Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI published on April 11, 2019, a text running to about a dozen pages in the German monthly journal Klerusblatt. In it he gives his opinions regarding the scandals in the Church, the serious crisis that they are causing, and the regular attacks on the institutional Church by the media. He explains that he is publishing this essay with the approval of the Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, and of Pope Francis.
Benedict XVI Emerges From His Silence
The merits of this document are indisputable, on several grounds. In the midst of this turmoil, its author seeks to shed light on certain dark areas and goes so far as to reveal deep-seated dysfunctions, both past and present, in the Church. The document could be read as a sort of mea culpa, and it must be acknowledged that it took some courage to write it. Was the approach of eternity perhaps a factor in these considerations?
The Media-intelligentsia Criticize the Author for Speaking up
Moreover the media in the present Zeitgeist did not get the message wrong, and critics on all sides took potshots at the inconvenient analysis. The most improbable arguments have been used to discredit the message of the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
Some say that he was “manipulated” by his entourage or call into question the fact that he really is the author of it. Others loudly protest the timing of this publication. Marco Politi, a well-known progressive Vaticanist, does not hesitate to talk about pamphleteering and to lash out: “The pope emeritus ought to have chosen silence,” because “in the most serious moments, only one voice should be heard at the top; otherwise its sows confusion.” He suspects Benedict XVI of being “under the influence of the ultra-conservative German Cardinals Walter Brandmüller and Gerhard Müller”, the former Prefect of the CDF whom the Argentine pope did not reappoint in 2017; two prelates who are, according to him, “engaged in a vast diversionary campaign to blame* the sins of pedophilia within the Church on the gay culture and on the loss of faith”.
Given reactions like these, the reflections of the former German pope deserve to be analyzed calmly. They are divided into three parts: the social context; its consequences for men of the Church; the search for a suitable solution.
Part One: the causes
The Social Context: Liberation from Morality
Benedict XVI intends first to recall that “in the 1960’s an egregious event occurred, on a scale unprecedented in history. It could be said that in the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely.”
These are the deep-seated causes of the crimes of abuse: the libertarian revolution of the 60s and the aggressive implementation of increasingly unbridled sex education, accompanied by the onslaught of pornography which at that time invaded movie theaters and then television screens. From then on there have been heralds of pansexuality willing to praise and to promote pedophilia.
This analysis is vehemently disputed by the opinion makers. To be enlightened on this topic, just consult the [French-language] article on Apologie de la pédophilie [Apologia for pedophilia] published by the online encyclopedia Wikipedia [in France] (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apologie_de_la_pédophilie). The introduction is instructive: “The apologia for pedophilia is the whole set of actions, writings and public stances that aim to make pedophilia socially accepted or simply to speak highly of it. This trend existed mainly at the time of the so-called sexual revolution, essentially in the years immediately following 1968, because of persons presenting themselves as pedophiles, but also because of ‘sympathizers’. Some groups and isolated individuals then sought to present pedophilia as an acceptable sexual attraction, or to challenge the notions of legal age of consent or sexual abuse of a minor. In a parallel development, pedophilia was treated indulgently at that time in various ways by the media, politicians or intellectuals. This movement never reached a lasting, significant level of recognition, despite some limited media and political support in the 1970s.”
In France, a newspaper like Libération campaigned for a long time for the relaxation of legislation against the corruption of minors, with the strong support of petitions signed by celebrities such as Aragon, Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, François Chatelet, Patrice Chéreau, Jacques Derrida, Françoise Dolto, Michel Foucault, André Glucksmann, Félix Guattari, Bernard Kouchner, Jack Lang, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean-Paul Sartre, Philippe Sollers....Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a leader in the May 1968 student uprisings, praised pedophilia, even with a five-year-old girl.
Benedict views this nauseating wave of opinion that considered pedophilia “authorized and appropriate” as one explanation for the corruption of youth, even among a whole generation of priests, many of whom then defected in large numbers.
The Revolution in Moral Theology
In a parallel development there was a “collapse” of moral theology and of Church teaching on morality. This was the product of a veritable revolution that was born of deliberate contempt for the natural law.
Benedict XVI writes: “Until the Second Vatican Council, Catholic moral theology was largely founded on natural law, while Sacred Scripture was only cited for background or substantiation. In the Council's struggle for a new understanding of Revelation, the natural law option was largely abandoned, and a moral theology based entirely on the Bible was demanded.”
The admission is huge: the Council is indeed cited as being responsible for the abandonment of the natural law. The analysis by Benedict XVI acknowledges this abandonment, apparently without deeming it a break with Tradition. For moral theology could not possibly do without the natural law or drift away from it: grace does not destroy nature but rather presupposes it. To try to construct morality without it is sheer nonsense (cf. Nouvelles de Chrétienté, no. 176, March-April 2019, pp. 5-9). Moreover, it is an illusion to pit the natural law against Revelation, because the natural law is contained in Sacred Scripture, the source of Revelation, as the Decalogue clearly shows. This law is inscribed on the human heart by God Himself, the author of nature.
Hence the innumerable excesses of the new theology, and especially moral relativism, which Benedict XVI correctly denounces. Hence too the claim of independence on the part of theologians with regard to the Magisterium, which is perceived as the enemy of liberty and a hindrance to the progress of theology and of humanity. Benedict XVI mentions several episodes of this anti-establishment activity.
He tries to defend himself, along with John Paul II, by highlighting his activity when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Under his direction the new Catechism of the Catholic Church was published, while the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, despite its limitations, came to reaffirm the existence of the inviolable foundations of morality.
Attacks against the Magisterium of the Church
The pope emeritus also mentions “the hypothesis that the Magisterium of the Church should have final competence [infallibility] only in matters concerning the faith.” This hypothesis “gained widespread acceptance,” and many drew the conclusion that “questions concerning morality should not fall within the scope of infallible decisions of the Magisterium of the Church.”
Although he sees that “there is probably something right about this hypothesis”—which is to lend substance to it—Joseph Ratzinger defends the existence of “a minimum set of morals which is indissolubly linked to the foundational principle of faith”, without which there could be no infallibility of the Church and of the pope in matters of faith and morals. The most radical dissenters, in ignoring it, logically claim that “the Church does not and cannot have her own morality.”
The pope emeritus responds by clearly affirming that the foundation of all morality is the revelation that man was created in the image of God, faith in the one God, and the pilgrim aspect of Christian life. We are traveling toward our homeland, and the Church must protect the faithful from the world.
Part Two: The Effects
In the second part of his reflections, Benedict XVI shows the ravages caused by the twofold dissolution of Christian morals and of Church authority in matters of morality. This is where he turns his attention to denouncing the effects while sparing the Council and its reforms. He recognizes nevertheless the inadequacy of the means of punishing—and of healing—that the Church provided for herself after the Council.
Breakdown in Seminary Formation
The former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who is well versed on the subject, mentions first the formation of priests. He bluntly admits that “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.” This breakdown in formation made it possible “in various seminaries [for] homosexual cliques [to be] established, which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries. In one seminary in southern Germany, candidates for the priesthood and candidates for the lay ministry of the pastoral specialist [Pastoralreferent] lived together. At the common meals, seminarians and pastoral specialists ate together.” The last-mentioned laymen were “sometimes accompanied by their wives and children, and on occasion by their girlfriends. The climate in this seminary could not provide support for preparation to the priestly vocation.”
The Holy See knew about these problems, which were particularly widespread in the United States. Apostolic Visitations were organized. This passage is the only mention of homosexuality in the seminaries. In a document dealing with pedophilia, that is more than the media and the pundits can tolerate...
Breakdown in the recruitment of bishops
In that atmosphere of moral collapse, Joseph Ratzinger also admits that the implementation of the Council resulted in the elevation to the Church’s hierarchy of pastors who were inadequately formed for their tasks.
“As the criteria for the selection and appointment of bishops had also been changed after the Second Vatican Council, the relationship of bishops to their seminaries was very different, too. Above all, a criterion for the appointment of new bishops was now their ‘conciliarity’, which of course could be understood to mean rather different things. Indeed, in many parts of the Church, conciliar attitudes were understood to mean having a critical or negative attitude towards the hitherto existing tradition, which was now to be replaced by a new, radically open relationship with the world. 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.”
Hidden behind this observation is a veritable “purge:” its casualties were the bishops devoted to Tradition; they were systematically set aside or replaced by a progressive episcopate who had been won over to the new ideas, those of the Council and of the aggiornameno that authorized just about anything. The implementation of Vatican II by Pope Paul VI is what was at stake here through the nomination of bishops. This subject merits more in-depth study.
Breakdown in Canon Law
Benedict XVI finally addresses directly the issue of pedophilia and the inadequacy of the means to repress it that were provided by the new Code of Canon Law. This passage is particularly instructive.
“The question of pedophilia...did not become acute until the second half of the 1980s.” The bishops of the United States, where the problem had become public, “sought help, since canon law, as it is written in the new (1983) Code, did not seem sufficient for taking the necessary measures...Only slowly, a renewal and deepening of the deliberately loosely constructed criminal law of the new Code began to take shape.”
At the source of this deliberately intended weakness “there was a fundamental problem in the perception of criminal law. Only so-called guarantorism, [a kind of procedural protectionism], was still regarded as ‘Conciliar’. This means that above all the rights of the accused had to be guaranteed, to an extent that factually excluded any conviction at all...[The] right to defense by way of guarantorism was extended to such an extent that convictions were hardly possible.”
The pope emeritus justifies his action by explaining the course that was taken*: “A balanced Canon Law...must therefore not only provide a guarantee for the accused...It must also protect the Faith...In the general awareness of the law, the Faith no longer appears to have the rank of a good requiring protection.”
Because of this guarantorism, it was necessary to get around the difficulty by transferring the competencies of the Congregation of the Clergy, which is normally responsible for dealing with crimes committed by priests, to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the heading of “major delicts [legal offenses] against the faith”. “This arrangement...made it possible to impose the maximum penalty, i.e., expulsion from the clergy, which could not have been imposed under other legal provisions.” In order to protect the Faith, it was necessary to set up a genuine penal procedure, with the possibility of appealing to Rome.
Thus the implacable logic of personalism, which puts the individual before society and the common good, made the justice system of the Church almost inoperative with the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Since then the Roman Curia has made efforts to get around the obstacle, at the cost of juridical contortions and with mixed results. What a mess...
Part Three: Prospects
Benedict XVI concludes his reflections by trying to offer several prospective solutions.
Recall the existence of God, because a godless society abolishes the distinction between good and evil.
The document is addressed mainly to priests; the author exhorts them to commend everything to the love of God but also to reassert vigorously God’s existence with regard to the world. It is necessary to recognize divine intervention in human history, because the rejection of God leads to the destruction of liberty.
“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. And because the compass disappears that points us in the right direction by teaching us to distinguish good from evil. Western society is a society in which God is absent in the public sphere and has nothing left to offer it. And that is why it is a society in which the measure of humanity is increasingly lost.”
Because of this absence of God, some people came to spread lax morals, even to the point of tolerating pedophilia.
In passing, Benedict XVI notes that men of the Church do not speak enough about God in the public square. He seems to regret that the European Constitution ignores God as “the guiding principle for the community as a whole.” Whose fault is that, when Church authorities ever since Vatican II have worked to destroy the Catholic States by abolishing the invocation of God One and Triune in the preambles of their constitutions?
The Liturgical Issue
The pope emeritus continues: it is not enough to recall the existence of God; it is necessary also to live by the Incarnation, particularly through the Holy Eucharist. Faithful to his past teachings, he makes a troubling observation:
“Our handling of the Eucharist can only arouse concern. The Second Vatican Council was rightly focused on returning this sacrament of the Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ, of the Presence of His Person, of His Passion, Death and Resurrection, to the center of Christian life and the very existence of the Church...And yet a rather different attitude is prevalent. 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. The declining participation in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration shows how little we Christians of today still know about appreciating the greatness of the gift that consists in His Real Presence. The Eucharist is devalued into a mere ceremonial gesture when it is taken for granted that courtesy [sic] requires Him to be offered...to all those [who are] invited.”
These considerations are just stunning; they show very clearly the limitations of the analysis by the former pope, who remains attached to the reform of Paul VI while deploring a liturgy that has become trivial because it is desacralized. We will return to this.
Faith in the Church
Finally the former Supreme Pontiff looks into the mystery of the Church. He wonders about and laments the (pseudo) renaissances that ultimately had no future. Just as he explained that Vatican II had intended “a return” to the sacrament of the Eucharist—with paltry results—so too he explains that Vatican II intended to make the Church a reality that is no longer exterior but is supposed to be “awakening in souls”. Fifty years later, “in reconsidering this process and looking at what had been happening”, he is tempted to say: “The Church is dying in souls.” This admission of an obvious failure ought to lead him to call into question the ecclesiological principles of Vatican II. Unfortunately it does not at all. Benedict XVI finds another explanation:
“The Church today is widely regarded as just some kind of political apparatus [one should say instead sociological 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.”
There will always be weeds among the good wheat in the Lord’s field, and bad fish alongside the good in the Church’s fishnets. And he concludes with a beautiful application of a passage from the Book of the Apocalypse (12:10) where the devil is presented as “the accuser of our brethren,” as he was with Job, accusing him in the presence of God.
“The Creator God is confronted with the devil who speaks ill of all mankind and all creation. He says, not only to God but above all to people: Look at what this God has done. Supposedly a good creation, but in reality full of misery and disgust...[He] wants to prove that God Himself is not good, and thus to turn us away from Him...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. No, even today the Church is not just made up of bad fish and weeds. The Church of God also exists today, and today it is the very instrument through which God saves us. 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.”
This beautiful passage, although it is consoling, must not hide the reality of the crisis unleashed by pernicious doctrines handed out lavishly by bad shepherds.
A limited analysis
Although it is severe and appears lucid, the diagnosis made by Benedict XVI nevertheless remains at the level of symptoms: it describes the sickness in terms of its manifestations, it traces some of its causes, but it is incapable of identifying the deep, true causes, or of naming the sickness itself. Consequently, it can propose only palliative treatments which, as everyone knows, only alleviate the symptoms of a sickness without acting on its cause.
Certainly, the libertarian revolution has left a deep mark on the society in which we live, and it ruins consciences. But this revolution accompanied the Council, which had rightly assigned itself the mission of “discerning the signs of the times” so as to respond to the aspirations of the world. In doing do, the Church launched into a whirlpool of reforms that swept away both the faithful and their pastors.
Whereas the slogan in May 1968 was: “Let us make a blank slate of the past” [i.e. start over from nothing], Vatican II had already adopted this spirit in seeking to make “a blank slate of Tradition.” This spirit is clearly present in several documents of the Council, such as Dignitatis Humanae, Unitatis Redintegratio, Gaudium et Spes, as well as the various declarations that came to conclude it. This revolution was manifested in many ways, particularly in the seminaries. The younger generation of priests and consecrated religious was contaminated by the atmosphere of a materialist, atheist and licentious world.
Similarly, the May 1968 Revolution declared: “It is forbidden to forbid.” The weakened moral theology repeated this slogan by promoting relativism and rejecting control by the Magisterium.
The symptoms are therefore obvious. But Benedict XVI refuses to see the Council and its reforms as the reasons for them, in the name of the evasive interpretation which he heralded: the famous “hermeneutic of rupture” that he contrasted with a “hermeneutic of continuity”, which supposedly exonerates Vatican II and the subsequent Magisterium of all responsibility.
It is necessary to state that in these troubled times—the 60s era down to the present day—the authorities have not acted effectively, which is a sign either of tragic weakness or of complicity. But was it not “Saint” Paul VI who steered the bark of Peter during that era? Was this “Saint” weak to that extent, or complicit?
When an effect is observed regularly, it manifests a cause. Trying to limit it to a hermeneutic is insufficient. The logical induction must be followed to its conclusion, and one must have the courage to go back to the seeds that are found in the Council; otherwise we abandon the principle of causality.
All the more so since the measures being taken to try to resolve the problem manifest, in turn, this proliferating cause, like a source of infection. The pope emeritus is clearly obliged to acknowledge the inadequacy of the new Canon Law, and its inability to solve the problems. But who promulgated this Code in the first place? And who then was obliged to devise makeshift solutions, which are themselves inadequate? Was it not “Saint” John Paul II?
And where does this inadequacy come from? From the principle of modern liberty, applied via personalism to all the legislation of the Church, rendering it inoperative. The authorities tied their own hands by proclaiming that they no longer wanted to condemn, as the speeches of John XXIII at the opening of the Council and of Paul VI at its conclusion testify.
As for the blindness about the harmfulness of the liturgical reform, it borders on caricature. The pope emeritus affirms the Council’s good intentions and its nice achievements. He then observes that the result was catastrophic, but he takes care not to reach the compelling conclusion. Not even the fact that the bishops now view the Church only politically or sociologically makes him wonder about the quality of the new ecclesiology ushered in by Lumen Gentium.
This is why his proposals for a recovery, despite some palliative value, will be unable to eradicate the sickness. As Archbishop Lefebvre said, modernism is a sort of spiritual AIDS spread through the Church, which weakens the organism by depriving it of its defenses. Those who are afflicted by it no longer have the necessary strength to recognize the aggressor and to employ suitable means to eliminate it. Only the restoration of all things in Christ, through the Church’s fidelity to her own Tradition, her sacrosanct rites, her revealed doctrine, her perfect morality and her centuries-old discipline, will be able to set the bark of Peter right and cleanse our Holy Mother of the insults that have disfigured her for too long a time.