Benedict XVI Responds to Critiques of His Intervention on the Abuse Crisis

Source: FSSPX News

The pope emeritus has had a brief text inserted into the September 2019 issue of the review Herder Korrespondenz, in response to a criticism appearing in the same journal last July. Written by a German laywoman, the criticism went after the text that Pope Ratzinger published on April 11, 2019, which dealt with the scandals in the Church. He takes this opportunity to retell the heart of his intervention and to expand his response to other criticisms not specifically mentioned.

To understand the response of the pope emeritus, a quick reminder of what was going on in the offending text is in order. 

What Pope Benedict XVI Said 

He first recalls the historical context in which lies the crisis of the moral scandals that have stricken modern societies: the anarchist revolution of the 1960s, followed by the establishment of sex education, the irruption of pornography, the promotion of pedophilia, and the mass defection of the clergy after the Council.

He also highlights the revolution that has taken place in moral theology with its contempt for natural law, moral relativism, claims of independence from the magisterium, and the insufficient response from the Code of Canon Law. In addition, there is the negation of the infallibility of the magisterium in matters of morals, and the generalized affirmation that there is no morality that is properly Catholic.

The pope emeritus’ analysis then describes the consequences of the state of affairs in seminaries and among bishops. Benedict XVI recognizes the existence of the homosexual clans in seminaries and houses of formation. He also points out the modification of the criteria for the naming of bishops after Vatican II: to qualify, it was enough to display a “conciliar” profile, which was understood as being against tradition. He regrets the lack of results produced by the apostolic visits that were put in place to fight against all these evils.

He then directly addresses the pedophilia issue and recognizes the inadequacy of the new Canon Law whose “criminal law [proves] deliberately unstructured”; a certain “guarantee” or exaggerated protection of the rights of the accused makes the conviction of the guilty difficult or even impossible. Then comes an astonishing confession that is ultimately not really surprising: Church members no longer perceive that a balanced canon law should protect the Faith.

One remedy for these difficulties has been to reserve the treatment of cases of abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The last measures taken by Francis reveals the overload of which this dicastery is victim, which cannot continue.

Finally Benedict XVI outlines some answers: trust in the love of God, reaffirm the existence of God, recognize His intervention in the world. The rejection of God leads to the end of freedom, the end of the distinction between good and evil. This is how pedophilia was tolerated and promoted in the 1960s. It is regrettable that even many churchmen no longer speak of God.

This text, courageous in many respects, despite its shortcomings—see our commentary—has been under intense fire from critics. Birgit Aschmann, professor of 19th century European history at Humboldt-Universität, Berlin, and a member of the main committee of the ZdK—the Central Committee of German Catholics, the official body representing laity in the Church in Germany—is taking part in these criticisms. Her article appeared in Herder Korrespondenz in July 2019 under the title: “An Answer to Benedict XVI. The true suffering of Catholics in 1968.” 

A Very Pointed Criticism

From the beginning of the article, the author asserts a counter-truth, claiming that the pope emeritus “has attacked the social developments that he considers as the central cause of the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests.” There is an audacious leap that Mrs. Aschmann repeats a little further: “What is irritating in these words is the willingness to consider only this cause.”

The author goes on to blame the pope emeritus for relying on his own experience and neglecting sociological and scientific results. She states that in 1968, the majority of Germans “wanted neither revolution nor violence,” with the exception of extremists like the anarchists of “Kommune 1” or the Communists of the Red Army Faction [Baader Meinhof Gang]. And concludes: “In any case, contemporary historical research knows nothing about the uninhibited sexualization of youth after 1968.” And besides: “If we look at the latest reports of the Shell study on youth, fifty years after ‘1968,’ we cannot speak of a ‘general lack of norms’ (Benedict XVI). On the contrary, we can note how the last report of 2015 describes youth as being extremely linked to values.”

And to conclude: “A continuous process of socio-moral decadence provoked by ‘the revolution of 1968’ cannot serve as a possible backdrop to explain the abuses committed by clerics, especially as the clergy was part of the Catholic world which, in the 60s and 70s, still had great difficulty in opening up to sexuality.”

The Real Cause of Abuse

Having rehabilitated May 1968, Mrs. Aschmann advances her own idea on the real cause of the scandals, which, according to her, should be looked for in the encyclical Humanae vitae and its consequences among clerics.

Incidentally, our historian has done work on the subject, as she organized a congress on the “encyclical on the pill,” as she calls it (Pillenenzyklika). It was in September 2018, for the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae vitae. She gives us her sources: “This contribution is based on a first evaluation of the innumerable letters written to Cardinal Julius Döpfner during the summer of 1968.”

Birgit Aschmann states that “ ‘the encyclical on the pill,’ which Pope Paul VI signed on July 25, 1968, triggered an earthquake, especially within Catholicism in North America and Western Europe. The official confirmation of the prohibition of artificial contraceptives through the teaching has met with almost unanimous opposition everywhere.” –That’s easy to say, because the revolt was first and foremost the deed of the Belgian, French, and German bishops, as well as the Canadian episcopate, who interpreted the encyclical in such as was as to empty it of its substance. Elsewhere there were differences among the bishops, as in England. Finally, many bishops positively welcomed the encyclical.

But, imperturbable, the demonstration continues: “It comes out clearly in the letters that it was not love or sexual desire that was the dominant emotion in the conjugal life of the people concerned, but rather fear”—fear of sin and fear of conception!

The socio-historical reason is that, “in the 1960s, the majority of marriage counselors [including priests] were convinced that people taking responsibility to themselves regarding the decision about appropriate means of family planning was part of the concept of responsible parenthood. In many letters, it is clear to what extent this new concept has been liberating.”

Thus, “in Germany, not only many married couples, but also many pastors and theologians consider it to be ‘pastorally impossible’ that this decision of conscience could again be stigmatized according to the requirements of the encyclical and, even further, be incompatible with a religion of love.”

The Saving Declaration of Königstein

Fortunately “before the flood of letters through which the diocesan bishops had been assailed to find a solution which would diminish the requirements of the encyclical, the Königstein Declaration of the end of August 1968 would appear as a Solomonic decision.” This declaration is very similar to the Belgian reaction led by Cardinal Suenens, which predates it: it is necessary to give religious obedience to the encyclical, but the Catholic conscience can, in certain circumstances, make a decision which will lead to a decision that moves away from it.

In this way, “the hopes of the German laity, pastors, and theologians that the encyclical Humanae vitae could be withdrawn or modified would finally be disappointed.” Henceforth, they kept themselves at a distance from the teaching and the confessionals. We then see that “the encyclical thus lacked something it needed to be valid: the approval of the sensus fidelium.”—At  least that’s what the modernists teach. 

Mrs. Aschmann is not afraid to add that “theologians and lay people who resisted the encyclical did so mainly because they were concerned about the authority of the papacy.” Whence her question: “How many of the priests who left the priesthood in the late sixties and seventies were motivated to take this step by this indissoluble tension between doctrinal expectation and pastoral conviction? What solutions have been found for those who stayed?”

Why Your Daughter is Mute

We come to the end of the demonstration. “It is important to ask whether the sexual life of priests and religious changed after Humanae vitae. It seems quite plausible that sexual practices that deviate from the ideal of chastity are not to be blamed because of an alleged sexualization of the whole society, but that they have been promoted by an ecclesial sexual morality, considered to be more and more foreign to the world, but also by the content and the form it takes in turning away from the Vatican Council II.”(sic)

Finally, the author advances a type of Freudian explanation: “The frustration on the one hand and the inability to speak on the other could have diminished the inhibition of priests against seeking sexual contact with other men, women—and even children.” The proposition is still put in the conditional. She adds that this still remains to be proven, but the last sentence of the article is revealing: “Already in the summer of 1968, a counterproductive effect had been predicted, because ‘an incomprehensible law and impracticable causes,’ warned a doctor, “produce the opposite of what is sought.”

Analysis Blinded By Prejudice

The analysis—if the term is adequate—seems to be focused on the first lines of Joseph Ratzinger’s text. It is not right to retain only one element, certainly important, but which is neither the only nor the principal one. Still, it is then much easier to demolish what has been previously caricatured.

In taking May 1968 into consideration, Birgit Aschmann limits herself to the situation in Germany. But these events are not just about this country. So, the French students chanted: “Paris! Rome! Tokyo! Berlin!” They also stated that their claims were made in the name of “Marx, Mao, and Marcuse.” It was truly a revolution, anarchy, that marked the generation and profoundly corrupted morals. Let’s remember another famous slogan: “It is forbidden to forbid,” the anarchist slogan. Finally, let’s not forget the “neither god nor master” of Léo Ferré. If Mrs. Aschmann is content with the values of today’s German society, she probably does not know what Catholic morality represents in its entirety and confuses her little catechism with Mao’s little red book.

Wanting to attribute the disorientation of the clergy to the encyclical Humanae vitae, amounts to saying that the law is responsible for crime. Of course, it is the law that makes it possible to gauge and judge crime, but to hold it responsible is to completely reverse the order of cause and effect.

Incidentally, the presentation suggests that the evolution of the world has brought about the necessity to change a law that has become obsolete. This is the famous wind of history, which allows ideologues and utopians to pull down the natural order and subvert traditional societies. Unfortunately, since Vatican II, the Church has not been spared. Jean Madiran described it in his masterly book, The Heresy of the Twentieth Century: Revelation must adapt to the modern world, to liberal values, and to changes brought about by secularization. It is to step outside the order of the faith.

Benedict XVI’s Response 

The pope emeritus is content to emphasize what seems most important to him: “the word God, which I have made the central point of the question, does not appear” in Mrs. Aschmann’s article, thereby disqualifying her. He adds, “As far as I can see, God does not appear in most of the reactions to my contribution, and with it, exactly that is not being discussed which I had wanted to stress as kernel of the question.” Thus, most of the reactions miss the point: it “shows me the seriousness of a situation, in which the word God even in theology often seems to stand at the margins.” 

Such is not the commentary that FSSPX.News has drawn up from Benedict XVI’s text. While endeavoring to take its exact measure, it also points out the limits and the shortcomings.