Pope emeritus Benedict XVI: “The Church and the Scandal of Sex Abuse”: A Protestant response (3)

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI: “The Church and the Scandal of Sex Abuse”: A Protestant response (3)

(Third in a series. First here and second, here.)

A little over a week ago, now, 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 with this third post I complete commenting on each of the sections. This final post is a response to the third and final 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

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The Church and the Scandal of Sex Abuse

by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI

(Translation released April 10, 2019 by “Catholic News Agency”)

SECTION III


(1) What must be done? Perhaps we should create another Church for things to work out? Well, that experiment has already been undertaken and has already failed. Only obedience and love for our Lord Jesus Christ can point the way. So let us first try to understand anew and from within [ourselves] what the Lord wants, and has wanted with us.

TB: Too true. When the Roman Catholic Church split off from the true Church at the Council of Trent, their experiment failed spectacularly. So why doesn’t Benedict admit it and call Francis and his fellow Roman Catholic ecclesiastics to join him in returning to the Mother Church—She who has been faithfully united across all ages and peoples now differentiated from Rome’s apostate experiment by the name “Protestantism?”

Also, I’m more comfortable with “the Lord commands” and less with “the Lord wants.”

First, I would suggest the following: If we really wanted to summarize very briefly the content of the Faith as laid down in the Bible, we might do so by saying that 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. He who entrusts himself to the love of God is redeemed. Our being not redeemed is a consequence of our inability to love God. Learning to love God is therefore the path of human redemption.

TB: That’s a good statement, “the faith as laid down in the Bible.” But then the misty vapor of their infusion heresy obliterates any of the objectivity of doctrine we thought we were going to get. Evil and damnation are merely the absence of entering into the narrative of love (and all that). The love of God and of neighbor are no cloying sentiments that allow us to avoid hard-edged condemnations of sodomitic priestly rape. The reader finds himself wanting to go along with all this talk of love, but it leaves one feeling like we’ve eaten cotton candy and now our hands are sticky.

And again, better the Lord “commands” than the Lord “wants.”

Let us now try to unpack this essential content of God’s revelation a little more. We might then say that the first fundamental gift that Faith offers us is the certainty that God exists.

TB: We’re two-thirds through this letter responding to an epidemic of sodomitic priestly abuse of children, but we haven’t gotten past the language of “unpacking” “gifts” and “offerings.”

A world without God can only be a world without meaning. For where, then, does everything that is come from? In any case, it has no spiritual purpose. It is somehow simply there and has neither any goal nor any sense. Then there are no standards of good or evil. Then only what is stronger than the other can assert itself. Power is then the only principle. Truth does not count, it actually does not exist. Only if things have a spiritual reason, are intended and conceived — only if there is a Creator God who is good and wants the good — can the life of man also have meaning.

TB: Are we to understand that the cause of his own priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals sexual molesting their altar boys and helping to cover it up is that his priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals think they occupy a “world without God,” a “world without meaning,” a world that “has no spiritual purpose” with neither “goal nor any sense;” and consequently that his own priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals think truth neither matters nor exists, and might makes right?

It this an evangelistic tract written for the priests who abused the little boys?

That there is God as creator and as the measure of all things is first and foremost a primordial need.

TB: “Primordial need?” So very many tender and solicitous words absolutely opposite to our Savior’s warning, “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). Maybe Benedict knows something our Lord didn’t know about the best way of speaking to priests who rape little boys?

But a God who would not express Himself at all, who would not make Himself known, would remain a presumption and could thus not determine the form [Gestalt] of our life. For God to be really God in this deliberate creation, we must look to Him to express Himself in some way. He has done so in many ways, but decisively in the call that went to Abraham and gave people in search of God the orientation that leads beyond all expectation: God Himself becomes creature, speaks as man with us human beings.

TB: How is it that Roman Catholic ecclesiastics so excel in rendering Christian truths underwhelming? It seems to be their specialty.

“Express Himself in some way?” It embarrasses me to ask the question, but does Benedict think he’s saying something? If his goal is communication, what man speaks thusly? Going cross-eyed as I try to follow Benedict’s verbiage, I find myself wondering if it is my stupidity, impenetrable stolidity, or spiritual lethargy that is to blame?

In this way the sentence “God is” ultimately turns into a truly joyous message, precisely because He is more than understanding, because He creates – and is – love. To once more make people aware of this is the first and fundamental task entrusted to us by the Lord.

TB: We’re talking about his priests raping little boys on his watch, right? Are we missing something, here?

A society without God — a society that does not know Him and treats Him as non-existent — is a society that loses its measure. In our day, the catchphrase of God’s death was coined. When God does die in a society, it becomes free, we were assured. In reality, the death of God in a society also means the end of freedom, because what dies is the purpose that provides orientation. And because the compass disappears that points us in the right direction by teaching us to distinguish good from evil. Western society is a society in which God is absent in the public sphere and has nothing left to offer it. And that is why it is a society in which the measure of humanity is increasingly lost. At individual points it becomes suddenly apparent that what is evil and destroys man has become a matter of course.

TB: Why has most of this letter waxed transcendentalish in its focus on “society?” Is there no crisis needing to be addressed here and now? Has the time for urgency passed?

That is the case with pedophilia. It was theorized only a short time ago as quite legitimate, but it has spread further and further. And now we realize with shock that things are happening to our children and young people that threaten to destroy them. The fact that this could also spread in the Church and among priests ought to disturb us in particular.

TB: Here we find ourselves hoping that, finally, Benedict will bring himself back to the horrific topic at hand. Yet after the nasty word “pedophilia” is uttered, immediately we get caught in cobwebs of sentences so flaccid and weak it begins to dawn on the readers why this epidemic ran on for decades, unabated, in this man’s church, under his watch. The “spread [of] pedophilia… ought to disturb us in particular.”

Ought to.

Disturb.

Us.

In particular.

Having plowed through the gobbledygook thus far, with the exception of Jesus’ warning, nothing Benedict has written fits the crime.

Why did pedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God. We Christians and priests also prefer not to talk about God, because this speech does not seem to be practical. After the upheaval of the Second World War, we in Germany had still expressly placed our Constitution under the responsibility to God as a guiding principle. Half a century later, it was no longer possible to include responsibility to God as a guiding principle in the European constitution. God is regarded as the party concern of a small group and can no longer stand as the guiding principle for the community as a whole. This decision reflects the situation in the West, where God has become the private affair of a minority.

TB: “Pedophilia” doesn’t “reach such proportions?”

Pedophilia isn’t an agent who acting on its own. Priests commit pedophilia. Benedict ought not obscure their agency.

Similarly, it wasn’t “the absence of God.” God is not absent. He can’t be. What Benedict obscures with his language is that his priests stopped talking about God, turned away from Him, and thus felt free to commit pedophilia.

Then Benedict reverts to the larger culture, trotting out Germany, the Second World War, the “European constitution,” and “the community as a whole.” Once more Benedict presents his own church and her priests as victims of a broader movement, a tide that carried them on helpless to protest or resist the growing pedophilic degradation.

A paramount task, which must result from the moral upheavals of our time, is that we ourselves once again begin to live by God and unto Him. Above all, we ourselves must learn again to recognize God as the foundation of our life instead of leaving Him aside as a somehow ineffective phrase. I will never forget the warning that the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar once wrote to me on one of his letter cards. “Do not presuppose the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but present them!”

TB: Sorry, but I can’t help it. About this time John Lennon starts singing in my head: “All we need is love, love, love; love is all we need.”

This said not in any way to denigrate love. Yes, God is love, but He is also justice and holiness and wrath. Priestly pedophiles will glorify God by suffering eternally under His perfections of justice, holiness, and wrath. Where has Benedict proclaimed God’s justice and wrath in defense of little boys who have been raped? Is God’s justice and wrath not a powerful antidote to the Roman Catholic Church’s worldwide crisis of sodomitic abuse and rape? Even if Benedict were merely pragmatic, and not doctrinal, would not God’s justice and wrath be helpful to at least mention?

Indeed, in theology God is often taken for granted as a matter of course, but concretely one does not deal with Him. The theme of God seems so unreal, so far removed from the things that concern us. And yet everything becomes different if one does not presuppose but present God. Not somehow leaving Him in the background, but recognizing Him as the center of our thoughts, words and actions.

TB: God is a “theme?”

Such blather.

(2) God became man for us. Man as His creature is so close to His heart that He has united himself with him and has thus entered human history in a very practical way. He speaks with us, He lives with us, He suffers with us and He took death upon Himself for us. We talk about this in detail in theology, with learned words and thoughts. But it is precisely in this way that we run the risk of becoming masters of faith instead of being renewed and mastered by the Faith.

TB: Quite true, and well said. But could we not please get to the point. While it’s true the good news of the Gospel is the answer to sin and sinners, the men who committed these horrors are themselves supposed to be Gospel witnesses. What one says to unbelievers who sodomize little boys should be quite different from what one says to pastors and priests who sodomize little boys.

Let us consider this with regard to a central issue, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Our handling of the Eucharist can only arouse concern. The Second Vatican Council was rightly focused on returning this sacrament of the Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ, of the Presence of His Person, of His Passion, Death and Resurrection, to the center of Christian life and the very existence of the Church. In part, this really has come about, and we should be most grateful to the Lord for it.

TB: “Can only arouse concern.” All this passive language. It seems pious while obscuring moral agency. What is said here is that priests celebrating Mass while sodomizing their altar boys “can only arouse concern.” 

A criticism as effeminate as the crime.

And yet a rather different attitude is prevalent. What predominates is not a new reverence for the presence of Christ’s death and resurrection, but a way of dealing with Him that destroys the greatness of the Mystery. The declining participation in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration shows how little we Christians of today still know about appreciating the greatness of the gift that consists in His Real Presence. The Eucharist is devalued into a mere ceremonial gesture when it is taken for granted that courtesy requires Him to be offered at family celebrations or on occasions such as weddings and funerals to all those invited for family reasons.

TB: The problem is not “what destroys” the Roman Catholic Mass, but “what destroys” the little ones these shepherds are called to protect; “what destroys” them body and mind and soul as they assist the priests in their altar sacrifices.

Then we come upon this inanity of Benedict choosing this time and occasion to issue a feeble protest against “ceremonial gestures” whereby the Mass is offered up as an addendum to familial celebrations where non-communicant Roman Catholics and unbelievers are present and participate. Again, this is a problem in Protestant churches, also, but having it pop up here makes Benedict seem idiosyncratic or incoherent.

The way people often simply receive the Holy Sacrament in communion as a matter of course shows that many see communion as a purely ceremonial gesture. Therefore, when thinking about what action is required first and foremost, it is rather obvious that we do not need another Church of our own design. Rather, what is required first and foremost is the renewal of the Faith in the Reality of Jesus Christ given to us in the Blessed Sacrament.

TB: The answer is not “purely ceremonial gesture,” nor is it “another church of our own design.” Rather, it is to return to the Roman Catholic Mass, faith in which saves a man.

In conversations with victims of pedophilia, I have been made acutely aware of this first and foremost requirement. A young woman who was a [former] altar server told me that the chaplain, her superior as an altar server, always introduced the sexual abuse he was committing against her with the words: “This is my body which will be given up for you.”

TB: Finally we have a victim, but Benedict personalizes the horrors perpetrated by his priests by recounting the suffering of a little girl rather than a boy. One could make the case that a little girl will awaken more sympathy than a little boy until we remember that we call such crimes against little boys “sodomy.”

Readers must fix it in their minds that the only victim of clergy sex abuse brought forward as a person by Benedict is a girl. Yet over eighty percent of the victims of his priests were boys, half of whom were fourteen and under.1

It is obvious that this woman can no longer hear the very words of consecration without experiencing again all the horrific distress of her abuse. Yes, we must urgently implore the Lord for forgiveness, and first and foremost we must swear by Him and ask Him to teach us all anew to understand the greatness of His suffering, His sacrifice. And we must do all we can to protect the gift of the Holy Eucharist from abuse.

TB: It is true that there could hardly be a greater sacrilege than the priestly abuse of the Words of Institution of the Holy Supper of our Lord.

(3) And finally, there is the Mystery of the Church. The sentence with which Romano Guardini, almost 100 years ago, expressed the joyful hope that was instilled in him and many others, remains unforgotten: “An event of incalculable importance has begun; the Church is awakening in souls.”

He meant to say that no longer was the Church experienced and perceived as merely an external system entering our lives, as a kind of authority, but rather it began to be perceived as being present within people’s hearts — as something not merely external, but internally moving us. About half a century later, in reconsidering this process and looking at what had been happening, I felt tempted to reverse the sentence: “The Church is dying in souls.”

TB: Yes, but worse, souls are dying in the church. Worse still, the church is destroying souls. Worse yet, the shepherds of the Roman church are devouring the souls of her little ones. The Roman Catholic style guide must have as a basic guideline the necessity of presenting every truth in such a way as to leave readers underwhelmed.

Indeed, the Church today is widely regarded as just some kind of political apparatus. One speaks of it almost exclusively in political categories, and this applies even to bishops, who formulate their conception of the church of tomorrow almost exclusively in political terms. The crisis, caused by the many cases of clerical abuse, urges us to regard the Church as something almost unacceptable, which we must now take into our own hands and redesign. But a self-made Church cannot constitute hope.

TB: “Almost” but not quite “unacceptable.” Then this theme once more of Benedict opposing any new or remade or redesigned church. “Steady as she goes,” says Benedict; “all is not lost. What’s needed is simply our return to the original design. It’s not the design that’s faulty, but only its imperfect implementation.”

Readers must not expect Benedict to denounce what every reformer denounced five centuries ago (but those reformers’ sons never denounce today) which is priestly vows of celibacy.

Jesus Himself compared the Church to a fishing net in which good and bad fish are ultimately separated by God Himself. There is also the parable of the Church as a field on which the good grain that God Himself has sown grows, but also the weeds that “an enemy” secretly sown onto it. Indeed, the weeds in God’s field, the Church, are excessively visible, and the evil fish in the net also show their strength. Nevertheless, the field is still God’s field and the net is God’s fishing net. And at all times, there are not only the weeds and the evil fish, but also the crops of God and the good fish. To proclaim both with emphasis is not a false form of apologetics, but a necessary service to the Truth.

TB: This is to abuse the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares since the point Jesus was making was that the workers in His fields were not to be so zealous for the purity of the crop that they pulled up wheat as they showed themselves zealous to pull up tares. “Let both grow together” until the harvest, was Jesus’ point. Jesus was not giving the field workers permission to sow tares themselves, not to sit by as their fellow workers sowed tares. Nor to allow their fellow workers to burn the field down, we might add.

In this context it is necessary to refer to an important text in the Revelation of St. John. The devil is identified as the accuser who accuses our brothers before God day and night (Revelation 12:10). St. John’s Apocalypse thus takes up a thought from the center of the framing narrative in the Book of Job (Job 1 and 2, 10; 42:7-16). In that book, the devil sought to talk down the righteousness of Job before God as being merely external. And exactly this is what the Apocalypse has to say: 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.

TB: Here we are pulled into the worst aspect of Roman Catholic defensiveness in the midst of her sex-abuse crisis. As Benedict’s archdioceses are paying out hundreds of millions to settle sodomitic abuse cases around the world, he chooses this precise moment to remind his church that the Devil is the “accuser of the brethren.” The accusations are true. Rome has settled cases and pled guilty times without number.

If she had judged herself, she would not have been judged by others. But Benedict thinks it’s time to talk about the Devil’s lies against…

The righteous.

The narrative in Job begins with a dispute between God and the devil, in which God had referred to Job as a truly righteous man. He is now to be used as an example to test who is right. Take away his possessions and you will see that nothing remains of his piety, the devil argues. God allows him this attempt, from which Job emerges positively. Now the devil pushes on and he says: “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But put forth thy hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.” (Job 2:4f)

God grants the devil a second turn. He may also touch the skin of Job. Only killing Job is denied to him. For Christians it is clear that this Job, who stands before God as an example for all mankind, is Jesus Christ. In St. John’s Apocalypse the drama of humanity is presented to us in all its breadth.

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.

The timeliness of what the Apocalypse is telling us here is obvious. Today, the accusation against God is, above all, about characterizing His Church as entirely bad, and thus dissuading us from it. The idea of a better Church, created by ourselves, is 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. No, even today the Church is not just made up of bad fish and weeds. The Church of God also exists today, and today it is the very instrument through which God saves us.

TB: Once again, Benedict fences off any proposal toward “a better church.”

But why? Can we not have a better church? Is this not what reformation is all about? Does it not seek a better church? A church where priests don’t rape their altar boys and girls? A church where bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes cast false shepherds out of the sheepfold? Is this too much to hope or ask for? Is this properly described as a church “created by ourselves?”

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. Today God also has His witnesses (martyres) in the world. We just have to be vigilant in order to see and hear them.

TB: Yes, our Heavenly Father has his martyrs, but none of them in the ecclesiastical ranks of bishops, archbishops, and cardinals today. Nor among her popes who, for instance, resigned their office leaving it uncleansed of thousands of priests betraying their vows of celibacy by abusing and raping the lambs and sheep for whom Christ died.

We shouldn’t have to be vigilant to discover or hear them such martyrs over the past seven decades. The whole world should have observed them taking up their crosses as our Lord took up His, spending the week between the Triumphal Entry, Cleansing of the Temple and Crucifixion excoriating the priests, high priests, and scribes in front of the watching world.

He was a true martyr, leaving those ravenous religious wolves no choice but to murder Him.

Alas, Benedict has retired from the conflict.

The word martyr is taken from procedural law. In the trial against the devil, Jesus Christ is the first and actual witness for God, the first martyr, who has since been followed by countless others.

Today’s Church is more than ever a “Church of the Martyrs” and thus a witness to the living God. If we look around and listen with an attentive heart, we can find witnesses everywhere today, especially among ordinary people, but also in the high ranks of the Church, who stand up for God with their life and suffering. It is an inertia of the heart that leads us to not wish to recognize them. One of the great and essential tasks of our evangelization is, as far as we can, to establish habitats of Faith and, above all, to find and recognize them.

TB: No. This church is no “witness to the Living God.” Just the opposite: she is a witness to the wickedness of her priests who have devoured her lambs and sheep unhindered by her bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes.

Ask anyone anywhere around the world—the whole world has been watching.

I live in a house, in a small community of people who discover such witnesses of the living God again and again in everyday life and who joyfully point this out to me as well. To see and find the living Church is a wonderful task which strengthens us and makes us joyful in our Faith time and again.

At the end of my reflections I would like to thank Pope Francis for everything he does to show us, again and again, the light of God, which has not disappeared, even today. Thank you, Holy Father!

–Benedict XVI

Translated by Anian Christoph Wimmer.
Quotes from Scripture use Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE).

***

TB: Sadly, this letter is an abject failure. I expected more from Benedict—much more. There may be reasons now in his retirement he can’t say what needs to be said, but if so, he ought not to have picked his pen up.

In the aftermath of his church’s crisis of sodomitic rape and abuse and its coverup by the chief priests and Sanhedrin, all those who love truth and justice and were longing for the vindication of the oppressed, needed a word fitly spoken.

Here there is none. Rather, readers have been fed thousands of words of red herrings, equivocations, and self-justifications.

Benedict himself may well have been a righteous king, but he has no faith for tearing down the idols and high places.

Two comments in conclusion:

First, while it is undeniable that the Protestant church also has many shepherds who have destroyed their sheep in many ways, including sexually abusing and raping them, these crimes against Heaven will never be as prevalent among those who marry rather than than burning as they are within a church that requires priestly celibacy. Until Roman Catholics repent of this unbiblical requirement, their priests will continue to violate their vows today and tomorrow as they have across centuries past.

Second, readers may have grown as weary of reading the words “sodomitic rape” as I grew writing them, but these words are necessary forcing upon our tender minds the shameful reality of what went on for half a century in sacristries, priories, chapel houses, and rectories around the world. In connection with sexual perversions, remembering that our Lord Himself speaks of sodomy as an “abomination,” we must return to the language of shame if we hope to desire to restore the beauty of marriage to this lost world.

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(This has been the third post in a series. First here and second, here.)

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1. ”The largest group of alleged victims (50.9%) was between the ages of 11 and 14, 27.3% were 15-17, 16% were 8-10 and nearly 6% were under age 7. Overall, 81% of victims were male.” The Nature and Scope of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priest and Deacons in the United States 1950-2002: A Research Study Conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the City University of New York, February 2004; p. 7. See also.

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About The Author

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Tim Bayly has been senior pastor of Clearnote Church, Bloomington since 1996. Married to Mary Lee, the Baylys have five children and twenty-something grandchildren. Tim's book on fatherhood is titled "Daddy Tried" and he is co-author of a book on homosexuality titled "The Grace of Shame.’

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