Benedict is pouring salt in old wounds rather than helping the church move forward

Daily News

April 17, 2019

By John Gehring

t’s a strange and unhelpful business having more than one pope living at the same time. When Benedict XVI announced he was stepping down in 2013, the first pontiff in six centuries to abdicate his position pledged to “remain hidden to the world.” The humility and grace Benedict showed in making that revolutionary decision to renounce power is now overshadowed by a tone-deaf insistence to weigh in with his opinions, even when those conclusions can be used to undermine Pope Francis.

The “pope emeritus” who still wears white — a title and color that Benedict should stop using to avoid the perception of competing papacies, much as a former police chief or general would take off the uniform when commenting from the sidelines — set off a whirlwind of media coverage and theological head-spinning last week when he weighed in about the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

In a lengthy essay for a German church magazine, published in the United States by conservative Catholic web sites that frequently criticize Francis, Benedict points to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the absence of God in public life, and even moral theologians who challenged aspects of the church’s teachings as contributing to clerical abuse.

A culture of sexual permissiveness in the 1960s, he argues, accepted pedophilia as “allowed and appropriate.” Sexual education of children and nudity in advertising created a “propensity for violence.” This is why, in one of his more bizarre claims, “sex films were no longer allowed on airplanes” because “violence would break out among the small community of passengers.”

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In Benedict’s narrative, the mix of social protest and changing sexual mores left the church itself a victim. “Homosexual cliques” corrupted seminaries, he writes, an argument taken to its pernicious extreme by some conservative bishops today who continue to blame gay clergy for the abuse crisis despite evidence to the contrary.

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It’s much easier to point accusing fingers at the secular forces supposedly conspiring against the church or to scapegoat gay clergy than to take a hard look at your own house. In fact, this hunkered-down style of fortress Catholicism — defensive and reactionary — helped shape a mentality that led church leaders to become isolated, privileged and comfortable. Priests and bishops, viewed as a heroic class set apart, were less servants than those who expected to be served, protectors of an institution rather than protectors of children.

Francis, in contrast, has correctly diagnosed the systemic and cultural problems at the heart of clericalism that too often led to abuses of power. “To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of clericalism,” the pope wrote in a letter to the Catholic faithful last summer.

Benedict is a kind, gentle man with a deep spirituality. He is also hurting the church he loves. It’s sad to watch him unwittingly give credibility to a small but vocal contingent of reactionary Catholic bishops and right-wing Catholic activists who view the reformist Francis papacy as a threat. At a time when transparency, accountability and decisive action are needed to prevent future abuse, the Catholic Church is not well served by a former pope whose vision is blurred by theological and cultural nostalgia.

Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.