Benedict XVI discusses sex abuse, science, and faith in letter to Italian atheist

Less than two weeks after it published a letter from Pope Francis addressing the concerns of an atheist Italian journalist, Italian daily La Repubblica today published excerpts from a letter Pope Emeritus Benedict sent to an atheist mathematician. Benedict’s letter, dated August 30, was addressed to Piergiorgio Odifreddi, whose 2011 book Dear Pope, I Write to You was written as an extended letter to Pope Benedict criticizing Christianity in general and the pontiff’s theological work in particular, and asserting the superiority of science and empirical evidence over religious faith. The excerpts of Benedict’s response that appear in La Repubblica (in Italian, here) discuss not only the claims of science over those of religion, but also the sex abuse scandals that plagued the Church throughout Benedict’s papacy.

“I never sought to conceal these things,” Pope Benedict said of sex abuse by Catholic clergy. Catholic News Service’s Carol Glatz has more:

“That the power of evil seeps all the way into the inner world of the faith is a source of suffering for us.” Not only must the church bear the burden of this evil, but it also must “do everything possible so that such cases never repeat themselves,” [Benedict] wrote.

While there “is no reason to find solace in the fact that, according to research by sociologists, the percentage of priests guilty of these crimes is no higher than those present in other similar professional fields,” neither should people “ostensibly present this deviation as if it were filth pertaining only to Catholicism,” Pope Benedict wrote.

Just as it is wrong “to be silent about the evil in the church,” it is wrong to remain silent about the good, holy and loving service the church has offered, he said.

Pope Emeritus Benedict also offered a critique of Odifreddi’s “religion of mathematics,” saying that it fails to account for “freedom, love, and evil.”

“I’m amazed that with just one stroke you eliminate freedom, which has existed and is the fundamental principle of the modern era.”

“Whatever neurobiology says or doesn’t say about freedom, this is present as a decisive reality in the actual unfolding of our history, and it must be taken into consideration.”

Odifreddi’s religion of mathematics also lacks any thought or discussion about love and evil, too, the pope said.

“A religion that neglects these fundamental questions remains empty,” he said.

The pope, who has also long-supported the compatibility of faith and science as both being dedicated to the truth, underlined that the task of theology is to keep religion and reason closely connected.

One without the other will lead to certain dangerous “pathologies” in either religion or reason, he said.

Pope Benedict said science fiction exists in many areas of science, especially in some theories about the beginning and end of the world.

“I would define (Odifreddi’s thoughts on this) as science fiction in the good sense of the word — they are views and forecasts in order to reach real understanding, but they are, in fact, only (products of) imagination with which we try to get closer to reality.”

Read more here.

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.