Pope Benedict XVILietuviškas tekstas paskelbtas bernardiniai.lt puslapyje.

Based on the criticism that I have seen in the media, it would appear as though the very first lines of the commentary have condemned it even before anyone reads it. In Benedict’s own words, a brief highlight of the cultural context is what he sought to present. And this gloss-over of the historical context begins with the sexual revolution that began in the 1960’s. At first glance, this could seem odd.

It seems odd because sexual abuse and pedophilia have always existed. So this immediately causes outrage, because it is basically general knowledge that there were cases of abuse even in the Church before 1960. So it seems as though yet again that those in positions of responsibility (former and current) are out of touch with basic reality. It would seem as though they are still not willing to take an honest look at the problem.

However, when we read the text without an emotional attachment, we can see some subtleties.

The first subtlety is that we must remember that we are talking about the crisis in the Church. Thus, we are not talking about the first time in history that a sexual crime was committed by a cleric. Nor are we talking about how it is even possible for a man of God to carry out such horrific things. Rather, it is about how the current situation became so bad, so unthinkably enormous and widespread. Given the emotional attachment most people have to this topic, I think this point could have been more clearly presented.

A second subtlety is about the normalization of pedophilia. The pope emeritus simply says that it was normalized as a result of this sexual freedom. I was alerted to the gravity of this in early Fall last year talking with a friend. I was not at all aware that in the 70’s and 80’s there were political parties who advocated for the legalization of pedophilia. Fact-checking what seemed to be preposterous, I discovered that there exists still even today the North American Man/Boy Love Association.

The historical points are significant and have their influence on the whole issue. I do find Benedict’s analysis good. It was intriguing to read, and there were elements of which I was not aware of previously. Despite this, the second section for me was more difficult and problematic.

There is an immediate and appropriate link with the cultural context presented in the first section. This is important because all priests, religious brothers and nuns first come from the secular world. Before entering the seminary or religious congregations, they were members of the general society. They were imprinted with the culture where they were raised, just as they still are today. This is completely normal. So when society finds that certain practices are normal, others are outdated, new ones are coming in vogue, this also enters into places of formation and do so, I would argue, for two reasons. The first is that these things come with the candidates themselves. The second reason is because the various communities seek to adapt to the times. So eventually, there are a lot of elements of society in general that enter into religious communities, whether they be good or bad.

What can next be easily misunderstood due to his manner of presentation is that somehow Pope Benedict is also blaming the current crisis on homosexuality. Immediately after mentioning the degradation of priestly formation, the first thing mentioned was the emergence of not-so-secretive homosexual cliques. While this is true, and I have personally witnessed this in two different countries, there is no immediate link between homosexuality and sexual abuse, nor was Benedict saying that there is such a link. That is extremely important to note. It bears repeating: being gay does not predispose you to sexually abusing minors. For many people this seems counterintuitive because much of the abuse by priests was inflicted on male pre-teens and young teenagers. That is clearly not a strict “pedophile” problem, which the majority of people recognize. At the same time, however, it is also not a strict “homosexual” problem. Experts have consistently found that sexual orientation is not a factor in abuse. There are many elements and factors that need to be discussed when talking about homosexuality that go beyond the scope of the topic at hand.

While I agree with what the Pope emeritus writes, I find it lacking concerning the reality of the damage done to the victims. This omission is most evident towards the end of this second section where he talks about defending the faith above all else. I cannot at all argue with that. But we must also be conscious in mind and above all in heart that the faith and its transmission were damaged because of these horrific crimes committed against minors. They are people, small people. They have a soul, they have feelings. They were still developing, learning about love, life and relationships and about their faith. By committing these atrocities, those perpetrator-priests destroyed lives. They did not simply destroy the gift of faith that these minors had, they destroyed their lives. They distorted their understanding of what a relationship is, what friendship is, what love is and what safety is. Omitting this element in a key place is a serious deficiency, and one that leaves many people wondering if the Church really has a heart.

Holy Mother Church really does have a heart, and the pope emeritus does present these facts in the third section where he focuses on his suggestion for the way forward. He shows his feelings and that this scandal truly is horrendous, just not as explicitly as above. But his horrification is very much there. I’m willing to bet that most people did not see that for at least two reasons. The first is that his text, a little like this article, is long and as such many people probably would not have read it entirely. The second reason is actually two-fold. First, the bulk of the condemnation is dispersed throughout this last section. Throughout the entire text, it is only here in the final section where he specifically references the atrocious scandal. But even then it is still mostly, but not entirely, in a veiled fashion. Second, the main focus of this section is a stark and fervent call to bring God back to the center of our lives. This call is not only for society at large, but also very specifically for even priests. His wording on that is rather strong. Even in the most specific reference to a victim, the tone somehow always remains focused on the damage to the faith. Rather than being explicit, we are forced to read between the lines. We cannot forget that these abuses and these crimes were committed against children and in so doing, they were wounded very profoundly to the core of their person.

Pope Benedict is quite correct that the ultimate reason for this widespread atrocity is because we have failed collectively and individually to keep God in the center. Instead we have moved him to being a simple private matter. The most basic definition of sin is a turning away from God. With this text, Pope Benedict continues to show his skill as an experienced professor seeking to bring us to truth and to the light. Everyone wants a simple answer to how this crisis could happen, but no one wants to accept the one true simple answer. When we keep God in the center we avoid the haughtiness of clericalism, we remain grounded in basic moral actions, we see the fragility and value of each human person and do not take advantage of them. Personally, I cannot dispute his claims. I just wish that more care and attention would have been given to the plight of the victims, to the seemingly insurmountable burdens they carry, to their lifelong enduring pain.

Br. David Minot OSB