The question of sexual abuse inside the Church is a complex issue in terms of its root causes and consequences, responsibilities and solutions. Thus it is perfectly natural to explain it in different ways, provided that it is ultimately countered together.
That is the interpretative key of the Pope Emeritus’ statement on sexual scandals – far from preconceived and misleading opinions. With his intervention Benedict wished to give his contribution to this thorny issue, and he did so with his style and his sensitivity, and with the credibility due to the figures who in those years had the courage to initiate a radical change in the customary clerical-defensive approach to this problem. Overlooking this fact is rather bizarre.
In all respects the document , far from being an analytical text, comprises a set of “notes” – as the author defined them – which do not purport to be exhaustive or conclusive.
For example, Ratzinger’s reading of those events and their historical course clearly lacks a systematic perspective and a related identification of responsibilities at various levels: no reference is made of the victims (expect for an indirect mention); the connection between abuse of power and of conscience is not emphasized and nor is the culture of abuse and its cover-up or the phenomenon of clericalism…
Yet nobody can deny the truth of the reflection that ascribes the root cause of the crisis (also) to the so-called “morality of the situation” whereby “there no longer was the (absolute) good, but only the relatively better, contingent on the moment and on circumstances”, with heavy repercussions also inside the Church and in the conscience of those called to be formators of consciences. Those among us working in this sector are familiar with the dismay felt whenever the abusive priest asked what he did wrong, or when we learned that those priests had never pleaded forgiveness to anyone (and these are not pathological cases). Yet there are those among us who deem the current “mea culpa” excessive…
Indeed, the cause of abuses does not only reside in a crisis in authority or in the general climate of moral and sexual permissiveness that exploded in 1968. Nonetheless – yet again – it cannot be denied that that one of its consequences is the very pervasive mediocrity that little by little stripped passion and enthusiasm also from priests’ lives, causing them to seek the pleasure and the beauty of their choice precisely in what denies and deforms it.
Authority is meaningful only when it prompts growth and conveys reliability. However, we are increasingly aware of the fact that when it is missing, when in a path of formation authority is weak and uncertain, it unexplainably exposes the future priest to abuse that authority and his role, falling prey to forms of desperate clericalism that seek to exert power over others.
Paedophilia is certainly not a product of the sexual revolution, and Ratzinger is well aware that there have been paedophiles long before then. Moreover, the much-vaunted sexual liberation (notably, to have sex “with whoever I chose to, whenever and as many times I want”), that resulted from that revolution, did not produce authentic freedom that “blesses” sexuality, recognizing its beauty and truth, respectful of its morphology. In fact it deluded and allured even those who should have known where the pure joy of encounter resides. Freedom was eventually manifested by the victims who started to speak out in those same years, that made us ask ourselves: how much Gospel is present in a church where my fellow other is not only violated but where self-defence takes precedence over the will to understand the tragedy it is responsible for?
Thanks to them this was a moment of grace. But it will preserve that element of grace if we all feel involved in the current reform of the Church and if we each give our contribution, from our respective angles, for we are all responsible. May the love of the Father shine through in every gesture and affection.