From the silence of retirement Pope emeritus Benedict speaks. Specifically, it was a written correspondence with a German Catholic publication on the subject of the Church scandals. And it is typical Ratzinger: crisp, clear, precise and insightful. As is his style, he steps back and takes the long view and asks the question, “how was it that such immoral and abusive behavior found its way into the priesthood and the Church?”
He starts by reminding us that the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s tore down a lot of boundaries without thinking about the consequences. And now we are reaping its bitter fruit as is evidenced in the #Metoo movement, collapse of marriages and the sexual abuse revelations and their cover-ups in the Church. Benedict does not blame the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s but rather tries to put the abuse crisis in a larger context. It was that context that found its way into Seminaries and the formation of priests and in attempts by theologians to unhinge the Church’s Moral teaching from its Natural Law grounding and basically use “the ends justify the means” rationale for all morality.
He points out one well known example, where a US Semi-nary in the 1970’s was showing pornography to the seminarians to ‘help them see the full panoply of human sexual expression’ or some such nonsense. The message was clear: there are no boundaries when it comes to how humans express their sexuality, it’s just “all natural”. That “no holds barred” and “if it feels right, do it” approach to sexual activity is certainly born out in the huge spike in sexual abuse cases that happened from the late sixties to the beginning of the eighties. A precipitous decline in cases begins in the early eighties when Pope John Paul II began to address the mess that seminaries had become. Pope John Paul II began an audit (Visitation in Vatican-speak) of all US Seminaries which culminated in his encyclical letter, “Veritatis Splendor” (The Splendor of the Truth) which taught clearly that there were actions that are always and everywhere evil. This teaching was not received well by those theologians who insisted on saying that only the situation can determine the goodness or wrongness of an action. That of course played right into the hands of child abusers who think they are not doing anything wrong but showing “love” to their victims.
The Emeritus Pope also points out a weak spot in the Church’s Canon Law that made it very difficult for Dioceses to adjudicate cases of abuse. Both he and John Paul II worked to correct that and develop procedures to adjudicate cases more quickly. Though he admits more work needs to be done in that area. Simply put the Canon Law of the Church never really envisioned such a large number of cases needing adjudication. Upholding the rights of the accused with the rights of the accuser as well as the need to keep the Christian faith intact all need to be balanced.
Pope emeritus Benedict is not seeking to put forth a prescription for the entire problem, obviously that is not his role at this point but rather to help us understand what really is at stake underneath all the harm and pain that has been caused. He reminds us, “the Lord has initiated a narrative of love with us and wants to subsume all creation in it. The counterforce against evil, which threatens us and the whole world, can ultimately only consist in our entering into this love. It is the real counterforce against evil. The power of evil arises from our refusal to love God.”
At the end of the letter, he provides a reflection on the bigger themes of good and evil and how the darkness is always trying to put out the light. Basically, he says, that this whole tearing down of our Church is diabolical. And as Benedict writes, “The devil wants to prove that there are no righteous people; that all righteousness of people is only displayed on the outside. If one could hew closer to a person, then the appearance of his justice would quickly fall away.” This is the story of Job. But Job does not falter in his righteousness despite the many allegations made against him.
The idea that there are no righteous people is the cynicism that evil wants us to believe and the more the world accepts that cynicism, the more the darkness prevails. In the Book of Job, Benedict says, “The Creator God is confronted with the devil who speaks ill of all mankind and all creation. He 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.”
In the end, Benedict admonishes 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 there are many people who humbly believe, suffer, and love, in whom the real God, the loving God, shows Himself to us."
May we be the people through whom the loving God shows himself to others.
Fr. John B.