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Austen IvereighApril 11, 2019
Pope Francis pays a pre-Christmas visit to retired Pope Benedict XVI on Dec. 21, 2018, in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)Pope Francis visits retired Pope Benedict XVI on Dec. 21, 2018, in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Our church’s divisions can make it hard, sometimes, to hear popes unfiltered—even when they are retired. Benedict XVI’s three-part reflection on clerical sex abuse has been variously greeted as a shot across the bow of Pope Francis’ anti-abuse strategy, as a vindication of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s attack on Francis last summer and as a ham-fisted intervention that will feed the nostalgia for the church before the Second Vatican Council.

The optics of the release reinforced these ideas: Why is that only media outlets which have been highly critical of Pope Francis had the translated text before anyone else, each claiming it as an exclusive?

Why is it that only media outlets which have been highly critical of Pope Francis had the translated text before anyone else?

But I think the intention and nature of his text is what Benedict XVI says it is: a helpful contribution. The recent summit called by Pope Francis in Rome to tackle clerical sexual abuse got him thinking about how he could assist “in this difficult hour,” he writes.

“I had to ask myself—even though, as emeritus, I am no longer directly responsible—what I could contribute to a new beginning,” he writes in the article. So he came up with some thoughts, asked Pope Francis if he could publish them and sent the 6,000 words to a Bavarian clergy periodical.

The reflections are mostly unsurprising to anyone familiar with Benedict’s thinking, but there are some intriguing nuggets along with some crude generalizations, and in his third part I see significant backing for Francis’ approach.

The first part, seeking the origins of the abuse crisis, restates Benedict’s well-known horror at the cultural and sexual “revolutions” in the West in the 1960s and their effects on the church. In linking this outbreak of permissiveness to sex abuse, he is on firm ground: The John Jay College of Criminal Justice reports of 2004 and 2011, commissioned by the U.S. bishops, locate the greatest frequency of abuse in the 1970s, coming down gradually in the 1980s. Virtually every other major study since shows the same.

What is the connection? Benedict blames a collapse in Catholic moral theology that left the church “defenseless” against these changes in wider society. This is not an attack on the theology of the Vatican II. Benedict notes approvingly that the Council had sought to root moral theology in Scripture rather than natural law, but he says that theologians never quite succeeded (at least at the time) in expressing a “systematic” morality capable of replacing the old natural-law edifice, and so the church ended up in a halfway house of morality needing to be determined by “the purposes of human action.”

Benedict blames a collapse in Catholic moral theology that left the church “defenseless” against changes in wider society. But this is not an attack on Vatican II.

That account is arguable, but again it sits well with the the John Jay study’s claim that pre-conciliar formation left clergy ill-prepared to deal with the sudden and open eroticization of relationships around them. Part of that eroticization was, as Benedict says, to destigmatize pedophilia. Again, he is right: It is quite astonishing to look back at 1970s television programs to find candid discussions about the legalization of sex with minors.

It is clear that Benedict believes passionately in the mission to root morality in the Gospel rather than any code of law because he concludes that first section by arguing that “the image of God and morality belong together and thus result in the particular change of the Christian attitude towards the world and human life.”

The way out of sex abuse, in other words, is not a restorationist return to natural-law moral codes but a deep-seated relationship with God. This is a point Benedict returns to in the third part of his article, when he speaks of the risk of theologians being “masters of faith” rather than “renewed by faith”—that is, considering God as an abstract idea rather than “presenting” God, or inviting people to know God.

The way out of sex abuse is not a restorationist return to natural-law moral codes but a deep-seated relationship with God.

The second part of the article, on the church’s evolving legal response to abuse, is also interesting. Rather than blame the lack of willingness to make use of canon law in the post-conciliar period, as he has often done in the past, he criticizes an imbalance in the law itself that he calls “guarantorism.” He argues that guarantorism caused canon law to guarantee the rights of the accused to such an extent that canonical convictions were practically impossible (which may be one reason few bishops had much faith in it).

In explaining why he persuaded St. John Paul II to allow his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to take over the handling of sexual abuse cases, he argues that canon law must not only protect the rights of the accused but also “protect the Faith, which is also an important legal asset.” In other words, the rights of the accused are not the only “good” being weighed in a case; there is also the faith of the church that is imperiled by abuse. He expresses frustration that people (canonists? bishops? he does not say) do not readily grasp this point.

Yet clearly this was part of the jurisprudential thinking that went into the motu proprio “Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela,” (2001), which established the reforms to canon law the then-Cardinal Ratzinger created under the Vatican’s chief prosecutor, Archbishop Charles Scicluna; this led to many hundreds of priests being tried and punished over the following decade. Benedict sees the same regime still in place today, and he salutes Francis’ reforms to bolster the process with more staff and swifter procedures.

Benedict warns against a ‘self-made church’

Benedict’s third part contains to me his most important—and helpful—suggestions. Noting how the crisis has led some to see the church “as something almost unacceptable, which we must now take into our own hands and redesign,” he warns that “a self-made Church cannot constitute hope.”

It seems obvious that this is a riposte to many of the right-wing responses to institutional failure that treat the church as a kind of renegade corporation needing a purge of bad employees under new management. This was the kind of thing called for last October by the Napa Institute and the “Red Hat Report,” inspired by the attack on Francis by Archbishop Viganò.

Benedict does not use the word, but Francis did recently on his return from Morocco, when he warned of “the church’s danger today of becoming Donatist, making human regulations that are necessary, but limiting ourselves to this and forgetting the other spiritual dimensions, prayer, penitence and self-accusation.” Francis similarly warned the U.S. bishops on the eve of their New Year’s retreat that “many actions can be helpful, good and necessary, and may even seem correct, but not all of them have the ‘flavor’ of the Gospel.”

Both the pope and the pope emeritus are at one in defending the freedom of the church to be redeemed by God’s mercy, and in opposing any attempt at neo-Donatist reform.

Is this not Benedict’s point, when he follows his master St. Augustine—who battled the Donatists of his day—in calling up Jesus’ descriptions of the church as a fishing net containing both good and bad, or a field in which both wheat and darnel grow?

It is essentially a Donatist temptation—one to which many followers of Archbishop Viganò succumb—to want to create a church of the pure, to see the church as irredeemably bad and needing to be replaced by “a better Church, created by ourselves,” in Benedict’s words. He describes this idea as “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.”

Rather, he writes, “the Church of God also exists today, and today it is the very instrument through which God saves us.” It persists in the “many people who humbly, believe, suffer and love, in whom the real God, the loving God, shows Himself to us.”

When I read this I could not help but think of Francis’ long speech to the clergy of Rome at the start of Lent, when he told them not to be discouraged by the scandals, how “the Lord is purifying his bride and is converting us all to himself…. He is saving us from hypocrisy, from the spirituality of appearances. He is blowing his Spirit to restore beauty to his bride caught in flagrant adultery.”

Surprise, surprise. Both the pope and the pope emeritus are at one in defending the freedom of the church to be redeemed by God’s mercy, and in opposing any attempt at neo-Donatist reform.

They are very different men, and very different popes. But on the fundamentals, there seems to be little distance between them. That is why it is not just courtesy for Benedict to sign off by thanking Francis “for everything he does to show us, again and again, the light of God, which has not disappeared, even today.”

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Stephen McCluskey
5 years 3 months ago

There's one passage in Benedict's essay where his authoritarian tendencies show through in a troubling way.
He notes with regret that the the right "to defense by way of guarantorism was extended to [accused theologians to] such an extent that convictions were hardly possible."
This concern with legalistic interference in the prosecution of dissenting theologians stands in sharp contrast with Pope Francis's repeated calls for parresia: openness and free discussion. This difference between the approaches of Francis and his predecessor seems fundamental to this reader.

Clement Wee
5 years 3 months ago

I think you got it wrong here. Benedict was arguing that the principle of guarantorism affected the prosecution of sex-abusers by making it impossible to convict them.

Perhaps the biggest issue is why dissenting theologians need to be treated with the same laws as paedophiles. Gurantorism makes sense for dissenting theologians; but not for something obviously problematic like sex-abuse.

Vincent Couling
5 years 3 months ago

Fr James Alison's insights are, as always, invaluable ... http://jamesalison.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Contribution-to-Larsen-Syndicate-Symposium.pdf

"It is this, as far as I can tell, that seems to be Francis’ policy amidst the upsurge of new awarenesses which are forming us: let it all come out. Let us spend time in shame, with all the different sorts of false sacred exposed as what they are. Let us not rush to hide our shame by being seen to be “doing something”, which will merely be decorative. Something in which we will still be operating out of the old clerical software. Let us instead allow ourselves to know as we are known.

I think this is the right response. And I can see why it is so infuriating to those for whom cosmetic change accompanied by the maintenance of doctrine as it is, is so important. For Francis’ response tacitly recognises that in a whole series of areas, the doctrine, the discipline, and the practice of the Church all together and in practical terms inseparably are part of a false sacred which is in collapse. Forgiveness looks like the coming to life of a living heart amidst the fragile remains of an idolatry that had, at one time, seemed so strong as to be invulnerable."

Floyd Grabiel
5 years 3 months ago

Were I a Priest, I would be appalled at what people might think of me as a result of reading the letter. How in the world, and why do ordinary clergy put up with the ridiculousness that comes out of Rome? The laity has given up on the Princes a long time ago.

Dave Bollinger
5 years 3 months ago

Austen Ivereigh's evaluation of Pope Benedict's essay, and indeed the Pope's essay itself are a further distraction from the horrors of the priest-bishop sex abuse scandal. I do not read, nor do I hear any sense of one's personal, Christian and Catholic responsibility to abide by the criminal and civil laws of the state. Indeed, it is chiefly the state that has acted as the catalyst for exposing the crimes of pedophile priests and bishops, such as the report of widespread, even systemic abuse in the Catholic Church, reported by the State of Pennsylvania. Today is another sad day for our Church as more humbug is published from clerics who cannot come down to earth, even as our Savior Christ did.

Dave Bollinger
5 years 3 months ago


Dave Bollinger
5 years 3 months ago


Stephen Pope
5 years 3 months ago

"Part of that eroticization was, as Benedict says, to destigmatize pedophilia. Again, he is right: It is quite astonishing to look back at 1970s television programs to find candid discussions about the legalization of sex with minors." The pope and the author are confusing pedophilia (sex with a pre-pubescent child) with sex with minors. This confuses matters.

Nora Bolcon
5 years 3 months ago

This to me is the weirdest part of this article. I was born in 65 and raised in the seventies what TV shows is he talking about? I was watching Get Smart, I Dream of Genie, All in the Family, and Mary Tyler Moore. What the heck was everybody else watching?

Pope Benedict has no business writing anything since he and Pope JP II were well aware of the abuse and did nothing but try and cover it up.

All he still seems to care about is keeping the old misogynistic ways intact. Someone should help him understand that if he had simply started ordaining women priests and bishops that he could have been hailed as the Pope who did the largest step towards ending abuse of our youth and nuns in the future. This is true because out of all the possible causes that may have caused our abuse crisis, our priority of sexism through continued unnecessary patriarchy is the only cause that can be proven with actual evidence to be a real and major factor.

Not surprisingly Pope Benedict would rather try to blame the sexual revolution.

The sexual revolution didn't cause the sex abuse problem. It is probably why the abuse finally came to the surface after centuries of staying hidden. Anyone who thinks this abuse is new to the last one hundred years is living in a fantasy. People just didn't talk about sex abuse or sex in general before the sexual revolution.

We have no idea how much sex abuse has happened in the 80s, 90s, and after because people often don't open up about such abuse until they are in their thirties or older.

Sexism is directly and provably linked to pedophilia, teen sexual abuse and the abuse of women (such as we are hearing about with our raped nuns that none of the three latest Pope's have dealt with at all, except Pope Francis, and by allowing the newspaper that blew the whistle on the abuse of nuns be destroyed.)

Sexism is the main and absolutely necessary ingredient required to keep clericalism alive in our church.

Demand an end to the anti gospel, patriarchal leadership style currently governing our church and we will see finally a far more authentic and deeply gospel based church. Jesus commanded we treat all the same and condemn no one. You can't do this and exclude half the church's members from having same voice, vote, and sacramental rights from birth.

Keep the sexism and we will keep the pedophilia and rape culture. These two evils have always traveled together throughout history. So the question is how much do we hate women, and how much abuse of our children are we willing to ignore to continue the culture of misogynistic patriarchy?

There is NO evidence supporting the belief that mandated celibacy or homosexuality causes pedophilia or sexual abuse of teens or women - none!
Married men sexually abuse both children and women more than single men.
The solution to our crisis is obvious unless the eyes of one's heart are closed by bias and hatred against women.

John Mack
5 years 3 months ago

How can Vartican II be blamed for the sex abuse phenomena among Catholic clergy? That Council started in 1962 and ended in 1965. Sex abuse was rampant among Catholic clergy way before Vatican II.

Chris Dorf
5 years 3 months ago

Secular media is all over this spinning the narrative as a contradiction of Pope Benedict. Who woulda thought... :-(
...and...Nobody is denying the abuses occurred by clergy. The question is, is the abuse occurring NOW? Or has it been virtually stopped?
The statistics of how much sexual abuse is ongoing in the secular world NOW is tremendous and must be stopped.
Every 92 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.
And every 9 minutes, that victim is a child.
1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
1 in 5 children are sexually solicited while on the internet.
Most child victims never report the abuse.
30-40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by family members.
More than 90% of children who are sexually abused know their abusers. This means fewer than 10% of abusers are strangers.
More than 80% of sexual abuse cases occur in one-adult/one-child situations.
People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy to gain access to children.

...only 5 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.

Robert Lewis
5 years 3 months ago

Thanks very much for putting a good perspective on all of this, but I just want to ask one question rhetorically: since what you write is true, doesn't that mean that it is the responsibility and duty, as Francis--far more than Benedict, or Vigano et.al. have said--of the whole Church to do penance for what has happened and accept responsibility for it, in that so many of us have stood by, turning a blind eye to what was transpiring, neglecting what was right under our noses, and claimed, like the execrable Rod Dreher, that blowing the whistle on it would have meant losing our jobs, or losing our promotions, or being sued, or losing our status as members of an increasingly degenerate and dysfunctional "Body of Christ"? Instead of doing that, "Traditionalist" and Biblical fundamentalist critics of Francis's papacy (among whom I do NOT count Benedict XVI Ratzinger--just his reactionary fans) seem to want to use this crisis to oppose the present Pope's attempts to evangelize in what that execrable Dreher calls "liquid modernity" (forgetting that "liquid modernity" is where so many of perforcedly live).

John Mack
5 years 3 months ago

I remember, in the late 60's, a vapid but immensely popular book entitled "The Greening of America." The author boasted in public that fathers were bringing their 12 year old boys to him for sex, so heroic he had become. No one seemed to have a problem with this. So it's a little understandable pederasty became so wide spread in the church and in America in general.

Phillip Stone
5 years 3 months ago

" 'The Sorcerer of Bolinas Reef' was a revealing, though painfully frank, memoir of Reich's transformation from young Washington lawyer to middle-aged spokesperson for the new consciousness. In describing his personal liberation, the hypersensitive Reich recounts how, as a 43-year-old virgin, he had his first sexual encounter with a young male prostitute." From a review 35 years later.

Just another letter from Screwtape at the time.

Phillip Stone
5 years 3 months ago

The headlines which first out were vicious distortions and completely misrepresented the content of his missive.

Joseph Ratzinger has not lost any of his intellect however feeble his aged body is these days.
I could not find a single idea in the message which I would disagree with in any serious way.
Summarised, it was a perfect storm brought about by a combination of forces and influences; defects in the institutions and the individual Catholics including myself alive at the time and forces unleashed and at large in the wide, wide world.
We were all formed by the biased and aborted Vatican ONE Council.

Dennis Doyle
5 years 3 months ago

Tell me if I am misunderstanding Pope Benedict’s trifecta.
The issue at hand is the Bishop/ priest sex abuse crisis best chronicled to date by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury and the reports on Cardinal McCarrick all revealed through civil investigations, Benedict sought and received while in charge of the Congregation of Faith jurisdiction over the sex abuse crisis. Based on what we know now, it is fair to say the Congregation had little concern for accountability , transparency or the victims .
This of course is emphasized by Benedict now saying that the abuse crisis was more than the criminality of the perpetrators and the cover ups, it was also about protecting the “ Faith” and the Church” .
There you have it . Protecting the Church . The institution. Not the People oh God,
All of this talk about not remaking the Church in your own self image or what you think it should be is a cute way of saying the women and laity ought to stay out of the Church. Leave the Church alone. Which means let the the ordained males continue to run it
If I was Benedict I hope I would be a little more humble that so much bad stuff happened while I was in charge. What Benedict does not talk about is the damage his ilk has done to the Church. The foundation of the Church is built around the seven sacraments that only the male ordained can administer.
We now know we had criminals ( the Bishops engaged in active cover up and moving pedophile priests around) ordaining men who were or who became abusers. Now this collection of men were the administers of the sacraments that you and I received. Do you believe that the pedophile priest who raped a child on Saturday night was given the miraculous power on Sunday morning to convert bread and wine into the body and blood of your Savior.? Doesn't Benedict understand that in order to convince people of the spiritual value of the sacraments it requires a leap of faith. That in order to make that leap one has to believe in the authenticity and goodness of those that administer ? Does he realize that the present opt out of practicing Catholicism by youth correlates with their non acceptance of the miraculous powers of the ordained to administer the sacraments. And their decision is influenced by grand jury reports establishing the sacramental administers were criminals. The Church exists to bring people to God and His Son. There is no other purpose. It does not exist for itself, it’s ecclesiastical leaders,, but only for the People of God seeking God. It would seem axiomatic that one should see God in the Church , not what I read in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report.
Do you believe that absent a complete reformation of the Church it has any Godly reason to exist?

arthur mccaffrey
5 years 3 months ago

" no women or laity need apply".....you got that right DD. Bennie16 wants to keep the Church intact as the only representative of Christ--he even issued a document during his papacy that said that all the other Christian churches were "not really Churches"--since they lacked a) a consecrated priesthood, b) an apostolic tradition, and c) a Pope! See where that got us--abusive clergy and complicit criminal bishops. Bennie always wanted a smaller purer church, with no lay input, which just further contributed to the passive role for Catholics of "pray-pay-obey". And now he does not want us to remake RCC but somehow trust in the Lord that all the bad fish and weeds will be thrown out and we will have a nice "green" institution uncontaminated by the laity. Hope he enjoys the solltude he will find in that empty church. Bennie's biggest delusion is still thinking that this man made institution is still the best way to experience God. Sorry Bennie, time to wake up.

Mark Schenk
5 years 3 months ago

Since you asked, yes, I think you have misunderstood at least part of what Benedict wrote. "Protecting the faith" does not equal "protecting the Church". He wanted to move the prosecution of crimes of abuse against minors from the Congregation of the Clergy to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith precisely so there would be MORE accountability for these crimes, not less. It is true that the CDF was also ineffective in prosecuting these crimes, but much of that was due to understaffing and an inflexible code of law, neither of which were his responsibility.
And could we please drop this trope that if only we had had women and married priests and bishops, none of this would have happened. There are abundant examples of women and married men abusing minors, and of others covering up for them. There is no convincing evidence that it would have saved us from this mess.

sheila gray
5 years 3 months ago

This letter, in my opinion, or how it “hit me” as a Survivor, is a slap in the face of Truth in many ways. It could take us back 20 years if we allow it to divert ourselves from the real conversation we must have. That conversation begins with the premise that the Catholic Church has failed clergy abuse survivors on every level imaginable. This man, who many apparently revere, should be required to listen in silence to the millions of voices worldwide demanding Justice. He, and his followers, are living in a dreamworld. The house is burning, folks. It’s time to get very real. We don’t need you. But you need us. So grow up. Pope Benedict oversaw a massive cover up, and he dares to do this? I am enraged. I am demanding an apology, in the name of my sisters and brothers worldwide who were abused by priests and nuns and bishops and mother superiors, etc. for at least the last half century. This is outrageous!!!

Vince Killoran
5 years 3 months ago

When a pope retires, he should stay retired. It is difficult to take Austen Ivereigh assessment seriously. The author supports his claim that there was a large-scale effort to legitimate pedophilia in the 1970s with a two-minute You Tube clip (that does not, in fact, prove his raw self-assertion). For goodness sake, use the libraries at Oxford and do some scholarly research!

As for the notion that the majority of cases occurring in the 1960s and 70s, the conclusion that priests’ behavior was influenced by and reflected turmoil in American culture during the 1960s and 1970s has been called into question, or at least qualified, say experts, given revelations of similar widespread scandals in the United Kingdom and several European countries. The dimensions of the scandal in those countries surfaced, at a point when the John Jay researchers were concluding research on the U.S. church. Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle notes that, since the 2004 Jay Study a large number of elderly Catholics have come forward with abuse charges that pre-date the so-called "sexual revolution."

JR Cosgrove
5 years 3 months ago

It is interesting that people are focussing on the sex abuse when this is an issue of the past. Not in terms of who is responsible but in actually instances it is mainly over.

I find the other things covered in the essay as much more important but it is getting almost no consideration. Benedict is mainly discussing the very foundation of the Church and not the abuse issue.

Dave Bollinger
5 years 3 months ago

@jcosgrove: Is the abuse "over" as you say for those who were raped, or their children, their grandchildren? For those of us in the pews? Not hardly.

sheila gray
5 years 3 months ago

Thank you, Dave. I believe a possible way forward for survivors and “the people in the pews” is a brand new fellowship which may or may not involve the clergy. As a survivor, I have been in a Catholic Church very rarely since the pieces of the puzzle came together for me in 1990. Just the smell of incense walking by the open doors of a Catholic Church on Sundays in Long Beach, CA makes me nauseous. I believe we need to come together, survivors and “the faithful”, in our local communities and talk, talk, talk, cry, cry, cry, laugh, laugh, laugh, and maybe pray, pray, pray together again... what a wonderful dream. We can make this dream come true, together. What unfortunately happened to victims is that we were forced to suffer the abuser’s fate, had we been believed: banishment, shaming, disenfranchisement, poverty, loneliness, despair, etc. We can come together and heal... now

Dave Bollinger
5 years 3 months ago

Thank you, Sheila. May the Lord give you abundant blessings this Holy Week and Easter.

Dave Bollinger
5 years 3 months ago

The timing of Benedict's missive is like a grenade for those who seek revolutionary change to the horror of priest-bishop sex crimes this Holy Week 2019 AD.

Lach Satsuma
5 years 3 months ago

Whatever "learnt" neo-modernistic commentators say, the analysis of the Church situation and its causes is sternly different from the one presented to us by the Vatican's present neo-modernistic "administaration" - which keeps the hierarchical homolobby and adultery supporters as authorities in the Church of "souls dying out". It's true that we all are sinners, but all be held responsible by God, and not the World, according to the gifts...And first of all, the post-Vatican hierarchy and mass media which have supported and coerced ordinary faithful to welcome the public and notorious liberalists, homosexuals and adulterers into the Church.

Dave Bollinger
5 years 3 months ago

@lachsatsuma The Roman Catholic Church welcomes everyone, including those who shame and condemn other people.

Lisa M
5 years 3 months ago

Excellent article. Thank you.

J. Calpezzo
5 years 3 months ago

Of course it is an attack on Francis, and the musing of a senile old man who seems to have forgotten that it was HE and and JPII who are most responsible for the clergy abuse crisis in the church. Francis never should have allowed the letter to be sent, should not allow Benedict to wear white nor retain the title of Pope Emeritus. It should be Bishop of Rome Emeritus...at best. The decades long cover-up of the crime of the century by JPII and Benedict is also the scandal of the century. To think that both did not know about McCarrick during their decades in power (and make no mistake about it, they loved the power) is an insult to any thinking Catholic. It's time for the Magesterium of the People.

William Barlak
5 years 3 months ago

As someone old enough to have witnessed it, Pope Benedict’s idea that sexual revolution of the late 60’s is to blame for the Church’s sexual abuse crisis is just plain silly. The sexual revolution was spawned by the wide-spread availability and use of the oral contraceptive which disconnected heterosexual passion from its natural consequences, whereas the sexual abuse crisis is, at its core, the failure of the institutional Church, that is, cardinal and bishops, to effectively deal with sexual crimes committed by priests. The two are not connected. In fact, your story’s paragraph about the John Jay Report’s finding that most of the abuse occurred before the sexual revolution supports this conclusion. It appears Benedict is using the abuse crisis to point the finger at those who object to his writings and his interpretation of Vatican II. Someone should bell Benedict the abuse crisis is not about him.

William Barlak

Mark Schenk
5 years 3 months ago

"... most of the abuse occurred before the sexual revolution ...." How do you come to that conclusion? The John Jay Report states that the greatest incidence of sexual abuse was in the 70's. The sexual revolution began in earnest in the 60's, perhaps even the 50's.
I am also old enough to have lived through that period, and I am firmly of the opinion that the sexual revolution did play a part in convincing people, including clergy and religious, to think that sex with minors was normal.

Don Killgallon
5 years 3 months ago

Mark is correct. The ready availability of pornography (via internet, in privacy) during the 70's implicitly promoted sexual license, subliminally communicated that sexual activity of all kinds (many previously seen as not just sinful, but disgraceful) was okay. Priests are human. Some of them--but thankfully a small minority--became what I like to think of as "prodigal priests," who, like the prodigal son, have repented and were forgiven by a merciful God. Let's take a page from that book--the Bible.

Dave Bollinger
5 years 3 months ago

Mark, it is nonsense to believe that the so called, "sexual revolution" of the 1970's enticed clergy to rape children. Many clergy and religious did not rape children. I lived through that era. Counter-culture Catholics and other people of faith were intent on stopping the immoral war in Viet Nam.

Child rape by clergy has been with humanity for ages and ages. The contributions of greater openness in the 1960's-1970's may have led to more victims of rape reporting the crime and the criminal priest/bishop to civil authorities and a few other bishops who cared. The "revolutionary" aspect of the period in question helped to press for civil right for African Americans, Women and other minorities. The war in Indo-China did end as many of us sought transparency in our government and an end to the killing.

If there is a time to look back upon in our future, regarding the proliferation of pornography, it will be the current time as the internet allows anyone full access to the most vulgar forms of child pornography, violence and torture. If your thesis is correct, Mark, clergy (of all denominations), teachers, administrators, coaches, child caregivers and others in authority over children should be observed most carefully...now.

Tatiana Durbak
5 years 3 months ago

This piece ought to be used by lit professors everywhere of how it is possible to read one's own views into the work of someone else.
While I admire Mr. Ivereigh's efforts to assure all that Benedict's motives in writing his letter were absolutely pure, I do not admire this attempt to mask the rank intellectual dishonesty on Benedict's letter.

Nicholas Mangieri
5 years 3 months ago

The Pope's letter is a good example of what went wrong. First, protect the church. Second, cast blame everywhere, but protect the church. Third, the church will investigate and prosecute it's own instead of turning to the secular authorities to investigate and prosecute a secular crime, what better way to protect the church.

John Michael Szul
5 years 3 months ago

Hi. There is the sex abuse. Then there is the cover-up, and the attempts to avoid "scandal". With all due respect, Pope Benedict's comments are disappointing.

Charles Erlinger
5 years 3 months ago

There are some surprising aspects to Benedict XVI’s letter. I am referring to his version of the historical development of the problem of pedophilia in general.

His emphasis is on the 20 year period 1960-1980 as marking a clear chronological delineation in the collapse of previously normative standards. This should certainly be challenged. First, pedophilia is essentially and fundamentally a pagan practice which depended (and depends today) on an asymmetric power relationship between the abuser and the abused. In recorded classical history, the flourishing of this practice has often depended completely on institutionalized slavery. Its social acceptance derived directly from the power position of those who indulged in it.

Benedict XVI asserted that: “Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of 1968 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.”

This assertion may be factual as far as it goes, but it leaves out most of the historical development of the phenomenon that he is commenting on.

I agree with those who implicate the often baseless exaltation, in terms of character attribution, to various power levels of office-holders in the Church. This baseless exaltation we commonly call clericalism. The available evidence about how the scandalous practitioners thrived seems to point to adroit manipulation of their relative power positions with respect to the victims. In addition, elaborate deceits seem often to have been constructed, both to shield the offenders and to aid in the manipulation. Both of these skills are straight out of ancient pagan operating practices. Read the epic poems of pagans. You will find “wiliness” and “deception” to be among the attributes of the heroes.

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