Pope Emeritus Benedict Responds

In April, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI published an essay written in German and translated into English for the National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency on the sexual abuse crisis.

In the essay, Pope Benedict stated that at the center of the abuse crisis in the church was basically apostasy and an alienation and misunderstanding of the faith stemming from the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s. According to Pope Benedict, who himself is a brilliant theologian and scholar, there has been a failure in Catholic moral theology. He stated:

“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.

All this makes apparent just how fundamentally the authority of the Church in matters of morality is called into question. Those who deny the Church a final teaching competence in this area force her to remain silent precisely where the boundary between truth and lies is at stake.

Independently of this question, in many circles of moral theology the hypothesis was expounded that the Church does not and cannot have her own morality. The argument being that all moral hypotheses would also know parallels in other religions and therefore a Christian property of morality could not exist. But the question of the unique nature of a biblical morality is not answered by the fact that for every single sentence somewhere, a parallel can also be found in other religions. Rather, it is about the whole of biblical morality, which as such is new and different from its individual parts.”

Many have criticized the words of Pope Benedict, saying that he did not grasp the situation and that — at the essence of his argument — is a worldview that is too pietistic, too theological and too unworldly.

This past week, Pope Benedict responded to the criticism of his essay with a simple fact — the critiques themselves reveal the basic problem, that the “general deficit” is that most of the responses do not even mention God at all and thus prove his point: “Only obedience and love for our Lord Jesus Christ can point the way.

“The word God does not appear [once],” Pope Benedict said, and the negative responses “show the seriousness of a situation, in which the word ‘God’ in theology even seems to be marginalized.”

The sexual abuse crisis in the church is a complex issue. It involves the very human reality of sin, of selfishness, indeed the very worst of our fallen human nature.

Pope Benedict is correct that the answer lies through, with and in God. In his response, Pope Benedict states that God cannot be marginalized, and he is correct.

Pray for the healing of the church, the protection and safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults, and for all those who have been affected by the plague of child sexual abuse. But recall that this healing can come only from God who is the source, the origin and the end of all things.