On February 21 to 24, at the invitation of Pope Francis, the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences gathered at the Vatican to discuss the current crisis of the faith and of the Church; a crisis experienced throughout the world after shocking revelations of clerical abuse perpetrated against minors.
The extent and gravity of the reported incidents has deeply distressed priests as well as laity, and has caused more than a few to call into question the very Faith of the Church. It was necessary to send out a strong message, and seek out a new beginning, so to make the Church again truly credible as a light among peoples and as a force in service against the powers of destruction.
Since I myself had served in a position of responsibility as shepherd of the Church at the time of the public outbreak of the crisis, and during the run-up to it, I had to ask myself - even though, as emeritus, I am no longer directly responsible - what I could contribute to a new beginning.
Thus, after the meeting of the presidents of the bishops' conferences was announced, I compiled some notes by which I might contribute one or two remarks to assist in this difficult hour.
Having contacted the Secretary of State, Cardinal [Pietro] Parolin and the Holy Father [Pope Francis] himself, it seemed appropriate to publish this text in the Klerusblatt [ a monthly periodical for clergy in mostly Bavarian dioceses].
My work is divided into three parts.
In the first part, I aim to present briefly the wider social context of the question, without which the problem cannot be understood. I try to show that in the 1960s an egregious event occurred, on a scale unprecedented in history. It could be said that in the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely, and a new normalcy arose that has by now been the subject of laborious attempts at disruption.
In the second part, I aim to point out the effects of this situation on the formation of priests and on the lives of priests.
Finally, in the third part, I would like to develop some perspectives for a proper response on the part of the Church.
Reactions and Commentary
- Benedict and His Critics, by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller. First Things April 2019:
At age 92, Benedict XVI is capable of deeper theological reflection than his critics, who lack respect and are ideologically blinded. He is able to get closer to the source of the fire that has set the Church's roof ablaze. The catastrophic fire in Paris, in one of Christendom's most venerable houses of God, also has a symbolic meaning: It makes us appreciate again the work of good firefighters, instead of blaming them for the water damage done in the course of extinguishing the flames. Rebuilding and renewing the whole Church can only succeed in Christ—if we get our bearings by the Church’s teaching on faith and morals.
- The Ratzinger Diagnosis, by George Weigel. Catholic World Report 04/24/19. "Have any of the progressive critics engaged Ratzinger’s argument? No."
- Editorial: Benedict XVI’s essay is both insightful and incomplete, by Carl E. Olson. Catholic World Report 04/11/19. "The essay titled “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse” contains several perennial themes but sidesteps the elephants in the Church."
- How Benedict’s Essay Supports Francis’ Call For ‘Zero Tolerance’ – Analysis, by Ed Condon. Eurasia Review 04/12/19:
... Some prominent bishops have insisted on distinguishing between the sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct between adults, arguing that potentially consensual sexual misconduct by clerics should not be accorded the status of a major crime. In light of Benedict’s essay, some are likely to see in that approach the juridic framework that Benedict described as guarantorism ["in which the rights of the accused seemed to be afforded the central concern of the canonical process, often at the expense of victims, restorative justice, and the public good"].
- Benedict Speaks, by R.R. Reno. First Things 04/10/19:
... The tone of the document is his usual one, that of calm and matter-of-fact statements. Overall, it’s more testimony than analysis, testimony from a man who lived through cultural convulsions and theological betrayals. And it’s a faithful man’s testimony of God’s enduring love.
- Benedict and the Scandal, by Charles J. Chaput. First Things 04/11/19:
Toward the end of his own 1970 essay, Augusto Del Noce noted that “an enormous cultural revision will be necessary in order to really leave behind the philosophical processes that have found expression in today's sexual revolution.” The bad news is that too many of today’s Catholics seem to lack the will and ability to pursue that task. The good news is that some of our leaders still have the courage to speak the truth.
- More thoughts on Benedict XVI’s 6000K word essay on The Present Crisis, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf. 04/12/19:
Apart from all the business about pedophilia and crises, etc., Benedict gets down to it, I think, when writes of the loss of Mystery, the Mystery in liturgical worship and the Mystery of the Church. For Ratzinger, and he even from the years I had the privilege to speak often with him, and for me, everything comes from and flows back to our sacred liturgical worship, which must bring us into transforming contact with Mystery, much as Moses left the tent of meeting shining so brightly his face could not be looked at. If we recognize the connect of Cult, Code and Creed, then even reflection on law reveals the Mystery of God, as does more obviously doctrine. Encountered rightly, they transform. However, after lamenting a loss of Mystery, Benedict poignantly turns inside out a phrase of his perennial spiritual guide, Romano Guardini, a phrase which in his earlier writings Ratzinger called a “standard quotation in German Catholicism”. Mind you, just as Christ’s quotes of the prophets were instantly recognized by 1st century Jews, the German clergy, Benedict’s immediate audience will get this. Guardini, writing between the wars and during the rise of the Liturgical Movement wrote positively, “An event of incalculable importance has begun; the Church is awakening in [people’ s] souls.” On the contrary, Benedict herein mourns that a negative event of incalculable importance has begun, namely, “The Church is dying in [people’s] souls.”
The last 50 years have borne that out and, in fact, the necrotic effects are accelerating, which makes them daily more obvious.
What could be the take away from this somewhat rambling collection of observations and Ratzingerian tropes? This may be Benedict’s prophetic call to those who are listening. We are seeing the Church experience a Job-like testing. If Christ endured a Passion, the Church must endure a Passion as well. The Passion reveals the radical, unfathomable depths of God’s love. We must learn to recognize this love, and manifest it. We are going to experience painful but purifying down-sizing. We must creatively form places where the Faith and love can “dwell”, habitats of Faith.
- Benedict's letter about sex abuse crisis is a regrettable text, by Michael Sean Winters. National Catholic Reporter 04/11/19.