The “expert” is Richard Sipe (pictured at right). Here’s how Jones introduces him in his article:
Sipe, a Benedictine monk for 18 years, then a married man for 32, in 1990 wrote “A Secret World,” an account of his 1960-85 research on celibacy.
The former monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., was trained by the Benedictines to deal with the mental health problems of Roman Catholic priests and religious. He continued to do that after he left, and to teach in major Catholic seminaries until, in 1984, a Vatican visitation of U.S. seminaries declared ex-priests could not be seminary faculties.
He has been called as an expert witness in more than 95 civil suits over sex abuse.
At one point in Jones’ article, Sipe notes that “In terms of human sexuality, the Church is at a pre-Copernican stage of understanding” – a reference, notes Jones, to “15th century Catholic priest and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who resurrected, despite church opposition, the scientific theory of the sun rather than the Earth as the center of the solar system.”
Says Sipe: “The church has not come to understand the nature of sex. And it’s not easily understood – we have to struggle along with the neurological, the genetic, the psychological, the evolutionary basis of it. The church has not done that and is frightened of doing it.”
Yet as you’ll see in the following excerpt from Jones’ article on Sipe, there is one group within the church that is not frightened of this “struggle” for understanding - and thus right teaching on - human sexuality. That group is the laity.
What the laity has began to realize, [Sipe] said, is that the reason the [clergy sexual abuse] scandal is so destabilizing to the church is because it goes to the fundamentals of the doctrine. The laity wants all these questions reexamined and rediscussed – from contraception, homosexuality, masturbation, sex before marriage, to sex after divorce, even abortion. The laity is beginning to ask the church on questions of human sexuality, “On what basis are you saying this is natural and this is unnatural? The laity is questioning the church’s reasoning on what is natural and how it’s natural and demanding it be rethought. This questioning is so compelling that nothing can turn it back,” he said.
“If you put it in religious terms, where we are today,” said Sipe, “concerns the obvious step from the hypocritical to an actual reformation. Historically, corruption comes from the top and reform comes from the bottom. I mean why does reformation come about? Reformation comes about because, my God, you’re teaching this and you’re practicing that. And people say: Either change what you’re practicing, or change what you’re teaching.
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.”
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 peripheral to belief.
In the six years since this article was written, the laity’s questioning of the church – on all sorts of matters – has only increased.
Here in St. Paul-Minneapolis we’re seeing this in the ten work/study groups of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform - groups composed predominately of lay people and currently meeting on a regular basis so as to prepare for a “Synod of the Baptized” to be held in Minneapolis in September 2010.
These work/study groups have gathered people together who share a passion for reforming certain areas of church life. These areas are ones that many have long recognized as being at odds with the Gospel message of love proclaimed by Jesus. They include clericalism, the selection of bishops, church authority and governance, and official teaching on sexuality and gender. Other areas are less controversial though still crucial when discussing renewal of the Church. These areas include Catholic spirituality; Catholic identity/Christian identity; social justice; and children, youth, and church.
It’s an exciting initiative that’s underway, to be sure. And I’m honored and happy to be part of it, and to see so many other members of the laity similarly involved and engaged.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Time for a Church for Grown-Ups
Will We See Change?
The Catholic Challenge
A Time to Rethink the Basis and Repair the Damage
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
Robert McClory on Humanae Vitae
Rosemary Haughton and the “True Catholic Endeavor”
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 1)
A Catholic Understanding of faithful Dissent (Part 2)
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology
Trading with Frozen Truths
The Standard for Sexual Ethics
Italian Cardinal Calls for “New Vision” for Sexuality
James Nelson on “Sexual Rules” and “Openness to Life”
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 1)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 2)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 3)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 4)
Getting It Right
God is Love