On April 11, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI published an essay analyzing the Catholic sex abuse scandal and the resulting impact upon the Church. He prefaced the work with an outline of its three parts. He writes, “In the first part, I aim to present briefly the wider social context of the question, without which the problem cannot be understood.…In the second part, I aim to point out the effects of this situation on the formation of priests and on the lives of priests.…Finally, in the third part, I would like to develop some perspectives for a proper response on the part of the Church.”
The essay was published in Klerusblatt, a monthly German magazine. Benedict wrote the essay as a contribution “to a new beginning” around the February meeting of bishops in the Vatican, which addressed the sexual abuse crisis. He stated that he contacted Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Pope Francis prior to the essay’s release. Public reception of the essay has varied between self-proclaimed liberal and conservative Catholics, as well as in the wider secular media.
In the first part of the essay, Benedict elaborates on his introduction, writing, “I try to show that in the 1960s an egregious event occurred, on a scale unprecedented in history. It could be said that in the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely, and a new normalcy arose that has by now been the subject of laborious attempts at disruption.”
He indicts the “Revolution of ‘68” and the broader sexual revolution of the 1960s in the negative trends. This claim has been the most scrutinized, as many critics cite widespread sexual abuse cases dating far earlier than the 1960s. He criticizes governmental sexual education, namely in Germany and Austria, and the increased public access to pornography.
Within the Church, Benedict addresses a collapse of Catholic moral theology and subsequent dissent within the Church from Her teaching. He writes, “In the end, it was chiefly the hypothesis that morality was to be exclusively determined by the purposes of human action that prevailed. . . .Consequently, there could no longer be anything that constituted an absolute good, any more than anything fundamentally evil; (there could be) only relative value judgments.” He explains the broad transition in moral theology away from a foundation of natural law and towards the Bible. Further, he writes of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor and dissent thereto even prior to its release, namely from Franz Böckle.
In the second part, Benedict addresses the effects of this climate on the formation and lives of clergy. He describes “homosexual cliques…which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries.” Such changes included allowing candidates for priesthood and lay pastoral specialists to live together, and the showing of pornography in seminaries. In response to such problems, an Apostolic Visitation was arranged by the Vatican for seminaries in the United States. Benedict writes, “The Visitation that now took place brought no new insights, apparently because various powers had joined forces to conceal the true situation. A second Visitation was ordered and brought considerably more insights, but on the whole failed to achieve any outcomes.”
The second part transitions to the role of canon law in addressing pedophilia. Benedict writes, “As a counterweight against the often-inadequate defense options available to accused theologians, their right to defense by way of guarantorism was extended to such an extent that convictions were hardly possible.”
He further asserts that a balanced canon law must provide both “legal protection of the accused [and] legal protection of the good at stake.” He goes on to analyze the relationship between proper criminal proceedings and penalties, specifically expulsion from the priesthood. He admits that the Holy See was “overwhelmed” by the process of finding appropriate criminal processes.
Benedict XVI finishes the essay by elaborating upon proper responses to the crisis. First, he asserts, “the Lord has initiated a narrative of love with us and wants to subsume all creation in it.” Christians, he writes, must enter into that love. Second, he claims pedophilia has reached such proportions because of “the absence of God.” Christians “must learn again to recognize God as the foundation of our life” and must renew their celebration of and reverence for the Eucharist. Lastly, they must enter again into the “Mystery of the Church.”
Featured image courtesy of M. Mazur via Flickr