First Things

April 26, 2019

By Gerhard Ludwig Müller

Pope Francis is happy with Benedict XVI’s profound analysis of the reasons behind the abuse crisis in the Church, and grateful to his predecessor for pointing out the conclusions those in positions of responsibility must draw. Benedict XVI has rich experience with these issues: from his ministry as a priest (since 1953), as a theology professor (1957), as a bishop (1976), as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II (1981–2005), and as pope (2005–2013).

In the Church, the crucial instrument against sexual abuse is the Motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (2001). This law goes back to John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger, proving that Benedict was and is the most important figure in the Church’s fight against this crisis. He has the widest view of and deepest insight into this problem, its causes and history. He is in a better position than all the blind who want to lead other blind people—not the truly blind on whom Jesus has mercy, but those he warns against because they see and yet do not want to see (cf. Lk 6:39; Mt 13.13).

At age 92, Benedict XVI is capable of deeper theological reflection than his critics, who lack respect and are ideologically blinded. He is able to get closer to the source of the fire that has set the Church’s roof ablaze. The catastrophic fire in Paris, in one of Christendom’s most venerable houses of God, also has a symbolic meaning: It makes us appreciate again the work of good firefighters, instead of blaming them for the water damage done in the course of extinguishing the flames. Rebuilding and renewing the whole Church can only succeed in Christ—if we get our bearings by the Church’s teaching on faith and morals.

The recent assembly of the heads of episcopal conferences in Rome (February 21–24, 2019) should have signaled the beginning of getting to the roots of the evil of abuse. Only if we get to these roots can the Church in Jesus regain credibility as the sacrament of redemption for the world, and again communicate the faith that brings salvation which unites us to God. Unfortunately, the practical conclusions drawn from this assembly have not yet been made public, so the U.S. Bishops’ Conference cannot yet put its suspended measures into practice.

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