THE essay recently written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI addressing the crisis involving members of the clergy committing sex abuses should not only concern theologians but the entire church and even communities where victims suffered or are at risk of suffering abuse from sexually deviant priests.
The silence or prevarication of religious leaders to discuss the issue in churches and seminaries makes it vulnerable to accusations from critics that the church is corrupt, internally divided, and hypocritical at worst, and lackadaisical at best, in speaking out and taking action on issues affecting the faithful.
Even in the contemporary climate of incivility and hate speech directed at the church by secular leaders it has criticized or opposed, church leaders’ responsiveness on clerical sex abuse will strengthen and renew the church, specially during this period of Passiontide, covering the last two weeks of Lent.
For the faithful, Lent is the period to meditate on the passion of the Christ and renew lives that reject and oppose evil. Benedict XVI wrote in the introduction to his essay, “The Church and the scandal of sex abuse,” that he wished to “contribute to a new beginning,” citing that, in view of how the sex-abuse crisis “deeply distressed” priests and laity, “it was necessary to send out a strong message, and seek out a new beginning, so to make the Church again truly credible as a light among peoples and as a force in service against the powers of destruction”.
First published in “Klerusblatt,” a monthly periodical for clergy based in mostly Bavarian dioceses, and published in full in websites, such as that of the Catholic News Agency, the essay puts forth Benedict XVI’s interpretations that the clerical sex-abuse crisis has its roots in a church that became unable to uphold “Catholic moral theology” in the face of the “Revolution of 1968,” which “sought to fight for,” among other freedoms, “this all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer conceded any norms,” condoning pedophilia and the existence of “homosexual cliques” that “acted more or less openly” in “various seminaries.”
Benedict XVI attributed the “long-prepared and ongoing process of dissolution of the Christian concept of morality” to an “independent” development happening in the church, the Second Vatican Council, which resulted in “Catholic moral theology suffer(ing) a collapse that rendered the Church defenseless against these changes in society” brought about by radicalism in the 1960s.
The former pontiff, who stepped down in 2013 and became the first pope to do so in 600 years, “sidesteps the elephants in the Church” in his essay, wrote Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He focuses on Benedict’s “complete silence on the culture of corruption and cover-up” surrounding the sex abuses committed by priests and high-ranking members of the clergy, as well as the “oddly narrow” analysis of the roots of pedophilia in the chronological and sociological senses.
In an article posted on commonwealmagazine.org, Villanova University professor of theology and religious studies Massimo Faggioli commented that Benedict’s stance “evinces no awareness that the Catholic sex-abuse crisis is a global crisis;” thus, his argument that the counterculture in Europe and America is at the root of the clerical sex-abuse crisis is problematic.
Olson and Faggioli point out how Benedict’s views starkly contrast with the pronouncement made by Pope Francis in February 2019 for the church to go “for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors” and safeguard children “from ravenous wolves.”
Convening the world’s bishops, the Vatican summit still disappointed many victims and advocates for failing to produce concrete steps to deal with the issue. This tension between internal forces seeking changes and countervailing reactionaries will determine whether it will be a church renewed or made obsolete.