lived practice (praxis).
- In effect, Sipe was saying there?s a simple parting of the ways between the sensus fidelium, the beliefs of the people, and the magisterium, the official teaching of the church. And it is this: The Vatican sees sexual behavior as central to belief. The Western Catholic people see sexual behavior as central to life and perhaps peripheral to belief.
Faith is life. The Church’s teachings are the expression of the will of God for how we are to live. You can’t separate your way of living from God’s will. God is intimitaly concerned with how we live, because it is in living that we determine the state of our souls as we approach the Judgment Seat, not just what we believe. If I say, “I believe, I believe,” yet I live a life full of sin, what is my likely disposition for eternity?
I’m a little abashed at having to point this out. Sipe was a priest for 18 years before leaving to get married. He then taught at the seminary for some years. Yet, this most basic understanding of the Gospels and Paul’s Epistles eludes him. I can’t imagine why he misses it.