Pope emeritus Benedict XVI: Return to God to overcome abuse crisis
By Sergio Centofanti
“The power of evil arises from our refusal to love God… Learning to love God is therefore the path of human redemption.” Pope emeritus Benedict XVI wrote those words in an article for the German periodical Klerusblatt, in which he reflects on the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by members of the clergy.
Benedict XVI takes his cue from February’s meeting on the protection of minors in the Church promoted by Pope Francis to send out “a strong message” and “to make the Church again truly credible as a light among peoples and as a force in service against the powers of destruction”. He affirms his desire to give his contribution to this mission “even though, as emeritus, I am no longer directly responsible”, and thanks Pope Francis “for everything he does to show us, again and again, the light of God, which has not disappeared, even today”.
The text is divided into three parts.
In the first part, Benedict explores the social context surrounding the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s. During this period, he writes, pedophilia was “diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.”
He says “the extensive collapse of the next generation of priests” and “the very high number of laicizations were a consequence of all these developments.” This was accompanied by the “collapse” of Catholic moral theology, which, Benedict affirms, begins to yield to relativist temptations. According to certain theologians, he observes, “there could no longer be anything that constituted an absolute good, any more than anything fundamentally evil; [there could be] only relative value judgments. There no longer was the [absolute] good, but only the relatively better, contingent on the moment and on circumstances.”
Benedict XVI cites the 1989 Cologne Declaration, signed by 15 Catholic professors of theology, which led to “an outcry against the Magisterium of the Church” and against Pope John Paul II, who later published the Encyclical Veritatis splendor, in 1993, which contains “the determination that there were actions that can never become good.”
“In many circles of moral theology”, he adds, “the hypothesis was expounded that the Church does not and cannot have her own morality”. This conception, he observes, “fundamentally” calls into question the authority of the Church in matters of morality and ultimately “forces her to remain silent precisely where the boundary between truth and lies is at stake”.
Effects on formation of priests
In the second part of the text, the Pope emeritus explores the consequences of this process on the formation and life of priests. “In various seminaries,” he writes, “homosexual cliques were established, which acted more or less openly”. “The Holy See knew of such problems, without being informed precisely”. He writes that attitudes in line with the Second Vatican Council “were understood to mean having a critical or negative attitude towards the hitherto existing tradition, which was now to be replaced by a new, radically open relationship with the world”, with individual bishops even seeking “to bring about a kind of new, modern ‘Catholicity’”.
Benedict XVI underlines that the question of pedophilia, as he recalls, “did not become acute until the second half of the 1980s.” He says Rome and Roman canonists at first dealt with the problem in a bland and slow manner, guaranteeing in particular the rights of the accused “to such an extent that convictions were hardly possible”. Benedict says he agreed with John Paul II that it was appropriate to assign the competence for the abuse of minors to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in order “to impose the maximum penalty lawfully” through a genuine criminal process”. Convictions, therefore, could lead to expulsion from the clergy. However, because delays arose, he says, “which had to be prevented owing to the nature of the matter, Pope Francis has undertaken further reforms.”
Perspectives on proper response
In the third part of the text, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI proposes some perspectives for a “proper response on the part of the Church.”
“The counterforce against evil, which threatens us and the whole world,” he says, “can ultimately only consist in our entering into this love.” “A world without God can only be a world without meaning”, in which the standards of good or evil no longer exist, leaving only the law of the strongest. “Power is then the only principle. Truth does not count, it actually does not exist.”
Benedict strongly accuses Western society of losing its true measure. “Western society is a society in which God is absent in the public sphere and has nothing left to offer it. And that is why it is a society in which the measure of humanity is increasingly lost. At individual points it becomes suddenly apparent that what is evil and destroys man has become a matter of course.” This is the case of pedophilia, he says. “It was theorized only a short time ago as quite legitimate, but it has spread further and further.” Benedict XVI says the answer to all this is “to learn again to recognize God as the foundation of our life”.
In this perspective of returning to God, the Pope Emeritus also speaks of the need to renew faith in the Eucharist, often devalued to a “ceremonial gesture”, destroying “the greatness of the Mystery” of Christ’s death and resurrection. Instead, we need to ask the Lord for forgiveness, he says, and “ask Him to teach us all anew to understand the greatness of His suffering, His sacrifice. And we must do all we can to protect the gift of the Holy Eucharist from abuse.”
“When thinking about what action is required first and foremost,” he says, “it is rather obvious that we do not need another Church of our own design.”
“The Church today is widely regarded as just some kind of political apparatus”. “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.”
Benedict XVI says the action of the devil, whom he calls “the accuser”, is aimed at proving “that there are no righteous people”. “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. 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. But even today there is the Holy Church, which is indestructible.”
Today’s Church, he says, “is more than ever a “Church of the Martyrs” and thus a witness to the living God.”
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI observes that “to see and find the living Church is a wonderful task which strengthens us and makes us joyful in our Faith time and again”.
He concludes by expressing his gratitude to Pope Francis. “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!”
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