Pope emeritus Benedict XVI: “The Church and the Scandal of Sex Abuse”: A Protestant response (2)
One week ago, a letter written by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI was released in English translation by a number of sources. The letter concerned the Roman Catholic Church’s ongoing sodomitic abuse and rape crisis which had led Pope Francis to call a Vatican conference of the world’s bishops from February 21 to 24, 2019. Benedict’s letter was written as a response to this meeting, as he explains below.
Benedict’s letter has three sections and I will be commenting on each of the sections in separate posts. This is the second post dealing with the second section of Benedict’s letter.
I’ve always had much respect for Joseph Ratzinger starting long before his election to the Papal Throne. Much he says here is noteworthy. My thoughts are in italics. -TB
The Church and the Scandal of Sex Abuse
by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI
(Translation released April 10, 2019 by “Catholic News Agency”)
Initial Ecclesial Reactions
(1) The long-prepared and ongoing process of dissolution of the Christian concept of morality was, as I have tried to show, marked by an unprecedented radicalism in the 1960s. This dissolution of the moral teaching authority of the Church necessarily had to have an effect on the diverse areas of the Church. In the context of the meeting of the presidents of the episcopal conferences from all over the world with Pope Francis, the question of priestly life, as well as that of seminaries, is of particular interest. As regards the problem of preparation for priestly ministry in seminaries, there is in fact a far-reaching breakdown of the previous form of this preparation.
TB: First, since when do we preach “the Christian concept of morality?” Is this a comparative religion text? Why not speak of God’s creation of Adam and Eve and the many places God Himself has declared His laws concerning sex in His Word? You know, the sort of witness the Apostle Paul had in the Areopagus there in Athens when he declared that in the Only True God “we [all men] live and move and have our being?” It would be fair to say the Apostle Paul never preached any “Christian concept” of anything anywhere.
But this is the way of Roman Catholics; they’re very concerned to show God reasonable and self-effacing to His world. But actually, it’s always themselves they are showing reasonable and self-effacing because…
Note Benedict putting “dissolution of the Christian concept of morality” in parallel construction with “dissolution of the moral teaching authority of the (Roman Catholic) Church.” It’s always his own church he is concerned about. And to him, it isn’t this or that church, but always “the Church.”
In various seminaries homosexual cliques were established, which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries. In one seminary in southern Germany, candidates for the priesthood and candidates for the lay ministry of the pastoral specialist [Pastoralreferent] lived together. At the common meals, seminarians and pastoral specialists ate together, the married among the laymen sometimes accompanied by their wives and children, and on occasion by their girlfriends. The climate in this seminary could not provide support for preparation to the priestly vocation. The Holy See knew of such problems, without being informed precisely. As a first step, an Apostolic Visitation was arranged of seminaries in the United States.
TB: In seminaries, “homosexual cliques …acted more or less openly.” This is a damning admission when one recalls Benedict is the immediate past pope who held the position of supreme episcopal authority in his denomination eight years, from 2005-2013. Appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith way back in 1981, he was also Dean of the College of Cardinals from 2002-2005. In other words, for a quarter-century, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was the second highest authority in the Roman Catholic Church, so he has no one to blame but himself. Harsh words, I know, but what is the use of serving in an episcopal form of ecclesiastical authority if that authority isn’t used to shut down sodomitic cliques controlling the institutions responsible for training parish shepherds?
Note Benedict’s use of the mincing phrase “changing the climate” to describe the influence these cliques had in his seminaries. Note also this careful sentence meant to absolve his predecessor, John Paul, of any responsibility: “The Holy See knew of such problems, without being informed precisely.”
As the criteria for the selection and appointment of bishops had also been changed after the Second Vatican Council, the relationship of bishops to their seminaries was very different, too. Above all, a criterion for the appointment of new bishops was now their “conciliarity,” which of course could be understood to mean rather different things.
Indeed, in many parts of the Church, conciliar attitudes 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. One bishop, who had previously been seminary rector, had arranged for the seminarians to be shown pornographic films, allegedly with the intention of thus making them resistant to behavior contrary to the faith.
TB: Sadly true. Yet has not Benedict himself shown his facility with the posture and vocabulary of conciliation? Take, for instance, his “Christian concept of morality.” Then the pornographic films (plural): they are arranged by a bishop, but apparently the archbishop, cardinals, and Pope didn’t know? It strains one’s credulity.
There were — not only in the United States of America — individual bishops who rejected the Catholic tradition as a whole and sought to bring about a kind of new, modern “Catholicity” in their dioceses. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that in not a few seminaries, students caught reading my books were considered unsuitable for the priesthood. My books were hidden away, like bad literature, and only read under the desk.
TB: “My books” are contemporaneous with the “pornographic films” being arranged by a bishop. Benedict has written sixty-eight books, all but four of them since he was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. What is the nature of this office he held in the Vatican for a quarter-century?
Formerly titled, the “Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition,” this congregation exists to defend Roman Catholic doctrine. Would we not expect their inquisitions to begin within their own denomination; and within their own denomination, within their own teaching institutions; and within their own teaching institutions, within their own seminaries? Much as I respect Benedict, I cannot read this history as anything other than damning of his exercise of Roman Catholic authority second to none other than the Pope for twenty-five years.
Yet maybe there is a simple explanation. A man in such a position knowing of such horrors across his denomination may convince himself the way to correct the wrongs would be to bide his time while being careful not to alienate the cardinals who might soon elect him Pope. Then he could take action.
But of course, while biding his time, he made his bed so that, when he was elected Pope, he had to sleep in it. This is the age-old history of ecclesiastical politics. At their best. Real reformers of Christ’s Bride are usually defrocked and excommunicated. Take Machen as an example.
The Visitation that now took place brought no new insights, apparently because various powers had joined forces to conceal the true situation. A second Visitation was ordered and brought considerably more insights, but on the whole failed to achieve any outcomes. Nonetheless, since the 1970s the situation in seminaries has generally improved. And yet, only isolated cases of a new strengthening of priestly vocations came about as the overall situation had taken a different turn.
TB: Seminarians reading his books were persecuted, but then “since the 1970s the situation in seminaries has generally improved.” He can’t have it both ways, and having spent thirty-five years reading conservative Roman Catholic periodicals published here in North America, I can declare with full confidence that everyone knew the seminaries here were controlled by what many referred to in print as “the homosexual mafia.”
(2) The question of pedophilia, as I recall, did not become acute until the second half of the 1980s. In the meantime, it had already become a public issue in the U.S., such that the bishops in Rome sought help, since canon law, as it is written in the new (1983) Code, did not seem sufficient for taking the necessary measures.
TB: This admission is sickening. First, his label for priests sodomizing little boys is “the question of pedophilia.” Clinical, isn’t it? Then that hedge phrase, “as I recall.” Then the revelation that, although priestly sodomitic rape of boys didn’t “become acute” until the late 1980s, it had “already become a public issue in the U.S.”
Keep in mind Benedict is speaking here of the years he was serving as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as you read him saying his own “canon law …did not seem sufficient for taking the necessary measures” to stop his priests’ sodomitic rape of boys. He moves on into discussion of the terrible difficulties he and his fellow “Roman canonists” ran into as they tried to discipline these horrors:
Rome and the Roman canonists at first had difficulty with these concerns; in their opinion the temporary suspension from priestly office had to be sufficient to bring about purification and clarification. This could not be accepted by the American bishops, because the priests thus remained in the service of the bishop, and thereby could be taken to be [still] directly associated with him. Only slowly, a renewal and deepening of the deliberately loosely constructed criminal law of the new Code began to take shape.
TB: “Temporary suspension.” Does that not say it all? The discipline for sodomitic rape of altar boys is the temporary loss of one’s authority to administer the Mass.
Then the talk of the interrelationship of denominational authorities compounded by the weakness of the “new Code” coalesce to provide even more absolution of… Whom? Reminding oneself again of the position he held, the one being absolved is Benedict himself.
In addition, however, there was a fundamental problem in the perception of criminal law. Only so-called guarantorism, [a kind of procedural protectionism], was still regarded as “conciliar.” This means that above all the rights of the accused had to be guaranteed, to an extent that factually excluded any conviction at all. As a counterweight against the often-inadequate defense options available to accused theologians, their right to defense by way of guarantorism was extended to such an extent that convictions were hardly possible.
TB: Twice in the paragraph above, we have the number two authority over the Roman Catholic Church, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, admitting that the authorities of his denomination were not able to find priests who had sodomized altar boys guilty of their crimes. There were no “conviction(s) at all” and “convictions were hardly possible.”
Allow me a brief excursus at this point. In light of the scale of pedophilic misconduct, a word of Jesus has again come to attention which says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
TB: Benedict brings this up now, almost forty years later. And this is merely “a brief excursus” we are asked to “allow” him—these most sober words of our Lord and Master.
The phrase “the little ones” in the language of Jesus means the common believers who can be confounded in their faith by the intellectual arrogance of those who think they are clever. So here Jesus protects the deposit of the faith with an emphatic threat of punishment to those who do it harm.
TB: Benedict has been discussing the sodomitic rape of little boys, but here those children become “common believers” and their sodomitic rape turns into being “confounded in their faith” and suffering “harm” to the “deposit of faith.”
The modern use of the sentence is not in itself wrong, but it must not obscure the original meaning. In that meaning, it becomes clear, contrary to any guarantorism, that it is not only the right of the accused that is important and requires a guarantee. Great goods such as the Faith are equally important.
TB: “Not only the right of the accused” is the way Benedict struggles to avoid saying “victims.”
A balanced canon law that corresponds to the whole of Jesus’ message must therefore not only provide a guarantee for the accused, the respect for whom is a legal good. It must also protect the Faith, which is also an important legal asset. A properly formed canon law must therefore contain a double guarantee — legal protection of the accused, legal protection of the good at stake. If today one puts forward this inherently clear conception, one generally falls on deaf ears when it comes to the question of the protection of the Faith as a legal good. In the general awareness of the law, the Faith no longer appears to have the rank of a good requiring protection. This is an alarming situation which must be considered and taken seriously by the pastors of the Church.
TB: Benedict still can’t bring himself to say “victims,” let alone “little children raped by our priests.” Then note on the one hand we have “the accused” while on the other we have “the Faith.” This “Faith” serves as a sort of placeholder for the suffering of victims of priestly abuse and rape. Next sentence, on the one hand we again have “the accused” while on the other we have “the good at stake.”
I would now like to add, to the brief notes on the situation of priestly formation at the time of the public outbreak of the crisis, a few remarks regarding the development of canon law in this matter.
In principle, the Congregation of the Clergy is responsible for dealing with crimes committed by priests. But since guarantorism dominated the situation to a large extent at the time, I agreed with Pope John Paul II that it was appropriate to assign the competence for these offences to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the title Delicta maiora contra fidem.
TB: Here Benedict explains why his focus is on guarding “the Faith” rather than any victims. John Paul transferred the matter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of “the Faith.” But really, does this technicality of Roman Catholic polity and process justify his inability to speak of the suffering of the children, his priests’ victims? It all seems so heartless and cruel.
This arrangement also made it possible to impose the maximum penalty, i.e., expulsion from the clergy, which could not have been imposed under other legal provisions. This was not a trick to be able to impose the maximum penalty, but is a consequence of the importance of the Faith for the Church. In fact, it is important to see that such misconduct by clerics ultimately damages the Faith.
TB: The reader can’t help but note and grieve over the surgical sterility of the discussion. Priestly rape of children becomes “misconduct” that “ultimately damages the Faith.”
Only where faith no longer determines the actions of man are such offenses possible.
The severity of the punishment, however, also presupposes a clear proof of the offense — this aspect of guarantorism remains in force.
TB: The reader can only hear more excuses even though admissions towards the horror of it all appear here and there.
In other words, in order to impose the maximum penalty lawfully, a genuine criminal process is required. But both the dioceses and the Holy See were overwhelmed by such a requirement. We therefore formulated a minimum level of criminal proceedings and left open the possibility that the Holy See itself would take over the trial where the diocese or the metropolitan administration is unable to do so. In each case, the trial would have to be reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in order to guarantee the rights of the accused. Finally, in the Feria IV (i.e., the assembly of the members of the Congregation), we established an appeal instance in order to provide for the possibility of an appeal.
TB: Poor men, “overwhelmed” by their own laws, procedures, and processes. Why even the Holy See Itself! Then this undertaken to compensate for that procedural limitation in those circumstances where that could not be accomplished because of this aspect of metropolitan administration applicable in these instances.
Because all of this actually went beyond the capacities of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and because delays arose which had to be prevented owing to the nature of the matter, Pope Francis has undertaken further reforms.
TB: “All this… went beyond the capacities of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” Said Congregation led for a quarter-century by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, himself the author of this exoneration.
Translated by Anian Christoph Wimmer.
Quotes from Scripture use Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE).