It isn’t everyday that you get to point readers toward a think piece written by a pope, even if we are talking about a retired pope, in this case.
It also helps that retired Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the hottest of hot-button topics in Catholic life — the ongoing scandal of Catholic priests sexually abusing children, with the vast majority of the victims being teen-aged males. That has created all kinds of hot topics to debate or to attempt to avoid debating.
Reactions to the letter have been predictable, to say the least, renewing discussions of the church of Pope Francis and the church of Pope Benedict XVI. The same has been true in the press, with this New York Times story being so predictable that, at times, it verges on self-parody. This Washington Post story hows evidence that reporters tried to gather cheers and boos that were linked to the crucial passages in the retired pope’s text. Here’s the Post overture:
ROME — Breaking years of silence on major church affairs, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written a lengthy letter devoted to clerical sex abuse in which he attributes the crisis to a breakdown of church and societal moral teaching and says he felt compelled to assist “in this difficult hour.”
The 6,000-word letter, written for a small German Catholic publication and published in translation by other outlets Thursday, laments the secularization of the West, decries the 1960s sexual revolution and describes seminaries that became filled during that period with “homosexual cliques.”
It helps, of course, to read the actual text of “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse.” Click here for an English translation, care of Catholic News Agency.
The key is that Benedict — returning to a theme voiced throughout his long public life — warns believers that they are living in an age in which the basics of Christian faith are under attack (even in seminaries). Thus, Christians in a smaller, embattled, church must be prepared to get back to the basics of doctrine and sacraments. Just going to Mass will not be enough. Note this passage:
Faith is a journey and a way of life. In the old Church, the catechumenate was created as a habitat against an increasingly demoralized culture, in which the distinctive and fresh aspects of the Christian way of life were practiced and at the same time protected from the common way of life. I think that even today something like catechumenal communities are necessary so that Christian life can assert itself in its own way.
Oh my, that’s a quotation that could be featured on the next edition of “The Benedict Option,” by my friend Rod Dreher.
Like I said earlier, it’s easy to find cheers and boos for this remarkable intervention by Benedict in the church’s current discussions of topics such as clergy sexual abuse, seminary life, worship, homosexuality and life in post-Christian cultures.
In this think-piece slot, I would like to point readers to a critique of the former pope’s articles by a Catholic conservative — but one whose work on the sexual-abuse crisis has made insiders on the right nervous, as well as the left. I am talking about Leon Podles, author of the blistering, brutal, relentlessly researched book, “Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church.” He often cooperated, in his research, with the late Richard Sipe — an important voice on the Catholic left.
In his online look at the Benedict article, Podles opens with this summary, which includes an important correction:
In retirement Pope Benedict has written an article for a Bavarian journal for priests on the causes of the sexual abuse crisis. I largely agree, and the article is not an exhaustive catalogue, but there are still some serious omissions. The causes that Benedict identifies are:
* A loss of a lively as opposed to an abstract belief in God.
* The denial of the teaching authority of the Church in matters of morality
* The sexual revolution in the 1960s
* The sole focus on protecting rights of accused priests.
It should be noted that Benedict uses the term pedophilia. This is inaccurate, but is a widespread shorthand for the abuse of young people and I think it is clear that this is what Benedict means. True pedophilia, sexual activity with pre-pubertal children, is rare and in fact declined among Catholic priest in the United States over the past two generations.
Podles has much to say that is positive. However, journalists will want to note these significant criticisms.
In short, it is important to note what Pope Benedict XVI did not say about crucial realities during the era in which he served and, eventually, sat in the Throne of St. Peter:
… There are two omissions in Benedict’s catalog, one he will never address and one he may or may not have considered, because it concerns a deeper problem.
First: Pope John Paul II refused to deal with sexual abuse beyond a few anodyne remarks. John Paul protected abusers like Maciel and refused to listen to pleas, including from Cardinal Schoenborn, to act. Why?
Second: Sexual abuse did not begin in the sixties. The Holy Office had extensive files from the Counter-Reformation on solicitation in the confessional. St. John Calasanctius founded the Piarists and covered up a bad case of abuse in one of his schools to avoid alienating the Cherubini family which was influential at the Vatican. When the Jesuit archives were uncovered after the French revolution there were many cases of abuse in them.
In many cultures, pederasty is a widespread and accepted practice. By pederasty I mean a sexual liaison between an older man and an adolescent or young man, the type of liaisons that Cardinal McCarrick engaged in.
Oh yes — Theodore McCarrick. There are so many questions to ask about Uncle Ted.