Pope to Curia highlights horror of abuse and splendor of truth

It was almost poetic, Pope Benedict's depiction yesterday in his speech to the Curia of the glories of the priesthood --

We realized afresh how beautiful it is that human beings are fully authorized to pronounce in God’s name the word of forgiveness, and are thus able to change the world, to change life; we realized how beautiful it is that human beings may utter the words of consecration, through which the Lord draws a part of the world into himself, and so transforms it at one point in its very substance; we realized how beautiful it is to be able, with the Lord’s strength, to be close to people in their joys and sufferings, in the important moments of their lives and in their dark times; how beautiful it is to have as one’s life task not this or that, but simply human life itself – helping people to open themselves to God and to live from God.

Advertisement

-- which made its bathetic ending all the more powerful:

We were all the more dismayed, then, when in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.

And he went on to quote a 12th-century vision of St Hildegard of Bingen:

For my Bridegroom’s wounds remain fresh and open as long as the wounds of men’s sins continue to gape. And Christ’s wounds remain open because of the sins of priests. They tear my robe, since they are violators of the Law, the Gospel and their own priesthood; they darken my cloak by neglecting, in every way, the precepts which they are meant to uphold; my shoes too are blackened, since priests do not keep to the straight paths of justice, which are hard and rugged, or set good examples to those beneath them. Nevertheless, in some of them I find the splendour of truth.

Benedict XVI adds:

We must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen. We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good. We must be capable of doing penance. We must be determined to make every possible effort in priestly formation to prevent anything of the kind from happening again.

He then looked around at other, related evils: the psychological destruction and commodification of children through sex tourism and pornography, likening them to the great sins of Babylon in the Book of Revelation, and adding the scourge of the drugs trade, which, he says, wraps its tentacles around the world. "No pleasure is ever enough, and the excess of deceiving intoxication becomes a violence that tears whole regions apart – and all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines man’s freedom and ultimately destroys it."

As he does in Light of the World, the Pope sees the origins of the spread of child abuse in the 1970s overturning of the notion of intrinsically immoral acts in favour of relativism:

In order to resist these forces, we must turn our attention to their ideological foundations. In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos. It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a “better than” and a “worse than”. Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist. The effects of such theories are evident today.

He then went on to recall his speech at Westminster Hall in Parliament on his September trip to the UK  -- a visit he here describes as "unforgettable". It was clear at the time (I was there) that something substantial had occurred in that historic place, site of the condemnation of St Thomas More, where the political and civil elites of the UK rapturously applauded the Successor of St Peter. This encounter between Church and state, faith and democracy, religion and reason was, in a way, what Benedict XVI's papacy has been about -- to attempt to heal what these divisions. The lesson he drew in his speech to the Curia was that freedom and democracy depended on a shared moral reasoning, a common ethical horizon:

My thoughts go first of all to the encounter with the world of culture in Westminster Hall, an encounter in which awareness of shared responsibility at this moment in history created great attention which, in the final analysis, was directed to the question of truth and faith itself. It was evident to all that the Church has to make her own contribution to this debate. Alexis de Tocqueville, in his day, observed that democracy in America had become possible and had worked because there existed a fundamental moral consensus which, transcending individual denominations, united everyone. Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function. This fundamental consensus derived from the Christian heritage is at risk wherever its place, the place of moral reasoning, is taken by the purely instrumental rationality of which I spoke earlier. In reality, this makes reason blind to what is essential. To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake.

The Pope then turned to the Blessed Cardinal Newman's view of conscience, which he counterposed to modern notions of subjectivity. 

The driving force that impelled Newman along the path of conversion was conscience. But what does this mean? In modern thinking, the word “conscience” signifies that for moral and religious questions, it is the subjective dimension, the individual, that constitutes the final authority for decision. The world is divided into the realms of the objective and the subjective. To the objective realm belong things that can be calculated and verified by experiment. Religion and morals fall outside the scope of these methods and are therefore considered to lie within the subjective realm. Here, it is said, there are in the final analysis no objective criteria. The ultimate instance that can decide here is therefore the subject alone, and precisely this is what the word “conscience” expresses: in this realm only the individual, with his intuitions and experiences, can decide. Newman’s understanding of conscience is diametrically opposed to this. For him, “conscience” means man’s capacity for truth: the capacity to recognize precisely in the decision-making areas of his life – religion and morals – a truth, the truth. At the same time, conscience – man’s capacity to recognize truth – thereby imposes on him the obligation to set out along the path towards truth, to seek it and to submit to it wherever he finds it. Conscience is both capacity for truth and obedience to the truth which manifests itself to anyone who seeks it with an open heart. The path of Newman’s conversions is a path of conscience – not a path of self-asserting subjectivity but, on the contrary, a path of obedience to the truth that was gradually opening up to him.

Pope Benedict ended by referring to Newman's famous statement in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk -- "that I shall drink to my conscience first, then to the Pope" -- which he manages deftly (given that this quote is often used to try to demonstrate the opposite) to cast as an act of obedience to the papacy.

In support of the claim that Newman’s concept of conscience matched the modern subjective understanding, people often quote a letter in which he said – should he have to propose a toast – that he would drink first to conscience and then to the Pope. But in this statement, “conscience” does not signify the ultimately binding quality of subjective intuition. It is an expression of the accessibility and the binding force of truth: on this its primacy is based. The second toast can be dedicated to the Pope because it is his task to demand obedience to the truth.

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
MAUREEN TURLISH SISTER
6 years 11 months ago

Pope Benedict in his 2010 Christmas Greeting goes no further than the “sins of priests.” Regrettably, he stops short of speaking of those “sins” as the mortal sins and crimes they truly are.
More than that, he neglects to address the sins and crimes of the bishops who enabled and facilitated those sexual predators, thus putting untold numbers of children in harm’s way - children who would never have been sexually molested by individual priests had the bishops acted with the barest of due diligence.
In the past, cardinal archbishops have spoken time after time about the sexual abuse of children by predatory priests as an “American problem” or a “homosexual problem” in an attempt to mitigate the seriousness of what was happening.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum blamed it all on the permissiveness of those New Englanders in the Archdiocese of Boston, Massachusetts!
One remembers as well that when the studies on the sexual abuse of women religious were reported in the secular media some of those same churchmen sought to limit the scope of the problem geographically.
As has been shown in diocese after diocese in the United States and now throughout the world, the protection of the “Lord’s little ones” was not the bishops’ primary concern. In fact, it was of no concern. The responsibility for the crimes of rogue priests and enabling bishops does not lie with the People of God.
Pope Benedict's theological argument citing proportionism is just one more rather sophisticated attempt at placing the blame elsewhere and it does not wash.
Yes, “only the Truth saves,” but it appears once again that the pope uses words that attempt to excuse the very real evil that has been perpetrated on the innocents and thus mitigate the responsibility of bishops. The abuse of episcopal power and authority is what needs to be named and addressed by the pope and yet he has not done so.
Pope Benedict says, “We are well aware of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and of our corresponding responsibility.”
Can that possibly be so when an equal if not more serious part of the “sin” continues to be ignored or at least unspoken? I don't think so.
It is the bishops’ abuse of power and authority that has raised the church’s continuing sexual abuse problems to the level of scandal and yet no bishop in the United States has been disciplined or sanctioned in any way for his part in protecting and enabling known sexual predators.
As far as Archbishop Bernard Cardinal Law is concerned he could hardly have stayed on in Boston having completely lost the confidence of his priests.
No bishop’s resignation has been requested in the U.S. and there are more than a few whose actions are as bad as or worse than the actions of some of the Irish bishops whose resignations were accepted by the pope.
Excuses such as the “context of the times,” which the pope speaks of are just that, excuses that in no way mitigate the pure evil that was visited on children and young people by narcissistic sociopaths.
Both the acts and those perpetrating such perfidy were evil and the bishops have a grave responsibility for their part in enabling and facilitating such abuse.
It is not that there is something “wrong in our proclamation,” of the Christian message but there is a dissonance between the “proclamation” itself and what the bishops were and actually are doing; enabling and protecting rogue priests then, and viciously opposing statute of limitation reform now that would better protect all children.
The bishops were and are, to a large extent, proclaiming one thing but doing something directly opposed to the Gospel message.
Do as I say not as I do still appears to be the mantra of the day.
No matter how dressed-up the words are, the abuse of episcopal power and authority is at the heart of this scandal.
Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
New Castle, Delaware
[email protected]
david power
6 years 12 months ago
The Holy Father is a very intelligent and in many ways brilliant man.I am sure that there are many in the Church hierarchy who are as disgusted as he is by what happened and are determined that it will not happen again.
But I am also sure that for many it is not the Priests that disturbs as much as the wall of silence that the voices of the victims were met with.
The Pope is putting the emphasis on the acts and not on the cover-up. Maciel,Groer, Paetz received a different treatment than simple Priests because they were men of power under the last Pope.
To invoke the "Splendour of Truth" by a Pope who did nothing to help victims and indeed shut down investigations is a mistake in my book. 
What the Pope wrote about the Priesthood is exceptionally beautiful but also dangerous. There is an idealism inherent in it ,the same idealism that was promoted for so long that it censored any reality that countered it.99% of Saints are clergy yet less than 1%  of catholics are clergy.
It has been a long time since the clergy thought of themselves along the lines of
'We are useless servants: we have done no more than our duty'” (Lk 17:10). ...
The Pope has to demand obedience of the Truth ,but also of himself and to admit when his predeccesors not only were far from it but tried to stop it from coming to light. The Pope correctly identifies a problem of time and ideas which were wrong during the
70's. The last Pope however was a moral absolutist and so if the conduct of priests was bad due to relativism or conditioned by that mentality it should have been met with an absolutist vision.It was not.Why not? It did not suit the Church.It did not suit the Pope who spent 27 years lecturing lay people on their moral failings. 
This Pope must continue to lead us to Jesus and to speak about friendship with HIM.And to state more frequently that it is in lay people where His power is discovered most frequently.Otherwise we will be fishing in a puddle.     
PATRICK DARCY
6 years 12 months ago
Austen Ivereigh describes Benedict’s speech to curial officials as “almost poetic.”  That’s the problem.  The pope continues to engage in flowery language, always skirting the truth.  However, in his speech to curial officials, he says that “Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen.” 
“We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred.” Start telling the truth.  “What was wrong….to allow such a thing to happen.”  Start telling the truth.  The pope knows that the church protected sick priests who abused children.  He knows that these priests were protected by sicker bishops and their advisors whose only goal was to protect the “good name” of the predators and the church. The bishops hid the truth, covered up for these abusers, and, therefore, allowed them to further abuse more children.
Benedict and the bishops tell us that abortion, contraception, and sexual acts by persons of the same sex are intrinsically evil. Isn’t it about time that the pope and bishops state that the sexual abuse of children is intrinsically evil? When will the pope admit that the bishops who aided this abuse were formal cooperators in these intrinsically evil acts?
The pope is right that “only the truth saves.”   The question remains, “When will he finally acknowledge it?” 
 
 
Charles Erlinger
6 years 12 months ago
Ref: ''In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children...It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself.... Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances....''

I am almost as old as the Pope but never knew this was being circulated in Catholic theology.  Who else besides the Pope knew?
The Pope speaks of this as some kind of independent force like a spate of bad weather, not as something that leadership was responsible for.  An interesting slant.
Gloria Sullivan
6 years 12 months ago
The sadest thing about all of this, is that there is never any mention of what Jesus Christ would do if this was brought before HIM about HIS Apostles.

  Does anyone  with any thoughts of the handicapped, marginalized adults or  our precious YOUNG  children, think that a PREMEDITATED SEXUAL CRIME against these,  is ok??

Yet this  crime can be confessed over and over again and that GOD will forgive them??.NO, HE WON'T AND THIS IS A CRIME OF BLASHEMING THE HOLY SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE UNFORGIVEABLE SIN. 

Do your homework..check this out and you'll know that GOD WILL NOT FORGIVE ANY ,WHO TOOK PART IN THIS HEINOUS CRIME. 

There is nothing Biblical or poetic  about the rhetoric which the Pope used.  It's  called the ''flatery of the devil.''  He comes to lie, to steal, to cheat and destry and he's done a good job of pulling the wool over the eyes of the faithful.
Charle Reisz
6 years 12 months ago
The pope is still spouting excuses.  Will the church heirarchy EVER face up to their responsibility in this whole mess?  Are they spiritually incapable of facing the truth?  Maybe there is not a real man among them. 
Charle Reisz
6 years 12 months ago
The pope is still spouting excuses.  Will the church heirarchy EVER face up to their responsibility in this whole mess?  Are they spiritually incapable of facing the truth?  Maybe there is not a real man among them. 
Molly Roach
6 years 12 months ago
In the 1970's, I worked as a school counselor and then as a school social worker.
No one I knew or worked with ever viewed pedophilia as something that could
be regarded as neutral or normal.  So what is Pope Benedict talking about here?
It sounds as though he is simply making excuses for himself and his colleagues.
And it is the bishops who have refused to accept responsibility for the calamity we are faced with.
Thomas Piatak
6 years 11 months ago
A profound speech by the Holy Father.  Thanks for highlighting it.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Blaming celibacy is an enormous simplification that leaves out many important causes.
James Martin, SJDecember 15, 2017
“We have concluded that there were catastrophic failures of leadership of Catholic Church authorities over many decades,” the report said.
Father James Martin, S.J. and Ross Douthat at the Civility in America Part 1: Religion event held at The Sheen Center on Dec. 13th. (America/Antonio DeLoera-Brust).
Is there a duty for Christians to represent a certain kind of voice in the public discourse?
Angelo Jesus CantaDecember 14, 2017
A spokesman for the archdiocese described the meeting as “personal” in nature and aimed at “renewing a friendship that goes back 15 years or so.”
Michael J. O’LoughlinDecember 14, 2017