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Emeritus Pope Benedict Weighs In on Abuse Crisis

The Associated Press
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

Emeritus Pope Benedict has emerged from his cone of silence to offer a personal analysis of the clerical sex abuse crisis, citing the sexual revolution, a corruption of moral theology, and the formation of “homosexual cliques” in seminaries as causes of the problem.

Benedict says that he felt compelled to contribute to a response to the present situation “since I myself had served in a position of responsibility as shepherd of the Church at the time of the public outbreak of the crisis,” and so penned his reflections, obtaining the present pope’s blessing to make them public.

In his new, 6,000-word bombshell essay, the former pope turns his gaze toward societal forces outside the Church as well as movements inside the Church to explain “what went wrong” to create the crisis that appeared in 2002 and has once again resurfaced in the present day.

Benedict devotes the first part of his essay to “the wider social context of the question,” observing that the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s set in motion a change in mentality and behavior “on a scale unprecedented in history.”

In the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, he asserts, society’s normative standards regarding sexuality “collapsed entirely, and a new normalcy arose,” whose effects we are still feeling. The deliberate destruction of sexual taboos, including those regarding pedophilia, encouraged sexual experimentation of all sorts and led a generation to believe that sexual restraint was a sign of repression, he suggests.

At this time, “homosexual cliques” were formed among candidates for the priesthood, “which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries,” Benedict said, echoing a growing body of critics who see a direct connection between homosexual practice among the clergy and the abuse crisis.

Late last month, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said that many bishops are upset with Rome for its failure to address the crisis of homoclericalism at the root of the crisis. Many bishops are frustrated with Rome “for its unwillingness to acknowledge the real nature and scope of the abuse problem,” Chaput said in a meeting with seminarians in Ohio.

“Not naming the real problem for what it is, a pattern of predatory homosexuality and a failure to weed that out from Church life, is an act of self-delusion,” he said.

“Clerical privilege is not the problem,” the archbishop insisted. “Clericalism may be a factor in the sexual abuse of minors, but no parent I know – and I hear from a lot of them – sees that as the main issue.”

Along with the problem of homosexuality, a new school of moral theology began to take hold in the Church, Benedict writes, which dismissed the existence of moral absolutes in favor of a consequentialist model that evaluated the morality of actions solely by the net effects they produced.

No longer could human actions be evaluated as right or wrong on their own merits, he laments, but only through a calculation of their consequences, which meant that no sort of behavior could be rejected a priori as evil.

In this context, the former pope notes — not without a little irony — his own books were considered off limits in a number of seminaries for their supposed conservatism, and “students caught reading my books were considered unsuitable for the priesthood.”

Regarding clerical sex abuse itself, an emphasis on the rights of the accused began to overshadow the rights of the accusers, Benedict notes, making it difficult to prosecute offenders, and the right to defense “was extended to such an extent that convictions were hardly possible.”

Despite his historical analysis, Benedict makes clear he believes the clerical sex abuse crisis to be a crisis with deep theological roots, representative of the battle between good and evil.

“The counterforce against evil, which threatens us and the whole world, can ultimately only consist in our entering into [God’s] love,” he states. “It is the real counterforce against evil. The power of evil arises from our refusal to love God.” Thus a crisis of faith and love of God is often accompanied by a moral crisis.

“A world without God can only be a world without meaning. For where, then, does everything that is come from? In any case, it has no spiritual purpose. It is somehow simply there and has neither any goal nor any sense,” he observes.

“Why did pedophilia reach such proportions?” he asks. “Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God. We Christians and priests also prefer not to talk about God, because this speech does not seem to be practical.”

God is now regarded as a partisan concern and can no longer serve as the guiding principle for the community as a whole, he says.

As a result, “the Church today is widely regarded as just some kind of political apparatus,” he declares. “One speaks of it almost exclusively in political categories, and this applies even to bishops, who formulate their conception of the church of tomorrow almost exclusively in political terms.”

“But a self-made Church cannot constitute hope,” he states.

For his part, the devil seeks to use the evil of sexual abuse to cast doubt on the goodness of God Himself and his creation, the former pope reflects.

The devil says, “not only to God but above all to people: Look at what this God has done. Supposedly a good creation, but in reality full of misery and disgust. That disparagement of creation is really a disparagement of God. It wants to prove that God Himself is not good, and thus to turn us away from Him,” he says.

And thus, the idea of “a better Church, created by ourselves, is in fact a proposal of the devil, with which he wants to lead us away from the living God, through a deceitful logic by which we are too easily duped,” he says.

And yet, despite the evil that undoubtedly exists, good continues to exists as well, he insists, which brings hope and the possibility of authentic renewal.

“Today’s Church is more than ever a ‘Church of the Martyrs’ and thus a witness to the living God,” he declares. “If we look around and listen with an attentive heart, we can find witnesses everywhere today, especially among ordinary people, but also in the high ranks of the Church, who stand up for God with their life and suffering.”

“It is an inertia of the heart that leads us to not wish to recognize them,” he states.

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