Thomas Reese: Pope Benedict’s Letter Ignores the Facts on the Catholic Sex Abuse Crisis

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sits in St. Peter’s Basilica as he attends the ceremony marking the start of the Holy Year on Dec. 8, 2015, at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

The recent essay on clergy sexual abuse by Benedict XVI shows why it was such a good idea for him to resign as pope. In the letter released last week, he shows how out of touch he is with the causes of the abuse crisis.

Fundamentally, Benedict lives in a Platonic world of ideas where facts don’t matter.

Most of the media attention since a German Catholic magazine published Benedict’s 6,000-word statement has been focused on Benedict blaming the sex abuse crisis on the collapse of sexual standards in the 1960s.

Actually, he may have a point. Data presented by the 2004 John Jay report on clerical abuse showed that, both in the church and in America as a whole, the number of abuse cases began increasing in the mid-1960s and peaked in the 1970s. Something was happening, not just in the church but in the world.

On the other hand, sexual abuse was occurring prior to the 1960s. The church and America were just better at covering it up.

But Benedict also wants to blame sex abuse on contemporary moral theologians who challenged the church’s traditional, natural law ethics, especially as it applied to sexual ethics. Contemporary moral theology is less rule-based and, rather, takes a more personalistic and relational approach. Challenging the church’s opposition to birth control, as did most theologians, opened the floodgates to all sorts of sexual sins, including child abuse, in his view.

This is a fight Joseph Ratzinger has waged for most of his ecclesiastical career. While he was prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005, scores of Catholic theologians were fired from seminaries, reprimanded or silenced. Others practiced self-censorship in order to avoid the wrath of Rome.

It is flabbergasting to hear him in his letter complain that respect for due process kept him from dealing with this infestation. Too many scholars bear the scars of his inquisitional approach to dissent in the church. CDF’s procedures — where it acted as accuser, judge and jury — had no concept of contemporary ideas of due process.

It does not matter that no moral theologian can be found who condoned the sexual assault and rape of children. Facts don’t matter.

It does not matter that abusers came not just from the ranks of liberals like Theodore McCarrick but also from conservatives like Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ.

Click here to read more.
Source: Religion News Service