Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: the Church and the sexual abuse scandal |
Benedict XVI published a long essay in the German monthly Klerusblatt and the Italian daily Corriere della Sera - FULL TEXT Below:
From 21 to 24 February 2019, at the invitation of Pope Francis, the presidents of all the episcopal conferences of the world gathered in the Vatican to reflect together on the crisis of faith and of the Church felt throughout the world following the spreading of the shocking news of abuses committed by clerics on minors. The size and gravity of the information on these episodes have deeply shaken priests and lay people and many of them have determined the questioning of the faith of the Church as such. We had to give a strong signal and we had to try to start again to make the Church credible again as the light of the people and as a force that helps in the struggle against the destructive powers.
Having myself operated, at the time of the public explosion of the crisis and during its progressive development, in a position of responsibility as a pastor in the Church, I could not but ask myself - although I no longer had any direct responsibility for Emeritus - how, starting from a glance retrospective, I could contribute to this recovery. And so, in the span of time that goes from the announcement of the meeting of the presidents of episcopal conferences to its real beginning, I have put together some notes with which to provide some indication that could be of help in this difficult moment. Following contacts with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and with the Holy Father himself, I consider it right to publish the text thus conceived in «Klerusblatt».
My work is divided into three parts. In a first point I try very briefly to outline in general the social context of the question, in the absence of which the problem is incomprehensible. I try to show how an unprecedented process took place in the 1960s, an order of magnitude that in history is almost unprecedented. It can be affirmed that in the two decades between 1960 and 1980 the criteria valid up to that moment on the subject of sexuality have completely failed and it has resulted in an absence of norms which in the meantime we have tried to remedy.
In a second point I try to mention the consequences of this situation in the formation and life of priests.
Finally, in a third part, I will develop some perspectives for a correct response from the Church.
The process started in the 1960s and moral theology
1. The situation began with the introduction, decreed and supported by the State, of children and youth to the nature of sexuality. In Germany, Käte Strobel, the Minister of Health at that time, had a film produced for information purposes in which everything that could not be shown publicly, including sexual intercourse, was represented. What at first was only meant to inform young people, later, as was obvious, was accepted as a general possibility.
The "Sexkoffer" (sex suitcase) edited by the Austrian government was also similar. Sexual and pornographic films became a reality, to the point of being projected even in the stations' cinemas. I still remember how one day, going to Regensburg, I saw that he was waiting for a mass of people in front of a large cinema, as until then he had only been seen in time of war when he hoped for some extraordinary distribution. I was also impressed in my memory when I arrived in the city on Good Friday in 1970 and saw all the advertising columns hung with advertising posters that presented in large format two completely naked people hugged tightly.
Among the freedoms that the 1968 revolution wanted to conquer there was also complete sexual freedom, which no longer tolerated any norm. The propensity for violence that characterized those years is closely linked to this spiritual collapse. In fact, the projection of sex films was no longer allowed in the planes, since violence broke out in the small community of passengers. Since even the excesses in dress provoked aggressiveness, the principals tried to introduce school clothes that could allow a climate of study.
The fact that pedophilia was diagnosed as allowed and convenient is also part of the physiognomy of the 1968 Revolution. At least for young people in the Church, but not only for them, this was in many ways a very difficult time. I have always wondered how in this situation young people could go towards the priesthood and accept it with all its consequences. The widespread collapse of priestly vocations in those years and the enormous number of resignations from the clerical state were a consequence of all these processes.
2. Regardless of this development, in the same period there was a collapse of Catholic moral theology that made the Church helpless in the face of those processes in society. I try to outline the development of this dynamic very briefly. Until Vatican II, Catholic moral theology was largely founded on naturalistic law, while Sacred Scripture was used only as a background or a support. In the struggle waged by the Council for a new understanding of Revelation, the natural law option was almost completely abandoned and a moral theology completely founded on the Bible was required. I still remember how the faculty of the Jesuits in Frankfurt prepared a very gifted young father (Bruno Schüller) for the elaboration of a moral completely founded on Scripture. The beautiful dissertation of Father Schüller shows the first step in the elaboration of a morality founded on Scripture. Father Schüller was then sent to the United States of America to continue his studies and returned with the knowledge that it was not possible to systematically elaborate a morality only from the Bible. He subsequently tried to elaborate a moral theology that proceeded in a more pragmatic way, without however being able to provide an answer to the crisis of morality.
Finally, the thesis that moral was to be defined only according to the purposes of human action was widely affirmed. The old adage "the end justifies the means" was not reaffirmed in this so crude form, and yet the conception it expressed became decisive. Therefore there could not even be something absolutely good, nor something always evil, but only relative evaluations. The good was no longer there, but only what is relatively better at the time and depending on the circumstances.
At the end of the 1980s and in the 1990s the crisis of the foundations and the presentation of Catholic morality reached dramatic forms. On January 5, 1989 the «Cologne Declaration» was published, signed by 15 Catholic theology professors who focused on several critical points of the relationship between episcopal teaching and the task of theology. This text, which initially did not go beyond the usual level of grievances, grew however very quickly until it became a cry of protest against the magisterium of the Church, collecting in a visible and audible way the potential of opposition that was mounting against the whole world against the expected magisterial texts of John Paul II (see D. Mieth, Kölner Erklärung, LThK, VI3.196).
Pope John Paul II, who knew the situation of moral theology very well and followed it carefully, arranged for work to begin on an encyclical that could fix these things. It was published with the title Veritatis splendor on 6 August 1993, provoking violent contrary reactions from moral theologians. Previously there had already been the Catechism of the Catholic Church which had systematically expounded convincingly the morality taught by the Church.
I cannot forget that Franz Böckle - then among the leading German-speaking moral theologians, who after being appointed emeritus professor had retired to his Swiss homeland -, in view of the possible decisions of Veritatis splendor, declared that if the Encyclical had decided that there are actions that always and in every circumstance should be considered evil, against this he would have raised his voice with all the strength he had. The good God spared him the realization of his purpose; Böckle died on 8 July 1991. The Encyclical was published on 6 August 1993 and in fact contained the statement that there are actions that can never become good. The Pope was fully aware of the weight of that decision at that time and, precisely for this part of his paper, he had once again consulted experts of absolute level who had not in themselves participated in the drafting of the Encyclical. There could not and there should have been no doubt that the morality based on the principle of balancing goods must respect a final limit. There are goods that are unavailable. There are values that it is never permissible to sacrifice in the name of an even higher value and that are above even the preservation of physical life. God is even more than physical survival. A life that was purchased at the price of the denial of God, a life based on a last lie, is a non-life. Martyrdom is a fundamental category of Christian existence. That in the end, in the theory supported by Böckle and many others, is no longer morally necessary, it shows that here goes the very essence of Christianity.
In moral theology, meanwhile, another question had become pressing: the thesis was widely affirmed that the Church's magisterium has the ultimate and definitive competence ("infallibility") only on questions of faith, while questions of morality do not they could become the object of infallible decisions of the ecclesiastical magisterium. In this thesis there is certainly something right that deserves to be discussed further and deepened. And yet there is a moral minimum that is inextricably connected with the fundamental decision of faith and which must be defended, if we do not want to reduce faith to a theory and recognize, on the contrary, the claim that it advances with respect to concrete life . From all this emerges how the authority of the Church in the moral field is radically challenged. Who in this area denies the Church a last doctrinal competence, forces her to silence precisely where the line between truth and lies is at stake.
Regardless of this question, the thesis developed in broad areas of moral theology that the Church neither has nor can have its own morality. In affirming this it is emphasized that all moral affirmations would have equivalents also in other religions and that therefore a Christian proprium could not exist. But to the question of the proprium of a biblical morality, one does not respond by stating that, for every single sentence, an equivalent can be found somewhere in other religions. Instead it is the set of biblical morality that as such is new and different from the individual parts. The peculiarity of the moral teaching of Sacred Scripture lies ultimately in its anchorage to the image of God, in faith in the one God who showed himself in Jesus Christ and who lived as a man. The Decalogue is an application to the human life of biblical faith in God. Image of God and morality go together and thus produce what is specifically new to the Christian attitude towards the world and human life. Moreover, from the beginning Christianity has been described with the word hodòs. Faith is a journey, a way of life. In the ancient Church, with respect to an increasingly depraved culture, the catechumenate was established as a space of existence in which what was specific and new about the Christian way of life was taught and also safeguarded with respect to the common way of life. I think that even today something similar to catechumenal communities is needed so that Christian life can assert itself in its peculiarity.
First ecclesial reactions
1. The process of dissolution of the Christian conception of morals, which has been prepared for a long time and which is underway, in the 1960s, as I tried to show, has experienced a radicalism like never before. This dissolution of the doctrinal authority of the Church in moral matters necessarily had to have repercussions also in the different living spaces of the Church. In the context of the meeting of the presidents of the Bishops' Conferences of the whole world, it concerns above all the question of priestly life and also that of seminaries. With regard to the problem of preparation for the priestly ministry in the seminaries, a wide collapse of the form in force up until that moment of this preparation is in fact observed.
In various seminars homosexual clubs were formed that acted more or less openly and that clearly transformed the climate in the seminaries. At a seminar in southern Germany, candidates for the priesthood and candidates for the lay ministry office lived together. During the common meals, the seminarians stood together with the married pastoral partners, partly accompanied by their wife and son and in some cases by their girlfriends. The climate in the seminary could not help priestly formation. The Holy See knew of these problems, without being informed in detail. As an initial step an apostolic visitation was arranged in the seminaries of the United States.
Since the criteria for the selection and appointment of bishops had also been changed after the Second Vatican Council, the relationship of bishops with their seminaries was also different. As a criterion for the appointment of new bishops, their "conciliarity" was now above all valid, as the most diverse things could be understood naturally with this term. In many parts of the Church, the feeling of reconciliation was in fact understood as a critical or negative attitude towards the tradition in force until that time, which now had to be replaced by a new, radically open relationship with the world. A bishop, who had previously served as rector, had shown pornographic films to the seminarians, presumably with the intention of making them in this way able to resist against behavior contrary to the faith. There were individual bishops - and not only in the United States of America - who rejected the Catholic tradition as a whole aiming in their dioceses to develop a kind of new, modern "catholicity". Perhaps it is worth mentioning that, in not a few seminars, students caught reading my books were considered unfit for the priesthood. My books were hidden like harmful literature and were so to speak under-table beds.
The Visit that followed did not bring new information, because evidently several forces had coalesced in order to conceal the real situation. A second visit was arranged which brought much more information, but on the whole it had no consequences. Nevertheless, starting in the 1970s, the situation in the seminars in general has been consolidated. And yet only sporadically there has been a strengthening of vocations, because on the whole the situation had developed differently.
2. The issue of pedophilia is, as far as I can remember, only become hot in the second half of the 1980s. In the United States in the meantime it had already grown, becoming a public problem. Thus the bishops asked for help in Rome because the canon law, as set in the New Code, did not appear sufficient to adopt the necessary measures. At first Rome and the Roman canonists had difficulties with this request; in their opinion, temporary suspension from the priestly ministry should have been enough to obtain purification and clarification. This could not be accepted by the American bishops because in this way the priests remained in the service of the bishop being thus considered as figures directly related to him. A renewal and a deepening of the criminal law, intentionally built in a bland way in the New Code, could only slowly make its way.
Added to this was a fundamental problem concerning the conception of criminal law. By now it was considered "conciliating" only the so-called "guarantism". It means that above all the rights of the accused had to be guaranteed and this to the point of excluding a condemnation. As a counterweight to the often insufficient possibility of defending themselves against the accused theologians, their right to defense was so widespread in the sense of guarantee that the sentences became almost impossible.
Allow me at this point a brief excursus. Faced with the extension of the sins of pedophilia, a word of Jesus comes to mind that says: "Whoever scandalizes one of these little ones who believe, it is better for him that a donkey is put around his neck and thrown into the sea" (Mk 9.42). In its original meaning this word does not speak of the solicitation of children for sexual purposes. The term "the little ones" in the language of Jesus refers to simple believers, who could be shaken in their faith by the intellectual pride of those who believe themselves to be intelligent. Jesus here then protects the good of faith with a peremptory threat of punishment for those who offend her. The modern use of those words in itself is not wrong, but it must not conceal their original meaning. In it, against every guarantee, it is clearly in light that it is important and not only the right of the accused to guarantee. Precious goods like faith are just as important. A balanced canon law, which corresponds to the message of Jesus in its entirety, must therefore not be guaranteed only in favor of the accused, whose respect is a good protected by law. It must also protect the faith, which is also an important asset protected by law. A canon law constructed in the right way must therefore contain a double guarantee: legal protection of the accused and legal protection of the good that is at stake. When today this concept is set out in itself clear, in general we come up against deafness and indifference on the question of the legal protection of the faith. In the common juridical conscience faith no longer seems to have the rank of a good to be protected. It is a worrying situation, on which the pastors of the Church must reflect and seriously consider.
To the brief references to the situation of priestly formation at the time of the public explosion of the crisis, I would now like to add some indications on the evolution of canon law in this question. In itself, the Congregation for the Clergy is responsible for the crimes committed by the priests. However, since in this case guarantism largely dominated the situation, we agreed with Pope John Paul II on the opportunity to attribute the competence on these crimes to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the title "Delicta maiora contra fidem". With this attribution the maximum penalty was also possible, that is to say the reduction to the lay state, which on the other hand would not have been applicable to other legal titles. It was not a ploy to be able to impose the maximum penalty, but a consequence of the weight of faith for the Church. In fact it is important to bear in mind that, in similar sins of clerics, faith is ultimately damaged: only where faith no longer determines the actions of men are such crimes possible. However, the severity of the penalty also presupposes a clear proof of the crime committed: it is the content of the guarantee that remains in force. In other words: in order to legitimately be able to apply the maximum penalty, a real criminal trial is necessary. And yet, in this way too much was asked of both the dioceses and the Holy See. And so we established a minimal form of criminal trial and left open the possibility that the Holy See itself would advocate the process in the event that the diocese or the metropolis were not able to carry it out. In any case, the trial had to be verified by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to guarantee the rights of the accused. In the end, however, in Feria IV (that is to say, the meeting of all the members of the Congregation), we created an instance of appeal, to also have the possibility of an appeal against the process. Since all this actually went beyond the strengths of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and there were delays that had to be avoided because of the matter, Pope Francis undertook further reforms.
1. What should we do? Do we need to create another Church so that things can adjust? This experiment has already been done and has already failed. Only love and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ can show us the right way. Let us try first of all to understand in a new and profound way what the Lord wanted and wants from us.
First of all I would say that if we really wanted to synthesize the contents of the faith founded in the Bible to the maximum, we could say: the Lord started a love story with us and wants to summarize in it the entire creation. The antidote to the evil that threatens us and the whole world lately cannot but consist in the fact that we abandon ourselves to this love. This is the real antidote to evil. The force of evil arises from our rejection of love for God. Those who rely on the love of God are redeemed. Our not being redeemed rests on the inability to love God. Learning to love God is therefore the way to the redemption of God. men.
If we now try to carry out this essential content of God's Revelation a little more broadly, we could say: the first fundamental gift that faith offers us consists in the certainty that God exists. A world without God can only be a meaningless world. In fact, where does all that is come from? In any case, it would lack a spiritual foundation. In some ways it would just be there, and it would be devoid of any purpose or meaning. There would no longer be criteria of good and evil. Therefore only what is stronger would have value. Power then becomes the only principle. The truth does not matter, indeed it does not actually exist. Only if things have a spiritual foundation, only if they are wanted and thought - only if there is a God who is a creator who is good and wants good - even the life of man can have a meaning.
That God exists as a creator and measure of all things is above all an original requirement. But a God who did not manifest himself at all, who did not make himself known, would remain a hypothesis and therefore could not determine the form of our life. In order for God to be really God in conscious creation, we must expect him to manifest himself in some form. He did it in many ways, and in a decisive way in the call that was addressed to Abraham and gave man that orientation, in the search for God, which overcomes every expectation: God becomes a creature himself, speaks to us men as a man .
So finally the phrase "God is" really becomes a happy news, precisely because it is more than knowledge, because it generates love and is love. To make people aware of this again is the first and fundamental task that the Lord assigns to us.
A society in which God is absent - a society that no longer knows it and treats it as if it did not exist - is a society that loses its criterion. In our time the motto of the "death of God" has been coined. When God dies in a society, it becomes free, we are assured. In truth, the death of God in a society also means the end of his freedom, because the meaning that offers orientation dies. And because the criterion that indicates the direction fails us by teaching us to distinguish good from evil. Western society is a society in which God in the public sphere is absent and for which he has nothing more to say. And this is why it is a society in which the criterion and the measure of the human are increasingly lost. In some places, then, sometimes it suddenly becomes perceptible that what is evil and destroys man has become obvious. This is the case of pedophilia. Still theorized not too long ago as quite right, it has spread more and more. And now, shaken and scandalized, we recognize that things are done about our children and young people that risk destroying them. That this could also spread in the Church and among priests must shake us up and shock us in a particular way.
How could pedophilia reach such a dimension? Ultimately, the reason lies in the absence of God. Even we Christians and priests prefer not to talk about God, because it is a discourse that does not seem to have practical utility. After the upheavals of the Second World War, in Germany we adopted our Constitution declaring ourselves explicitly responsible before God as a guiding criterion. Half a century later it was no longer possible, in the European Constitution, to take responsibility before God as a criterion of measurement. God is seen as a party affair of a small group and can no longer be taken as the criterion for measuring the community as a whole. This decision reflects the situation in the West, in which God has become a private minority.
The first task that must spring from the moral upheavals of our time consists in starting ourselves again to live of God, turned to him and in obedience to him. Above all we must ourselves again learn to recognize God as the foundation of our life and not set it aside as any empty word. I remain impressed by the warning that the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar once wrote on one of his cards: "The triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: do not presuppose it but put it before!". In fact, even in theology, God is often assumed to be an obviousness, but he is not really concerned with it. The theme "God" appears so unreal, so far from the things that occupy us. And yet everything changes if God is not presupposed, but is placed before it. If you don't leave it somehow in the background but you recognize it as the center of our thinking, speaking and acting.
2. God became man for us. The human creature is so close to his heart that he has joined it, entering concretely into history. Talk to us, live with us, suffer with us and for us he took death upon himself. We certainly speak of this in theology in a language and with learned concepts. But this is precisely the danger that we make ourselves lords of faith, instead of letting ourselves be renewed and dominated by faith.
Let us consider this by reflecting on a central point, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Our relationship with the Eucharist can only cause concern. Vatican II rightly intended to place this sacrament of the presence of the body and blood of Christ, of the presence of his person, of his passion, death and resurrection at the center of Christian life and the existence of the Church. In part this thing really happened and for this we want to thank the Lord with all our heart.
But another attitude is largely dominant: there is no new profound respect for the presence of the death and resurrection of Christ, but a way of dealing with him that destroys the greatness of the mystery. The declining participation in the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist shows how little we Christians of today are able to evaluate the greatness of the gift that consists in His real presence. The Eucharist is downgraded to a ceremonial gesture when it is considered obvious that good manners demand that it be distributed to all the guests on account of their belonging to the family, on the occasion of family celebrations or events such as weddings and funerals. The obviousness with which, in some places, those present, simply because they receive the Blessed Sacrament, shows that in Communion we can now see only a ceremonial gesture. If we reflect on what to do, it is clear that we do not need another Church invented by us. What is needed instead is the renewal of faith in the reality of Jesus Christ given to us in the Sacrament.
In conversations with the victims of pedophilia I have become increasingly aware of this need. A young girl who served as an altar at the altar told me that the parochial vicar, who was his superior since she was a clerk, introduced the sexual abuse that he performed on her with these words: "This is my body which is given for you ». It is obvious that the girl can no longer hear the words of the consecration without feeling terribly about herself all the suffering of the abuse suffered. Yes, we must urgently implore the Lord's forgiveness and above all plead and beg him to teach us all to understand again the greatness of his passion, of his sacrifice. And we must do everything to protect the gift of the Holy Eucharist from abuse.
3. And finally, here is the mystery of the Church. The words with which Romano Guardini, almost a hundred years ago, expressed the joyful hope that was then affirmed in him and in many others, remain impressed in his memory: "An event of incalculable importance began: The Church awakens in souls". By this he meant that the Church was no longer, as before, simply an apparatus that presents itself to us from the outside, experienced and perceived as a sort of office, but which began to be felt alive in the hearts themselves: not as something external but that touched us from within. About half a century later, reflecting again on that process and looking at what had just happened, I was tempted to reverse the sentence: "The Church dies in souls". In fact today the Church is largely seen only as a kind of political apparatus. In fact, it speaks only of using political categories and this is true even for bishops who formulate their idea of the Church of tomorrow to a large extent almost exclusively in political terms. The crisis caused by many cases of abuse by priests leads us to consider the Church even as something miserable that we must definitely take in our own hands and train in a new way. But a Church made by us cannot represent any hope.
Jesus himself compared the Church to a fishing net in which there are good and bad fish, since God himself is the one who will eventually have to separate from each other. Next to it is the parable of the Church as a field on which grows the good grain that God himself has sown, but also the tares that an "enemy" has secretly sown in the midst of the wheat. Indeed, the tares in the field of God, the Church, catches the eye due to its quantity and even the bad fish in the net show their strength. But the field still remains the field of God and the net remains God's fishing net. And in all times there is and there will be not only the tares and bad fish but also the sowing of God and good fish. Announcing both equally forcefully is not false apologetics, but a necessary service rendered to the truth.
In this context it is necessary to refer to an important text of the Apocalypse of St. John. Here the devil is called the accuser who accuses our brothers before God day and night (Rev 12: 10). In this way the Apocalypse takes up a thought that is at the center of the story that frames the book of Job (Gb 1 and 2, 10; 42, 7-16). Here it is said that the devil tries to discredit Job's rectitude and integrity as purely external and superficial. This is precisely what the Apocalypse speaks of: the devil wants to prove that there are no just men; that all human justice is only an external representation. If more could be tested, the appearance of justice would soon disappear. The story begins with a dispute between God and the devil in which God indicated in Job a true right. He will now be the test bench to determine who is right. "Take away what he possesses - the devil argues - and you will see that nothing will remain of his devotion." God allows him this attempt from which Job exits in a positive way. But the devil continues and says: "Skin for skin; all he has, the man is ready to give it for his life. But stretch out your hand a little and touch it in the bone and in the flesh and you will see how it will bless you in your face "(Job 2: 4f). Thus God grants the devil a second chance. He is also allowed to reach out to Job. He is only prevented from killing him. For Christians it is clear that that Job who for all humanity exemplifies before God is Jesus Christ. In the Apocalypse, the drama of man is represented in all its breadth. God the creator is opposed by the devil who discredits the entire creation and the entire humanity. He addresses himself not only to God but above all to men, saying: "But look what this God has done. Apparently a good creation. In reality as a whole it is full of misery and disgust ». The denigration of creation in reality is a denigration of God. The devil wants to prove that God himself is not good and wants to distance us from him.
The actuality of what the Apocalypse says is obvious. The accusation against God today focuses above all on discrediting his Church as a whole and thus moving away from it. The idea of a better Church created by ourselves is in truth a proposal of the devil with whom he wants to distance us from the living God, using a false logic in which we fall too easily. No, even today the Church does not consist only of evil fish and tares. The Church of God is also today, and even today it is the instrument with which God saves us. It is very important to contrast the whole truth with the lies and half-truths of the devil: yes, there are sin and evil in the Church. But even today there is also the holy Church which is indestructible. Even today there are many men who humbly believe, suffer and love and in whom the true God, the loving God, shows himself to us. Even today God has his witnesses ("martyrs") in the world. We just need to be vigilant to see them and listen to them.
The term martyr is taken from procedural law. In the trial against the devil, Jesus Christ is the first and authentic witness of God, the first martyr, to whom countless have followed since. The Church of today is like never before a Church of martyrs and so witness of the living God. If with a watchful heart we look around and we are listening, everywhere, among the simple people but also in the high hierarchies of the Church, we can find witnesses who with their life and their suffering are committed to God. It is laziness of the heart not wanting to notice of them. Among the great and fundamental tasks of our proclamation there is, within the limits of our possibilities, creating spaces of life for faith, and above all finding them and recognizing them.
I live in a house in which a small community of people continually discovers, in everyday life, so witnesses of the living God, pointing them out to me with gladness. Seeing and finding the living Church is a wonderful task that strengthens ourselves and that always makes us rejoice in faith.
At the end of my reflections I would like to thank Pope Francis for all he does to show us the light of God that even today has not gone down. Thank you, Holy Father!