Highlights & Reaction Roundup
On April 10, 2019, the “Pope Emeritus” Benedict XVI, with the prior permission of “Pope” Francis, published a 6000-word letter on the sexual abuse crisis in the German Klerusblatt (a regional periodical for clergy), which was released at the same time on the internet in various languages. The German original and the English translation of the missive are available here:
- “Benedikt im Wortlaut: Die Kirche und der Skandal des sexuellen Mißbrauchs” (CNA Deutsch)
- “Full text of Benedict XVI essay: ‘The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse’” (Catholic News Agency)
The editor of Inside the Vatican, Robert Moynihan, has opined that the letter is “absolutely the most important text Benedict has published since his resignation of the papacy in February 2013.”
In this post, we will first present what we believe to be the most significant quotes from the lengthy letter, followed by a reaction roundup from many different sources and perspectives.
Highlights of the Letter (all are direct quotations)
- 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.
- Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ’68 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.
- At the same time, independently of this development, Catholic moral theology suffered a collapse that rendered the Church defenseless against these changes in society.
- The crisis of the justification and presentation of Catholic morality reached dramatic proportions in the late ’80s and ’90s.
- In moral theology, however, another question had meanwhile become pressing: The hypothesis that the Magisterium of the Church should have final competence (“infallibility”) only in matters concerning the faith itself gained widespread acceptance; (in this view) questions concerning morality should not fall within the scope of infallible decisions of the Magisterium of the Church. There is probably something right about this hypothesis that warrants further discussion. But there is a minimum set of morals which is indissolubly linked to the foundational principle of faith and which must be defended if faith is not to be reduced to a theory but rather to be recognized in its claim to concrete life.
- 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. In various seminaries homosexual cliques were established, which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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). 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. The modern use of the sentence is not in itself wrong, but it must not obscure the original meaning.
- 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.
- In fact, it is important to see that such misconduct by clerics ultimately damages the Faith. Only where Faith no longer determines the actions of man are such offenses possible.
- 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.
- We might then say that the first fundamental gift that Faith offers us is the certainty that God exists.
- 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.
- 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.
- Indeed, in theology God is often taken for granted as a matter of course, but concretely one does not deal with Him.
- Our handling of the Eucharist can only arouse concern…. 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
In sum, this text was a contribution typical for its author: Ratzinger has always been an academic know-it-all, totally incompetent in the practical order but always — or so he thinks — having all the answers in theory. He even introduces a new -ism into the controversy: guarantorism! (Garantismus). Apparently the perpetual professor still has not understood that the sex abuse epidemic in his Modernist sect does not need any more documents.
John Henry Westen, the editor-in-chief of Life Site, has produced a video clip with what he identifies as the top takeaways from the Emeritus letter:
Since the release of Benedict’s missive, a lot of reactions have poured in from all the different “wings” of the Novus Ordo Sect, as well as from some outside it. Most of the reactions can largely be sorted into three different categories, though not all to quite the same degree, of course: (1) Two thumbs up! (2) How dare he! and (3) Whatever!
We have collected many of the relevant links and presorted them by category for our readers:
(1) Two Thumbs Up! — And other mostly positive Reactions
- “Cardinal” Gerhard Muller: Benedict’s letter “more intelligent than all” contributions to the abuse summit
- “Cardinal” Gerhard Muller: Ratzinger missive “an excellent analysis of this issue”
- “Cardinal” Giovanni Becciu: Benedict “attempts to help Pope Francis”
- Vatican Media’s Andrea Tornielli: Benedict’s contribution “profoundly and simply Christian”, just like Francis’
- “Fr.” John Zuhlsdorf: It’s a “Cri de Coeur” (Cry from the Heart) with “Great Pain”
- “Fr.” John Zuhlsdorf: “This may be Benedict’s prophetic call to those who are listening.”
- Michael Brendan Dougherty: an intervention “powerful and sad”, “explosive”, “occasionally acerbic and aggrieved”
- Church Militant: Benedict’s Letter Cites Porn Scandal at Detroit Seminary
- R. R. Reno: Benedict Speaks
- Andrea Gagliarducci: “Benedict XVI nailed it: the crisis of sexual abuse is a crisis of faith”
- Former Novus Ordo (now Eastern Heterodox) Rod Dreher: BXVI’s Benedict Option
- Rod Dreher: “there is wisdom in his essay not only for Catholics, but for all Christians”
- C. C. Pecknold: “his voice is unmistakable. It is the voice of a father.”
- Phil Lawler: “The two Popes, past and present, are miles apart in their analysis of the sex-abuse scandal.”
- Austin Ivereigh: Benedict’s letter on sex abuse is not an attack on Francis (or Vatican II)
- “Bp.” Charles Chaput: “Ratzinger has moments of insight and genius that fall like rain in a desert”
- Ed Condon: “Benedict’s theology of penal law … offers a powerful rationale for Pope Francis’ action.”
- Catholic Family News: “a mixed bag” but “mostly a clear assessment of reality”
- Sandro Magister: “Joseph Ratzinger has gone to the the root of the scandal”
- Jeffrey Mirus: “intriguing”!
- Carl Olson: “insightful” but “incomplete”
- The Remnant: “Way to go, Your Emeritusness!”
- Kevin O’Brien: “I have been waiting seventeen years for this.”
- Pedro Gabriel: “invaluable input from someone who has been at the center of this fight for years”
(2) How Dare He! — And other mostly negative Reactions
- New York Times: “the most significant undercutting yet of the authority of Pope Francis”
- Massimo Faggioli: “misstep” and “untimely meditation”
- Massimo Faggioli: “improper intervention” (beware of immodest ads on that site)
- Brian Flanagan: “embarrassing letter” with “embarrassingly wrong explanation” for abuse
- La Croix International: “a troubling text by Benedict XVI”
- Bob Mickens: “Someone needs a box of Crayolas and some coloring books.”
- Bob Mickens: “This time Benedict XVI oversteps the line”
- Hellboy [“Fr.” James Martin, SJ]: “Blaming it on poor theology and the sexual mores of the 1960s dramatically misses the mark.”
- NCR’s Jamie Manson: “what Benedict’s letter achieves is something he likely did not intend”
- NCR’s Michael Sean Winters: At first “I thought the text was a hoax”
- Marie-Jo Thiel: “He does not seem to perceive the overall problem”
- Patheos’ Justin Tse: “The letter stands or falls on its merits alone, and there are few to recommend it.”
- Andrew Sullivan: “familiar, evasive, and exhausted” — “no reflection at all on his own culpability … just an easy, knee-jerk attempt to blame his old enemies for them”
- “Fr.” Martin Werlen, OSB: “Someone who has looked even a little bit into the tragic problem of abuse in the Church could not write this way”
- Vatican Insider: “Francis and the shadow of Ratzinger, a coexistence that weighs on the Vatican” (beware of immodest ads on that site)
- Forge and Anvil: A “Nothingburger from Not-Pope”
- Steve Skojec: Benedict Breaks His “Silence” to Say Not Very Much at All
- Louie Verrecchio: Benedict’s Stunning Admission
- Christopher Altieri: “Right or wrong, Benedict told us very little—practically nothing—we did not already know.”
By the way: A sedevacantist critique of Ratzinger with regard to this letter has been penned by Dr. Thomas Droleskey:
On April 15, Francis paid a visit to the Emeritus to extend to him good wishes for his 92nd birthday the following day and for the upcoming feast of Easter, which they both claim to celebrate despite denying the dogma of Christ’s Resurrection (see here for Ratzinger and here for Bergoglio).
What will be the fallout of this letter? Ultimately, nothing. It is simply another flash in the pan: A big hullaballo is being made about it now, but give it two more weeks and no one will remember a thing about it. Francis will have moved on to 13 other things keeping all the journalists busy, and the Emeritus will once again be exercising his “contemplative” part of the “expanded ministry” he claims to share with Francis, until the whole circus starts over again about some other topic in a few months.
It’s getting old.