Editorial: Benedict XVI’s essay is both insightful and incomplete

The essay titled “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse” contains several perennial themes but sidesteps the elephants in the Church.

Retired Pope Benedict XVI is seen with Pope Francis in this 2015 file photo. (CNS photo/Maurizio Brambatti, EPA)

Reaction to the unexpected release of a lengthy text—almost exactly 6,000 words in all—by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, titled “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse”, has been both swift and polarized. Some have hailed it as a sort of incisive post-pontificate encyclical and others have denounced it as a sad attempt to preserve a legacy already mixed and trending downward.

My reading is more modest: I think the text, originally penned for a Bavarian publication for priests, is neither a full-scale proclamation on the present crisis, nor a cynical act of political grandstanding. The first is beyond the scope of what Benedict seeks to convey; the latter is outside the horizons of a man who is not, despite the facile claims of certain critics, a politically motivated operator.

The essay is, I believe, a rather personal and, at times, anecdotal reflection on the moral chaos of the past several decades, written by an aged priest and theologian who lived through the tumultuous years about which he writes, and who was at the center of power for decades as the crisis festered and erupted into scandal. As such, it is sometimes uneven in approach, often insightful, and occasionally lacking the sort of specific analysis or criticisms that many might want to read.

Those familiar with my past work know that I hold a deep and abiding admiration for Benedict XVI. I read some of his books in the process of becoming Catholic in 1997 and many of his major works—written both before and during his pontificate—made lasting impressions on me. Writing after news of Benedict’s resignation, back in February 2013, I stated that

if we begin by accepting the criteria of the world, we will not only see Benedict’s pontificate through warped and soiled lenses, we will struggle to see the bigger picture, not just the panorama of Church history, but of salvation history. … In many cases, Benedict could never “win”, and I doubt he was ever blind to his difficult situation. Throughout his pontificate, he has been criticized by many for being heavy-handed and authoritarian. Then again, he has been derided for being weak, timid, and incapable of handling the reins of the wild steed named “the Vatican”. Surely only a man of diverse and inscrutable talents could be both so powerful and so weak!

The same paradox seems to hold, again, for reaction of this new essay. But the emphases found therein are quintessentially Ratzingerian, especially the focus on Christological and ecclesiological themes. So, for example, he writes:

Jesus Himself compared the Church to a fishing net in which good and bad fish are ultimately separated by God Himself. There is also the parable of the Church as a field on which the good grain that God Himself has sown grows, but also the weeds that “an enemy” secretly sown onto it. Indeed, the weeds in God’s field, the Church, are excessively visible, and the evil fish in the net also show their strength. Nevertheless, the field is still God’s field and the net is God’s fishing net. And at all times, there are not only the weeds and the evil fish, but also the crops of God and the good fish. To proclaim both with emphasis is not a false form of apologetics, but a necessary service to the Truth.

I think the great strength of this new essay is the latter part, in which Benedict reflects on the nature of the Church, and pushes back strongly against an ecclesiology rooted in pragmatism or shifting fads:

Indeed, the Church today is widely regarded as just some kind of political apparatus. 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. The crisis, caused by the many cases of clerical abuse, urges us to regard the Church as something almost unacceptable, which we must now take into our own hands and redesign. But a self-made Church cannot constitute hope.

It brings to mind the recent tweet by Dr. Jordan Peterson who, in remarking on some articles about the corruption in the Church, said, “Maybe believing Catholics should go on strike, stop attending church.” Peterson, of course, is not a priest or bishop; he is not even Catholic. But even the non-Catholic intellectual should understand that Catholics do not view the Church as a political operation or a global business; it is the Mystical Body of Christ, and as such possesses a holiness that confounds those tuned in only to whims of politicians, gurus, and entertainers. And yet, sadly, there are far too many priests and bishops do have and promote an anemic, politicized ecclesiology. Or worse. As Benedict states:

 Today, the accusation against God is, above all, about characterizing His Church as entirely bad, and thus dissuading us from it. 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. No, even today the Church is not just made up of bad fish and weeds. The Church of God also exists today, and today it is the very instrument through which God saves us.

Another strong section, albeit shorter, is about moral theology and the response, in the 1990s, to St. John Paul II’s encyclical (arguably his most important encyclical) Veritatis Splendor. Again, we should keep in mind that Benedict wrote this essay for priests, intent on reminding them that the Church’s moral teaching is not simply a form of sola scriptura—even though the Scriptural roots of moral theology are vital and can never be ignored—but draws deeply on natural law and necessarily involves the living, magisterial authority of the Church.

Benedict presents a stark assessment of the situation since the Council, saying that “Catholic moral theology suffered a collapse that rendered the Church defenseless against these changes in society”, by which he means changes in how sexuality was understood and lived out. This section is especially notable because some of the leading theologians of the immediate post-conciliar years (Bernard Häring, C.Ss.R. and Josef Fuchs, S.J. come to mind) who denied, either overtly or in more subtle fashion, the existence of absolute moral norms, have been lauded by Pope Francis. (For a much deeper analysis of the theological roots of the crisis, see Fr. D. Vincent Twomey’s August 2018 CWR essay.)

In short, it is evident that Benedict is saying that a devastating (and willful) failure to uphold Catholic moral theology has played a central role in the often lacking, if not outrightly horrible, response by Church leaders to the sexual abuse crisis and many related evils.

The problem, however, is that Benedict is largely silent about the related evils. There is one mention of homosexuality—an acknowledgment that in “various seminaries homosexual cliques were established”—and complete silence on the culture of corruption and cover-up that is now as obvious as it is infuriating. It could be, again, that he is silent on the matter because of his particular audience and focus. Even so, it is a gaping hole, and one that cannot be ignored.

In addition, his analysis of the origins of the evils acts of pedophilia committed by some clergy is oddly narrow, both chronologically and sociologically. While all Catholic agree, I think, that the rejection of God leads to serious evils—genocide, totalitarianism, and sexual abuse, for instance—Benedict’s brief presentation at the start, however anecdotal, presents a very lacking picture. We now know that the abuse of children by certain clergy had been a serious problem long before 1968, even if the Sexual Revolution, as Benedict rightly notes, sought to soften attitudes and norms about sex involving adults and minors.

We are all, sadly, far too familiar by now with the inhuman premises and destructive consequences of that particular era.  But why were children being molested by priests in, say, the 1940s and 1950s? And why did bishops in the 1970s and 1980s (and beyond) refuse to address such matters, or did address them with a relativistic, muddled softness? The latter question, I admit, is partially addressed in Benedict’s remarks on moral theology, as well as his reflections on the loss of faith in God. Still, it proves to be quite unsatisfactory, even if it is meant to be anecdotal and reflective in nature, rather than rigorously analytical. Yes, we know it is because of evil and the constant work of the devil, as Benedict states. Such, however, has been the case since the Fall itself. One need only to consider the sins of the first-century Corinthians—incest, fornication, and so forth—to know that sexual sins are hardly new or unusual.

But why, in recent decades, has such a large swath of the clergy and bishops given in to the Reign of Gay (or, perhaps, the Regnancy of Pederasty), either as active participants or tacit supporters? Why the failure to directly confront such sins? Why the silence in the face of evils that destroy lives and souls? After all, Benedict concludes that remarking: “It is very important to oppose the lies and half-truths of the devil with the whole truth: Yes, there is sin in the Church and evil.” Well, then, let’s oppose it!

But, then, we come back to a couple of difficult facts. First, we have both a pope emeritus and a pope, and while the former has promised to keep (mostly) silent and live a life of prayer, he still issues forth significant texts. This is delicate at best, but also puzzling and even problematic. Secondly, while St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were often vilified and attacked unfairly for their orthodoxy, it is not wrong to study and to critically consider their respective responses to the sexual abuse crisis. In fact, the love of truth and justice requires such a sober (if difficult) task.

Finally, the efforts of Pope Francis to address corruption and a clericalist culture have been, at best, mixed; in fact, he has continually deflected and distracted from addressing many core problems, and has often done so with a sort of petulance and clumsiness that is unbecoming of a pope, never mind an elderly man. Not only is he unwilling to go down the “rabbit hole”, he often seems convinced there is no hole to be seen.

Yet, this is not the time for the Church to feel sorry for herself; rather, now is the time for the Church to be herself. And part of that means the Church must provide uncompromising teaching and an unapologetic presentation of the truths about sexuality, life, love, faith, and marriage. As the great historian Christopher Dawson asserted in the 1930s, in his chapter on “Christianity and Sex” in Enquiries into Religion and Culture (Sheed & Ward, 1933):

Hence the restoration of the religious view of marriage which is the Catholic idea is the most important of all the conditions for a solution of our present difficulties. Its importance cannot be measured by practical considerations, for it means the reintroduction of a spiritual principle into the vital centre of human life. Western civilization to-day is threatened with the loss of its freedom and its humanity. it is in danger of substituting dead mechanisms for living culture. Hedonism cannot help, nor yet rationalism. it can be saved only by a renewal of life. … The loss of faith ultimately means not merely moral disorder and suffering, but the loss of social vitality and the decay of physical life.

 


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About Carl E. Olson 1113 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

49 Comments

  1. Heartened to read that Benedict sees the roots of moral corruption in the Church in the theological corruption which not only sprang from “the” council but which generated it in the first place. Grossly disappointed to glance at the gratuitous salutation offered the current occupant of the Chair of Saint Peter. It undermines Benedict personally and brings into question his entire perspective. Gross corruption reigns presently on Vatican Hill. Call it out.

  2. Mr. Olson enunciates the mixed messages within Emeritus Benedict’s essay. Did he shed tears (as I did) as the incongruous ambiguities unfolded in front of him? How can one be angry at a man as wise as Benedict? And yet, as Olson points out, many are. Does Benedict understand the martyrdom he seems to know the devout are forced today to live? Our church is so sadly sorely wounded by those who should have known better but who continue the blows in this sad and sorrowful Holy Week. And yet I still find it difficult to fast. We are so forlornly lost without our recognizable Mother and with two Fathers, neither of whom is integrally ours.

    • This is good reason to fast and pray, right? Let us remember what Our Lord told us, fall under His Lordship and grow in His Life, and embrace our vocations. He is coming again.

    • I don’t think Benedict is oblivious to the martyrdom that we are forced daily to live. I think if we were to ask him, he will say that it is precisely this martyrdom that will renew the Church. God remains at the helm. No matter the multitude of lies that the Vatican the espouses and promotes.

  3. Could it be that the very unctuousness of his hailing of his successor is meant to clue us in to the fact that he does not mean it. Sort of like the communist prisoner (I think it was Admiral Denton) who blinked out the word “torture” in Morse code when he was propped up for a propaganda video.

      • “…and the net did not break”, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.
        Pope Benedict would never claim that those who are for Christ, and those who are anti Christ are both members of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, because Pope Benedict realizes “It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion, without Ecclesial Communion”, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.
        Although we are sinners, as members of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, we do not deny that sin is sin, for although we are sinners, we desire to overcome our disordered inclinations toward sin, and become transformed through our acceptance of Salvational Love, God’s Gift Of Grace and Mercy.

        “It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion”, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.

        Francis has not changed his belief regarding same-sex sexual relationships:

        “If there is a union of a private nature, there is neither a third party, nor is society affected. Now, if the union is given the category of marriage, there could be children affected. Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help shape their identity.”

        “Because the abuse crisis is, at its core, a crisis of sexual infidelity, the issue of same-sex attraction cannot be ignored.” And yet The above statement by Francis actually condones certain same-sex sexual relationships as long as, according to Francis, they are private, do not involve children, and are not given the category of marriage, denying the Sanctity of the marital act within The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, while condoning “private”, relationships apart from The Word Of God.

        Private morality and public morality cannot serve in opposition to one another, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.

        Why would Pope Benedict end his reflection with this statement, when Benedict knows it is not The Faithful, but those who deny Christ’s teaching on sexual morality, who are responsible for the heinous abuse crisis, the bullying and sexual harassment at various seminaries and the failure to teach The Catholic Faith without compromise, and the cover up that allowed the heinous abuse crisis to continue, destroying the lives of so many innocent victims?

        “At the end of my reflections I would like to thank Pope Francis for everything he does to show us, again and again, the light of God, which has not disappeared, even today. Thank you, Holy Father!”

        Something is not right in The Vatican. Only a “Crisis In Faith”, could lead even, The Faithful, again and again, to believe, that a man who would deny The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, (Filioque), could actually be a validly elected Pope.

    • Notice what he says – precisely – about Pope Francis. He merely says “thank you for all the good you do”. Nowhere does he talk about all the bad Pope Francis does. Think about it.

  4. “In addition, however, there was a fundamental problem in the perception of criminal law. Only so-called guarantorism, (a kind of procedural protectionism), was still regarded as “conciliar.” This means that above all the rights of the accused had to be guaranteed, to an extent that factually excluded any conviction at all. 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.”

    It was John Paul II who revised the 1917 Code of Canon Law…and here we drift into a conclusion that there was essentially little we could do?

    A value for “natural law” is itself ‘more Scriptural” long before the Aristotelian-Thomistic synthesis in Romans 2 (‘the law written in their hearts”) and implicit in our Lord’s teachings, interactions and sayings (and one could say in the Incarnation) and a foundational requirement for the Church to teach and to carry out the Great Commission in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, with Grace, to have a Magisterium, to offer anything beyond various somewhat pious (and now current) forms of situationism, consequentialism…

    Long before the 1960s…

    This essay for me is a sad disappointment…right before Holy Week.

    I again reach the same conclusion: rely on the civil authorities, directly. Law enforcement has their own “hot lines.”

  5. This is the best commentary on Benedict’s article I have yet seen. Most “conservative” commentary has been just as sugary laudatory as they were for everything Benedict said and did while pope. A little nuance goes a long way (just as a little more nuance would have been appropriate concerning JP II’s abiding of Maciel and failure to exercise much discipline on anyone). One thing I simply do not understand is why such otherwise fine men find it so difficult to simply knock some heads hard and fire people, to rid the Vatican of sodomites and the seminaries of dissenters. Why is that so hard to do???

    • “Why is that so hard to do?”

      Probably because they had different priorities and didn’t care about that brimstone approach as much as you do. The ‘otherwise fine men’ have some serious moral failings on that point. What mattered more to previous pontiffs, that Maciel was a stringent ‘traditionalist’ and fundraiser-par-excellence, or that he was a disgusting human being?

      Which makes this site and its commentators continuous worship of any pope -not- named Francis or Paul VI laughable considering they heap the whole of the blame of the ‘gay mafia’ and ‘homo scourge’ squarely on their feet and not on the people who were also in charge at the time.

  6. “All that is gold does not glitter, The old that is strong does not wither,
    Deep roots are not reached by the frost” (Tolkien The Rings). My initial reaction was similar to author Olson until the analysis of a layman, Raymond Arroyo covered key points in Benedict’s letter. Allowed to marinate overnight my perception has changed. Briefly highlighted by Arroyo are the following: Section I. The abandonment of Natural Law Morality and assumption of non systematic situation based ethics. (2) Franz Bockle’s and cultural opposition to the permanency of moral good and notion of intrinsic evil in Veritatis Splendor. The false premise that infallibility is limited to faith not morals. II. Homosexual “cliques” [networks] in seminaries now normalized by appointment of empathetic “Conciliar” bishops. (2) Canon law “Guarantorism” protecting the accused [priest] rendering “Little Ones” [which also references the adult faithful] vulnerable to abuse. Role of CDF in priest abuse [under Benedict XVI and Cardinal Mueller 800 abusive priests removed] transferred under Pope Francis to Congregation for Rel. Cardinal Mueller we recall criticized for harshness, whereas Benedict in his letter declares “severity of punishment necessary as clear proof of the offense”. The faith must be protected. III. Diminution of the Blessed Sacrament. Constructing “a better Church is the Devil’s idea”. Arroyo apparently learned that the “Letter” was Benedict’s initiative taken without prev submission to Pope Francis. That Benedict was compelled at this moment to submit it to the world indicates, certainly by its content a doctrinal countermand to Amoris Laetitia and its premises of the supremacy of conscience and mitigating situations that exempt from moral standards. While Benedict’s guest privilege at the Vatican may soon expire there nevertheless should be elation over this act by the former Pontiff. It may be a turning point.

      • Tamsin my hope is realistically that it will encourage many, who are bewildered on what to believe to embrace the true faith given us in the Apostolic Tradition. What Benedict gives us is precisely that. Insofar as a more universal turning point that is a lesser possibility but a hope. I agree with Peter Beaulieu’s rationale that Benedict had to couch his remarks as he did to avoid conflict with the Pontiff’s authority. That would have included a low key address of some important issues such as adult clerical homosexual networks or cliques, which he does nonetheless mention. What’t significant is that he decided at his advanced age and solitary retired status to make such a doctrinal statement in contrast to the Pontiff’s direction of the Church.

    • Yes, but no one, including a validly elected Pope, must recognize the valid election of a a man to the Papacy who, prior to his election, had separated himself from Christ, and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, by denying The Unity Of The Holy Ghost. “It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion”, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, for it Is Through Christ, With Christ, And In Christ, In The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, that Holy Mother Church exists.

      To deny The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, is to deny The Divinity Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity.
      http://www.ewtn.com/vexperts/showmessage.asp?number=354345

      https://www.ewtn.com/library/CANONLAW/ADTUCANS.HTM

  7. Viewing through a small knothole, I read Benedict similarly, with a few conjectural fine points:

    (1) Ten percent of me wonders whether Pope Francis is so desperate and in-over-his-head that he might have hinted the need for a message from an emeritus pope (rather than only giving his later permission). The limited and possibly prudential focus might have a lot of history. At least what we have here is a statement that bypasses the tainted inner circle of papal confidants. And that’s a big win. Very refreshing.
    (2) The very welcome and re-grounding reference to Veritatis Splendor, although only a few words, is a huge anchor point given its very troublesome and systematic omission from more fluid Vatican missives since 2013 (more below).
    (3) With regard to failed moral theology since the 1960s (in addition to broad cultural meltdown), and specifically the unmentioned crisis of seminary formation including homosexual infiltration (integrated more recently with McCarrick-style money-laundering), Benedict reminds us that he, too, was in over his head, and therefore resigned in the hope that someone else might get a better grip. In this address he avoids any reversal this clean departure. (again, more below).

    More now on items 2 and 3.

    Veritatis Splendor: Getting this anchor point back on the record is decisive, even if understated. Thomas Guarino’s new book (The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II: Continuity and Reversal of Catholic Doctrine, 2018) might serve here as a clue. Guarino explains how progressive ideology affecting the ordinary magisterium was at least minimally, still, housebroken in the final conciliar texts by the inclusion of footnote references, e.g., the omission of a strong statement about atheistic communism combined with a late-entry footnote pointing to Pius XI’s 1937 Divini redemptoris. He calls this kind of compromise “masking”.

    The broken leash today, the absence of even masking, is exampled in Amoris Laetitia where the creeping moral relativism of Chapter 8 (ideals rather than morals) is then turned loose in fn. 351 (implied access to the Eucharist), rather than restrained by, say, a different footnote to Veritatis Splendor.
    Clearly, the earlier device of strategic footnote concessions is not enough (nor are strong papal commentaries re abortion, euthanasia, etc. outside of current “synodal” documents), but Benedict has brought Veritatis Splendor back onto the table, while still respecting his boundary of terminated official responsibility.

    The Crisis: Benedict writes up front that he is focusing on only a “new beginning.” Too much omitted, perhaps, but he is not to be possibly misused and exploited as a shadow pope. Anything more, I wonder, might serve too much as blurring roles and then as ammunition for decades to come in the flood of outside lawsuits now anticipated—no matter how well he might have qualified what more he could have written. In addition to every messy thing internal to the troubled Church, justified civil authorities and the barbarians (both) are at the gates. Just a thought.

  8. I often hear from bishops and priests that the action of the “devil” who roams about the world seeking the ruin of souls is the cause of much evil. The Church has revived the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel as our defense. This reminds me of the comedian, Flip Wilson, whose skits included the assertion that “the devil made me do it.”
    It was a much too easy out for Wilson and is certainly a much too facile reason for the church to offer up as the major cause for corruption in the Church. We need action!

    • It’s not an easy out, it’s a recognition that Satan and the other evil spirits *are* out there, roaming through the world seeking the ruin of souls, and we should be praying for help. Does that mean that we are not responsible for our own sins? No. Does it mean they are the only reason for corruption in the Church? No. Nonetheless, they are part of the reason and ignoring that fact doesn’t help anything.

  9. I didn’t see it as a “bombshell” or even as dramatic as Vigano or Muller standing up to speak out, but I thought Pope Emeritus was quietly withering away not knowing what was happening. Maybe I have low expectations but I was amazed that a man of 91 could write with such clarity. And it was refreshing to see his hope in humanity and the Church intact.

  10. I agree with Mr. Olson that Pope Benedict’s essay was incomplete. My hope is that his writing will give courage to others to fill in the blanks with more specificity. I only wonder if the pope emeritus wrote this mainly for the purpose of encouragement; to restart what Vigano started but has since idled out.

  11. It is crucial to state again and again the evil irony that the worms of rot infesting and infecting the Catholic Church from within were insidiously placed there by insects of Secularism assailing and assaulting the Catholic Church from without.
    In other words, Secularist worms of promiscuity and perversity and general infidelity have infiltrated our seminaries and rectories and bishoprics to destroy the Church; while, in diabolical collaboration, the Secularist insects of the media and academia and entertainment are calling for a false reform that actually continues to promote the ravages of promiscuity and perversity and general infidelity.
    The real reason for the crisis in the Catholic Church is the loss of authentic Catholicism; the only real reform will be a return to the orthodox faith of our fathers — the Apostles of Jesus and their true followers throughout time.
    This is a great opportunity for us to stay strong as defenders of the Catholic Church even if others desert. We must be the resistance for the faithful restoration of authentic Catholicism. The Church is our true home of welcome and warmth, with the tabernacle a hearth aflame with the God of love.
    Their are worms intruding into this sacred home, and insects from without encouraging their continued degradation of our very foundation. In prayer and fasting and courage and kindness we will root them out, and purify our home unto a fresh flowering and renewed fruitfulness.
    May Jesus give us guidance and strength to be the people of true love and everlasting life.

  12. Much of this article and the responses provide substantial food for thought, as does Pope Benedict’s statement. None of them, however, mention what I think is the fundamental problem: the worldwide failure to attend to the virtue of chastity. We in the West seem too focused upon the abuse of minors (and often fail to distinguish between pedophilia and ephebophilia), while the same basic problem manifests itself in other ways elsewhere. The Church in Africa, for example, is plagued by widespread concubinage among her clergy, including the abuse of women religious; but there homosexual misconduct is not an issue. What we have to face is our own complicity in the rejection of chastity in all ways. There was a time when people used to complain that priests preached only about sex and money. Now, on account of our own complicity in the so-called sexual revolution, priests rarely preach about the gift of human sexuality while the Church pays for this neglect with lots and lots of money (not to mention the less tangible losses). We need to paying a lot more attention to the truth about the human body and human relationships.

  13. Frankly, I thought Pope Benedict, Emeritus, said far more than I ever expected him to say, given his retired status from a one-man-show. He clearly stated he watched, and did not say anything, until after the much ballyhooed confab on “clericalism” was done, and conclusions reached, and neither did he ask permission, but only notified current powers after they had taken their best shot at the problem by avoiding it entire.

    Benedict DOES talk of societal breakdown, shifting mores, acceptance of the unacceptable, to include active homosexuality in seminaries and even acceptance of any lust is good lust, making persons into things to be used and cast aside, whether girls, boys, children.

    He did not know then, nor now, the entire US situation, and what he heard of was no better than those who transmitted, whome he also clearly labels as those who obstructed the Vatican visitations…and before…seminaries obviously in trouble from well before his time.

    He really could not have said much more without stepping all over Francis’ perogatives, and could not say a THING without doing that to one degree or another. He also pointed out a lot of problems are coming from Germany. I mean, aside from doing his own Viganó, not much else the man could have diplomatically said, besides offer his own personal reminisce over the way things were, who and what was blocking justicd, or even knowledge of crimes, without spelling out names.

    I know we all would like names, but one should not expect them from a former and still living Pope, but from the current Pope.

  14. A hit piece against Steve Bannon & ´supporters of Francis’s traditionalist predecessor, Benedict XVI´ – https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/steve-bannon-u-s-ultra-conservatives-take-aim-pope-francis-n991411 wherein the reporters glaringly (mis)quote the Pope Emeritus:
    ´…”The crisis, caused by the many cases of clerical abuse, urges us to regard the church as something almost unacceptable, which we must now take into our own hands and redesign,” he wrote…´
    Without the very next line also being quoted, viz., ´But a self-made Church cannot constitute hope´, one wonders just how dumb / lazy / agenda-driven the reporter were.

    • Imagine any of these public comments –critical, neutral, or supportive– published any other time since the Second Vatican Council. At least for once in the midst of what William James once described as the ‘moral equivalent of war’ the laity have not cowered in the usually silent abyss. When the sheep learn to talk, bishops may learn to listen.

    • JN:

      What brazen liars are the men and women employed in BIG MEDIA across the world.

      The gods are their stomachs, their checkbooks and their own reflected image.

      I am sure that their friends in the counterfeit parasite of The McCarrick Establishment in Rome and world-wide are delighted.

      • Chris in Maryland:

        Prima facie, I wouldn´t go so far as to tar *every* man and woman employed in big media across the world as brazen liars. Many rotting apples, to be sure, but giving the benefit of doubt, I suspect some of them are just following group-think and are too lazy, dumb or spineless to actually follow basic rules of journalism and journalistic ethics.

        Don´t rock the boat. Just follow the easy and convenient steps of Mr. Can´t-be-bothered-with-silly-philosophy-when-the-masses-bay-for-blood-and-Caesar-breathes-down-the-neck.

        veritas? quid est veritas?

  15. “Finally, the efforts of Pope Francis to address corruption and a clericalist culture have been, at best, mixed; in fact, he has continually deflected and distracted from addressing many core problems, and has often done so with a sort of petulance and clumsiness that is unbecoming of a pope, never mind an elderly man. Not only is he unwilling to go down the “rabbit hole”, he often seems convinced there is no hole to be seen.”

    While we are on the topic of “unbecoming of a pope” how can anyone look at this week’s photographs of Bergoglio prostrate on the ground kissing the shoes of Sudanese politicians…the same Bergoglio who finds it so unnecessary? to genuflect during Holy Mass…and NOT think that a loss of Faith and a derangement has entered the Church?

    Yes, after how many hours of sleep, meals taken, and yes after pondering those photographs of Bergoglio on the ground at the feet of the Sudanese…that essay by the Pope Emeritus ain’t so bad.

    It seems the spirit of antichrist can’t seek to “imitate Christ” without simultaneous forms of buffoonery and mockery.

    Another way of summarizing the Pope Emeritus’ essay as it relates to an invented, alternate Church? Welcome to a graceless church…and one that has lost rationality.

  16. It seems to me that the author of the editorial and many of those who comment on it above expected from Benedict more than what he could deliver given the strictures he is under and the context of the article or letter which was written for a publication for Bavarian priests. One could not expect him to place part of the blame for what he calls “conciliarism” on Vatican II itself, as he was part of it and is convinced of its value, although in the past he has expressed some misgivings about some aspects of it. One could not expect him to make any statements which would put his predecessors or his successor in a bad light, “de mortuis nisi bonum”. He did not purport to present a complete analysis of the problem of clerical sexual abuse, therefore it is unjust to demand that of him. The editorial mentions the fact that Frs. Josef Fuchs and Bernard Haring were perhaps the most notable peddlars of the false moral theology that Benedict decries. However, they taught in Rome under the very noses, in colloquial terms, of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II and nothing was done to remove them. Likewise Charles Curran in the U.S. and Marciano Vida in Spain were publishing books and teaching on moral theology for years and allowed to continue by the CDF under Ratzinger. Cardinal Brandmuller stated this recently. I wouldn’t expect Benedict to say it.
    As for this: “But why were children being molested by priests in, say, the 1940s and 1950s?”. There has been corruption in the Church from the very beginning. In todays reading of the Passion according to St. Luke, we see what Judas did and what Peter did. The rest of the apostles ran away. For the early Church,check out for instance the Pastor by Hermas, which goes back to the early second century, 110-140 in Rome, and you will find that yes, there were many heroic Christians, clergy and laity, in the face of persecution, but there were also those who denied the faith to save their skin. Likewise in the third century, read what St. Cyprian has to say about the problem of the “lapse”. He himself was criticized for going into hiding during the persecution by Decius in 250. I am sure most readers are aware of the scathing denunciations of St. Peter Damian in the 11th century, and the fact that Pope St. Pius V in the 16th century even decreed capital punishment for the sin of pederasty. So, due to original sin and concupiscence such problems have always existed in the Church and cannot be totally extirpated. It would seem that after Vatican II there was a great increase in the number of denunciations on clerical sexual abuse, especially in the 70s and the 80s. Some would argue that maybe there were fewer denunciations before that period because people didn’t report it to the bishops, but that cannot be proven. An attempt at extirpating all evil can even produce more evils such as the condemning of innocent priests, something that has been happening since the introduction of the “zero tolerance” slogan at Dallas in 2002. Besides, the problem was not nearly as criminalized as it is today, although other groups such as Public School Teachers, Protestant Ministers (in Germany the number of them accused is similar to that of Catholic priests) and other groups get a pass from the press. I do think that Catholic clergy ought to be held to a higher standard than these other groups. However, a rational analysis of the matter is needed and much of the anger expressed by American Catholics, while understandable, seems to possibly bring about new problems such as a kind of puritanism among Catholics or a new form of trusteeship which had to be resisted in the 19th century.

    • I agree with most of what you say. But when you write,”It seems to me that the author of the editorial and many of those who comment on it above expected from Benedict more than what he could deliver…”, I have to point to the opening paragraphs of my editorial, which say the same thing! That said, I do think Benedict could have said more about the deep problems of homosexuality and clericalism. As for there always have been serious sins among Christians, I made a point of mentioning just one (but very important) example, of the first Christians in Corinth. The bottom line, it seems to me, is that we must firmly denounce sins and corruption of every sort, in every age, while not giving into the sort of anger or frustration that will lead to more sin and bad judgment.

      • I’m joining this thread late, and could only find this point to add a comment. I hope you don’t mind.

        I suggest that the biggest elephant in the room in any religious discussion is when theology adopts atheistic premises and few choose to notice. The idiocy of theologians who reject natural law assume that God would abandon benevolence through abandoning His creation to a capricious understanding of how they ought to order their lives together. Endless moral confusion implies an evil God, therefore it implies a God that can not exist. Therefore, it is not theology at all but atheism. Even a foolish mind can figure this out. A brilliant mind like that of Benedict should identify the sins of pride for what they are and condemn the whole theological establishment for what they are whenever they embrace junk theology. Instead he treats them like they make innocent errors, like scientists who made innocent miscalculations in a math problem. The only reason the Church exists in the first place is because sinful humanity needs to be called to salvation. To merely forget this is all that is necessary to destroy the Church completely, not just to create one or more crisis situations.

    • In addition to all that you have said, Joseph Foley, I would add that there seems to be very little compassion or empathy for, in particular, St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI who were faced with this unprecedented explosion in immoral and criminal actions by Catholic priests. They were (are) men of impeccable personal moral character and intellect. For a long time, they must have simply been unable to believe the rumours and gossip about homosexual and pedophiliac acts, as these types of behaviours would have been entirely outside their personal experience and understanding.
      As for bishops, I think that people again have failed to appreciate these are also human beings, with a wide variety of character strengths and weaknesses. It seems to easy to me to just lump them all in together as corrupt and seeking to cover up priests’ crimes in the name of the reputation of the Church. Each bishop who acted slowly or not at all to address the accusations made against a priest will have had a unique set of facts to work with. He also would have made choices within his own personal history, education, experience and faith journey. Furthermore, bishops don’t just appear, with a towering intellect, moral clarity and total confidence in their own judgement. The bishops of the 1980s onwards are the priests of the 1960s and 70s. This is what the Church, what we, have had to work with.
      Finally, I also see a total failure to consider that God may be using the talents and failings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI to bring into the light all that had been hidden. It may be that these specific men were the ones chosen by God because they would willingly participate in His plan to cleanse His Church and save souls.
      I for one would greatly appreciate if orthodox Catholic sources of information and commentary would bring some charity, temperance, and mercy to bear when sitting in judgement of leaders who, as far as we can tell, did their best with what they had to hand.

        • Well, Carl, I was particularly struck by the paragraph: “The problem, however, is that Benedict is largely silent about the related evils. There is one mention of homosexuality—an acknowledgment that in “various seminaries homosexual cliques were established”—and complete silence on the culture of corruption and cover-up that is now as obvious as it is infuriating. It could be, again, that he is silent on the matter because of his particular audience and focus. Even so, it is a gaping hole, and one that cannot be ignored.”
          You may believe that the actions of popes and bishops amount to a “culture of corruption and cover-up”, but I think that is an unsupported and, therefore, uncharitable statement. It may be that some of the bishops were both corrupt and covering things up on purpose for malicious or reckless reasons. I don’t believe there is evidence to conclude that all, or even most, were.
          I also think your demand that Emeritus Pope Benedict recount all the related evils to the collapse of moral theology among Catholic leaders is unfair and uncharitable. Granted, you do acknowledge later that he may have left them unsaid because of his intended audience. It may also be, though, that he left them all unsaid because he could not bring himself to name them. He is now a very old man who has witnessed some of the most horrific acts of evil in human history. Charity and mercy would let him leave unsaid things that don’t really need to be named yet again.

          • Thank you, Lauri, for this. Well, I think your reading of my editorial is not entirely fair. For example, you state, “You may believe that the actions of popes and bishops amount to a ‘culture of corruption and cover-up…’, but that’s really what I said, is it? I referred to a definite culture of corruption and cover-up, and I can say, having followed the ins and outs of this for many years now (on a daily basis!) that such a culture cannot be denied. To do so is to mock the facts, commonsense, and the testimony of good people. I do not blame it on Benedict or Francis, but it certainly has involved many bishops.

            “It may be that some of the bishops were both corrupt and covering things up on purpose for malicious or reckless reasons.” Yes, without doubt. And I don’t say “all” (that’s crazy) or “many” (that’s inaccurate). You are willfully misreading what I wrote.

            “It may also be, though, that he left them all unsaid because he could not bring himself to name them.” Yes, perhaps. And perhaps this isn’t the place. The problem, I still hold, is that he promises more than he delivers. And I write that as someone who owns nearly everything written by Ratzinger/Benedict (some 75 or so volumes in my personal library) and who esteems him as one of my 3 or 4 favorite theologians of the past 50 years.

  17. I share your esteem, admiration and gratitude for Emeritus Pope Benedict and his faithful service to the faith and the Church. And I am an admirer of yours, too, having followed you since the early years of the blog with Ignatius Press. When I read this letter from Benedict, I also noted the loss of vigour in both clarity and precision of thought and the resulting loss of both in his writing style. I put this down to age and was rather impressed that he took the time and probably great effort to try to bring the discussion back to what he believes needs most seriously to be addressed by any attempt to reform the clergy: the collapse of Catholic teaching, certainly in what once was Christendom, on the importance of living righteously. That his offering is less than it would have been even a few years ago is inarguable. I think that is missing in your piece and I actually expected that from you, given what I know about you from your own record. I suppose I was disappointed that you did not make that point in your analysis.

  18. How can anyone think this essay actually came from Benedict XVI’s pen? Remember, this current Vatican gravely misrepresented him and his writings before, in a clumsy attempt to “prove” his endorsement of Francis. This time it’s much worse, and everyone seems to be falling for it. Whoever wrote this article describes Jesus Christ as a creature: “God Himself becomes creature.” Would Benedict XVI, one of the most brilliant Catholic theologians in the world, characterize Jesus that way? The entire things reads like an incoherent freshman theology paper at best, and blasphemy at worst. Why would Benedict XVI choose to recount and describe in vivid detail seeing pornographic billboards on Good Friday in 1970?! Pedophilia reached such great proportions because of the “absence of God”?! That’s the very thing the devil wants victims to believe! Benedict XVI would never write such things.
    If we are so desperate to hear from Benedict XVI that we’re willing to gullibly fall for this latest deception from this current Vatican, why not turn our attention instead to what Benedict has actually written about the Church crisis? Please re-read his letter to the Irish People given in March 2010 w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/letters/2010/, or his letter Proclaiming a Year for Priests from June 2009 w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/letters/2009/….
    Then after reading the real Benedict, we can perhaps all see the sad sham this essay actually is.

  19. Obviously sexual abuse has been going on in the Church for a long time, or the delict of solicitation in the confessional would not be as old in Canon Law as it is. But is there any clear evidence that would make it possible to calculate the number of these priestly crimes before the Council vs. after? I cannot imagine that seminaries in the 1940’s were anything like the virtual homosexual clubs that drove out several of my friends in the 70’s.

  20. My mother was sexually abused by her grandfather in the late 40’s/early 50’s. When she told her parents about it, they did nothing. It was like they didn’t hear her and it was never spoken of again and her grandfather was still allowed to be alone with her. They were too embarrassed to confront grandpa about his behavior or get him in trouble; they just wanted to get back to their normal lives and pretend it didn’t happen.
    I think the silence concerning abuse in the church back then and the silence concerning liberal sexuality now are a result of a similar problem. We are a culture that values not being outside of our comfort zones; we don’t want to embarrass others or cause trouble. We just want to go about our lives in the secular sense of the world and forget about it. The church, in general, has behaved the same way. It’s uncomfortable to talk about and many clerics came from a generation where it was frowned upon for parents to speak with their children about sex. Kids were just supposed to figure it out by themselves or parents passed them off to other secular institutions to let them do the uncomfortable “dirty work” of teaching them. My husbands parents dropped him off, at the tender age of 13, at their local college one summer to hear a talk for teens on sex. That was all they did and it was never spoken of again. The rest of his questions were “answered” by porn magazines at friends’ houses. Many priests grew up with the notion that civilized mannerly folk don’t talk about sex and we leave all of that behind closed doors. Many had their own sexual wounds to deal with because of that and then brought that into the church.
    Here’s my solution: Consider having a large family and be very open with your children about sex when they are of the correct age. Keep it an open, healthy conversation going while they are under your roof. Get over the uncomfortable aspect and it will become easier. Allow the boys to be around mom when she is breastfeeding. Allow them to see this as a normal healthy part of life with no shame. If even one boy from each of these families becomes a priest, we may see some changes in the future.

  21. The Net parable is a snapshot of the Last Judgment, not a picture of the progress of the church throughout history. The dragging of the net (by the angels, not by bishops or anyone else) represents the gathering of people from the four corners of the Earth in order that they may be judged. The church in the parable is represented by the good fish only, not by the good fish plus the bad. Benedict, for all his theological brilliance, gets basic things wrong when it comes to understanding Scriptural passages. Par for the course, I’m sorry to say. Catholics don’t do textual study ; they only do theology. This is the source of much difficulty.

  22. God bless holy Benedict, a man who loves his Church and his flock.
    The fact that Benedict still breathes must embarrass the bishop of Rome no end.
    But then, Francis is embarrassed by many things Catholic. Is he not?

  23. I’m with Lauri’s hypothesis. Keep in mind, this was a non-academic (well, as far as non-academic would be for B-XVI) essay, not a magisterial document. I believe that the essay was “for the choir”–written originally in a journal for priests who already know that homosexuality was/is the core problem of the Crisis. In other words, these points are just that–headings of a sort, that remind us (esp. priests) of the issues–the real issues, not “clericalism.” I suspect that the real import of this essay, when it went global, was to remind the current Pontiff and those who are his main allies where the moral boundaries are located. I hope they take it to heart, but I’m afraid that won’t happen in this current pontificate.

5 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Editorial: Benedict XVI’s essay is both insightful and incomplete -
  2. FRIDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit
  3. Benedict's Intervention « Catholic Insight
  4. Words spoken from Benedict’s post-papal silence - The Irish Catholic
  5. Benedict XVI’s Letter on Sex Abuse Crisis: Highlights & Reaction Roundup | Defensor Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.


*