Text in wording

Text in wording

Writings of Benedict XVI. © Osservatore Romano (CBA)

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. has written an essay on the crisis in the Catholic Church. In it, he attributes the declining faith in society to the '68 movement. The text in the wording.

From 21. – 24. February 2019, at the invitation of Pope Francis, the presidents of all the world's bishops' conferences had gathered at the Vatican to discuss the crisis of faith and of the Church, which was felt around the world as a result of shocking information about abuse perpetrated by clerics against minors. The volume and weight of the news about such events have deeply shaken priests and laity, and for not a few have called into question the faith of the Church as such. Here a strong sign had to be set and a new departure had to be sought in order to make the Church again truly credible as a light among the nations and as a helping force in the face of the destructive powers.

Since I myself was in a responsible position as a shepherd in the church at the time of the public outbreak of the crisis and during its growth, I had to ask myself – even though I no longer bear direct responsibility as an emeritus professor – what I could contribute to a new awakening from the perspective of hindsight. Thus, in the period from the announcement to the time of the meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops' Conferences, I have compiled notes with which I can contribute one or two hints to help in this difficult hour. After contacts with Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin and the Holy Father himself, it seems to me right to publish the resulting text in the "Clerical Gazette.

My work is divided into three parts. In a first point, I will try very briefly to present the general social context of the question, without which the problem cannot be understood. I am trying to show that in the 1960s a monstrous process took place, the like of which has probably never been seen on this scale in history. It can be said that in the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, the standards of sexuality that had been in force up to then were completely broken down, and a normlessness arose that in the meantime people have tried to counteract.

In a second point, I try to suggest the implications of this situation in priestly formation and in the life of priests. Finally, in a third part, I would like to develop some perspectives for a right response on the part of the Church.


1. The matter begins with the introduction of children and youth into the nature of sexuality, prescribed and supported by the state. In Germany, the Minister of Health, Mrs. Strobel, had a film made in which, for the purpose of enlightenment, everything that was not allowed to be shown publicly before, including sexual intercourse, was now shown. What was initially intended only to educate young people has subsequently been adopted as a general possibility as a matter of course.

Similar effects were achieved by the "sex kit" ied by the Austrian government. Sex and pornographic films were now a reality, to the point that they were now being shown in railroad station cinemas. I still remember one day walking into the city of Regensburg and seeing crowds of people standing and waiting in front of a large movie theater, the kind of crowds we had previously only experienced in wartime, when some special allotment was to be hoped for. I also remember coming into town on Good Friday 1970 and seeing all the billboards covered with an advertising poster depicting two completely naked people in close embrace in large format.

Among the freedoms that the revolution of 1968 wanted to fight for, there was also this total sexual freedom that no longer allowed any norms. The propensity to violence that characterized these years is closely connected with this mental breakdown. In fact, no more sex films were allowed on airplanes because violence broke out in the small community of passengers. Because the excesses in the area of clothing also provoked aggression, school principals also attempted to introduce school clothing that would facilitate a climate of learning.

Part of the physiognomy of the 68 revolution was that pedophilia was now also permitted and diagnosed as appropriate. At least for the young people in the Church, but not only for them, this was a very difficult time in many ways. I have always wondered how young people in this situation could approach the priesthood and accept it with all its consequences. The widespread collapse of the new generation of priests in those years and the excessive number of laicizations were a consequence of all these events.

2. Independently of this development, a collapse of Catholic moral theology took place in the same period, which left the church defenseless against what was happening in society. I try to sketch very briefly the course of this development. Up to II. After the Second Vatican Council, Catholic moral theology was largely founded on natural law, while Holy Scripture was only cited as a background or affirmation. In the Council's struggle for a new understanding of Revelation, the natural law option was largely discarded and a moral theology based entirely on the Bible was called for. I still remember how the Jesuit faculty in Frankfurt had a highly gifted young priest (Schuller) prepared for the construction of a morality based entirely on Scripture. The beautiful dissertation of Father Schuller shows a first step towards the construction of a morality based on Scripture. Father Schuller was then sent to America for further study and returned with the realization that morality could not be systematically presented from the Bible alone. He then tried a more pragmatic approach to moral theology, without being able to give an answer to the crisis of morality.

Finally, the thesis that morality is to be determined solely from the purposes of human action became widely accepted. The old phrase "the end justifies the means" was not confirmed in this crude form, but its form of thought had become determinant. Thus, there could be no such thing as good per se and no such thing as evil per se, but only relative evaluations. There was no longer the good, but only the relatively, in the moment and depending on the circumstances, better.

The crisis of the justification and presentation of Catholic morality reached dramatic forms in the late 1980s and in the 1990s. On 5. January 1989, the "Cologne Declaration" was published, signed by 15 Catholic professors of theology, which focused on various crisis points in the relationship between the episcopal magisterium and the task of theology. This text, which at first did not go beyond the usual level of protest, quickly grew into an outcry against the Church's magisterium and gathered the protest potential loudly visible and audible worldwide against the expected teaching texts of John Paul II. raised (cf. D. Mieth, Cologne Declaration, LThK, VI3, 196).

Pope John Paul II., who knew the situation of moral theology very well and followed it with attention, has now begun work on an encyclical that should set these things right again. It is entitled "Veritatis splendor" on 6. The book was published in August 1993 and provoked strong counter-reactions from moral theologians. Before, it was the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" that systematically presented in a convincing way the morality proclaimed by the Church.

It remains unforgotten to me how the then leading German moral theologian Franz Bockle, having returned to his Swiss homeland after his retirement, declared with regard to the possible decisions of the encyclical "Veritatis splendor" that if the encyclical should decide that there are actions which are always and under all circumstances to be classified as bad, he would raise his voice against this with all the forces at his disposal. The benevolent God spared him the execution of this resolution; Bockle died on 8. July 1991. The encyclical was published on 6. Published August 1993, and in fact contained the ruling that there were acts that could never become good. The Pope was fully aware of the weight of this decision in his hour, and for this very part of his letter he had once again consulted first specialists, who in themselves did not participate in the editing of the encyclical. He could not and should not leave any doubt that the morality of the weighing of goods must respect a final limit. There are goods that are never up for consideration. There are values which must never be surrendered for the sake of an even higher value, and which are also above the preservation of physical life. There is martyrdom. God is more, even than physical survival. A life that would be bought by the denial of God, a life based on a final lie, is an unlife. Martyrdom is a basic category of Christian existence. The fact that it is basically no longer morally necessary in the theory advocated by Bockle and by many others shows that the essence of Christianity itself is at stake here.

In moral theology, however, another question had become urgent: The thesis that the ecclesiastical magisterium had final competence ("infallibility") only in matters of faith proper was widely accepted; questions of morality could not become the subject of infallible decisions by the ecclesiastical magisterium. There is probably something right about this thesis that deserves to be discussed further. But there is a minimum morale that is indissolubly linked to the basic decision of faith and that must be defended if one does not want to reduce faith to a theory, but recognizes it in its claim on concrete life. From all this it is evident how fundamentally the authority of the Church in matters of morality is at ie. Whoever denies the Church a final doctrinal competence in this area, forces it to a silence precisely where it is a question of the border between truth and falsehood.

Independent of this question, the thesis has been developed in wide circles of moral theology that the church does not and cannot have its own morality. Thereby it is pointed out that all moral theses would also know parallels in the other religions and therefore a Christian proprium could not exist. But the question about the proprium of a biblical morality is not answered by the fact that one can find a parallel to every single sentence somewhere also in other religions. Rather, it is about the whole of biblical morality, which as such is new and different from the individual parts. The moral teaching of the Holy Scripture has its specificity ultimately in its anchoring in the image of God, in the faith in the one God who showed himself in Jesus Christ and who lived as a man. The Decalogue is an application of the Bible's faith in God to human life. The image of God and morality belong together and thus result in the special newness of the Christian attitude toward the world and human life. Incidentally, Christianity has been described from the beginning with the word hodos. The faith is a way, a way of living. In the ancient Church, in the face of an increasingly demoralized culture, the catechumenate was created as a space of life in which the particularity and novelty of the Christian way of life was practiced and at the same time protected from the general way of life. I think that even today something like catechumenal communities are necessary, so that Christian life can assert itself in its own way.


First ecclesial reactions

1. The long prepared and ongoing process of disintegration of the Christian catch-all of morality, as I have tried to show, experienced a radicality in the 1960s that had not been there before. This dissolution of the Church's moral teaching authority was bound to have an effect on its various living spaces as well. In the context of the meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops' Conferences from all over the world with Pope Francis, the question of priestly life, moreover that of the seminaries, is of particular interest. In the problem of preparation for priestly ministry in the seminaries, there is indeed a widespread breakdown of the previous form of this preparation.

Homosexual clubs were formed in various seminaries, acting more or less openly and significantly changing the climate in the seminaries. In one seminary in southern Germany, candidates for the priesthood and candidates for the lay ministry of pastoral assistant lived together. At the common meals seminarians, married pastoral ministers sometimes with their wives and children, and occasionally pastoral ministers with their girlfriends were together. The climate in the seminary could not support the preparation for the priestly vocation. The Holy See was aware of such problems without being precisely informed about them. As a first step, an Apostolic Visitation in the seminaries of the U.S. Ordered.

Since after II. Since the criteria for the selection and appointment of bishops had also been changed at Vatican II, the relationship of bishops to their seminaries was also very different. The criterion for the appointment of new bishops was above all their "conciliarity", which could be understood in very different ways. In fact, in many parts of the Church, conciliarism was understood as a critical or negative attitude towards the previous tradition, which was now to be replaced by a new, radically open relationship to the world. A bishop who had previously been a rector had shown pornographic films to seminarians, allegedly with the intention of making them resistant to unbelievable behavior. There were – not only in the United States of America – individual bishops who rejected the Catholic tradition as a whole and sought to form a kind of new modern "catholicity" in their dioceses. Perhaps it is worth noting that in not a few seminaries students caught reading my books were considered unfit for the priesthood. My books were hidden like bad literature and read only under the bench, as it were.

The visitation that has now taken place did not bring any new insights, because apparently various forces had joined forces to conceal the real situation. A second visitation was ordered and brought considerably more insights, but on the whole remained inconsequential. Nevertheless, since the 70's the situation in the seminaries has generally consolidated. In spite of this, there was only a new strengthening of priestly vocations in isolated cases, because the situation as a whole had developed differently.

2. The question of pedophilia, as far as I remember, became a burning ie only in the second half of the 1980s. It was held in the U.S.A. has already grown into a public problem, so that the bishops sought help in Rome, because the canon law, as it is written in the new code, did not seem sufficient to take the necessary measures. Rome and the Roman canonists initially had a hard time with these concerns; in their view, temporary suspension from the priestly ministry had to suffice to bring about purification and clarification. This could not be accepted by the American bishops because the priests thus remained in the service of the bishop and were thus judged as figures directly connected to him. A renewal and deepening of the deliberately loosely constructed penal law of the new code had to make its way slowly.

In addition, however, there was a fundamental problem in the reception of the criminal law. Only the so-called guarantorism was still considered "conciliar. That is, above all, the rights of the accused had to be guaranteed, and this up to a point that in fact precluded any conviction at all. As a counterbalance against the often insufficient possibility of defense of accused theologians, their right of defense in the sense of guarantorism was now extended to such an extent that convictions were hardly possible anymore.

At this point I would like to make a small digression. In view of the extent of pedophilia misconduct, a word of Jesus has come to mind anew, which says: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to do evil, it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck" (Mk 9:42). This word in its original sense does not speak of sexual seduction of children. The word "the little ones" in the language of Jesus refers to the simple believers who can be brought down in their faith by the intellectual arrogance of those who think themselves clever. Jesus thus protects the good of faith with an emphatic threat of punishment to those who do harm to it. The modern use of the phrase is not wrong in itself, but it must not obscure the original meaning. In this, against all guarantorism, it clearly appears that not only the right of the accused is important and requires a guarantee. Equally important are high goods such as faith. A balanced ecclesiastical law, which corresponds to the whole of the message of Jesus, must therefore not only be guarantor of the accused, whose respect is a legal good. It must also protect the faith, which is also an important legal good. A rightly constructed ecclesiastical law must thus contain a double guarantee – legal protection of the accused, legal protection of the good at stake. Today, when one presents this intrinsically clear catch, one generally falls on deaf ears when it comes to the question of the protection of the legal good of faith. In the general legal consciousness, faith no longer seems to have the rank of a good to be protected. This is a worrisome situation that must be considered and taken seriously by the pastors of the Church.

To the brief notes on the situation of priestly formation at the time of the public outbreak of the crisis, I would now like to add a few notes on the development of canon law in this matter. In itself, the Congregation for the Clergy is responsible for offenses committed by priests. However, since guarantorism widely dominated the situation in her at that time, I agree with Pope John Paul II. agreed that it was appropriate to assign competence over these offenses to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the title "Delicta maiora contra fidem.". This assignment also made possible the possibility of the maximum penalty, that is, expulsion from the clergy, which could not have been imposed under other legal titles. This was not a trick to be able to give the maximum punishment, but follows from the weight of the faith for the church. Indeed, it is important to see that when clerics engage in such misconduct, it is ultimately the faith that is damaged: Only where faith no longer determines a person's actions are such offenses possible. The severity of the punishment, however, also presupposes a clear proof of the offense – the content of the guarantorism that remains in force. In other words, in order to be able to rightfully impose the maximum punishment, a real penal process is necessary. However, both the dioceses and the Holy See were overwhelmed by this. We have thus formulated a minimum form of penal process, leaving open the case of the Holy See itself taking over the process where the diocese or metropolis is unable to do so. In any case, the process should be reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in order to guarantee the rights of the defendant. Finally, however, in Feria IV (d.h. of the assembly of the members of the Congregation) an appeal authority was created in order to also have the possibility of an appeal against the process. Because all of this was actually beyond the powers of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, causing delays that had to be prevented by the matter at hand, Pope Francis made further reforms.


1. What we must do? Do we have to create another church, for example, so that things can become right? Well, this experiment has already been made and has already failed. Only obedience and love for our Lord Jesus Christ can show us the right way. So let us first try to understand anew, from within, what the Lord has willed and wants with us.

I would say first of all: If we really want to summarize very briefly the content of the faith founded in the Bible, we may say: The Lord has begun a history of love with us and wants to summarize the whole creation in it. The counterforce against the evil that threatens us and the whole world can ultimately only consist in our committing ourselves to this love. It is the real counterforce against evil. The power of evil comes from our refusal to love God. Whoever entrusts himself to the love of God is saved. Our unsavedness is based on the inability to love God. Learning to love God, then, is the way of man's salvation.

Let us now try to unfold this essential content of God's revelation a little further. Then we can say: the first fundamental gift that faith offers us is the certainty that God exists. A world without God can only be a world without meaning. For from where then comes all that is? In any case, there is no spiritual reason. It is somehow simply there and then has neither any goal nor any meaning. There are then no standards of good or evil. Then only what is stronger than the other can prevail. The power is then the only principle. Truth does not count, it does not actually exist. Only if things have a spiritual reason, are willed and thought – only if there is a creator God who is good and wants the good – can also the life of man have meaning.

That God exists as Creator and as measure of all things, is first of all a primal desire. But a God who would not express himself at all, who would not make himself known, would remain a presumption and could not determine the shape of our life. In order for God to be truly God in the conscious creation, we must expect Him to express Himself in some form or other. He did it in many ways, but decisively in the call that went out to Abraham and gave mankind the orientation that leads beyond all expectation in the search for God: God himself becomes a creature, speaks as a human being with us human beings.

Thus, finally, the sentence "God is" becomes a truly joyful message, precisely because he is more than knowledge, because he creates and is love. To bring this back to people's awareness is the first and fundamental task that is given to us by the Lord.

A society in which God is absent – a society that does not know him and treats him as non-existent – is a society that loses its measure. In our present time, the catchword of the death of God was invented. When God dies in a society, it becomes free, we have been ared. In truth, the dying of God in a society also means the end of its freedom, because the meaning dies that gives orientation. And because the measure that gives us direction by teaching us to distinguish good from evil is disappearing. Western society is a society in which God is absent from the public and has nothing more to say for it. And therefore it is a society in which the measure of the human is more and more lost. At certain points, it sometimes becomes clear that what is evil and destroys people has become almost self-evident. So it is with pedophilia. Theorized not long ago as quite right, it has become more and more widespread. And now we realize with shock that things are happening to our children and young people that threaten to destroy them. The fact that this could also spread in the church and among priests must shake us to a particular degree.

Why could pedophilia reach such an extent? In the last, the reason lies in the absence of God. We Christians and priests also prefer not to speak of God, because this speech does not seem to be practical. After the shock of the 2. During the Second World War, we in Germany had still expressly placed our catch under the responsibility before God as a guiding principle. Half a century later, it was no longer possible to include responsibility before God as a yardstick in the European Verfang. God is seen as a party affair of a small group and can no longer stand as a standard for the community as a whole. This decision reflects the situation in the West, where God has become a private matter for a minority.

A first task that must follow from the moral upheavals of our time is that we ourselves begin again to live from God and towards him. Above all, we ourselves must learn again to recognize God as the foundation of our life and not to leave him aside as a somehow unreal phrase. What remains unforgotten to me is the admonition that the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar once wrote to me on one of his card letters: "Do not presuppose the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but put him forward!"In fact, even in theology, God is often taken for granted, but is not concretely acted upon. The subject of God seems so unreal, so far removed from the things that concern us. And yet everything becomes different when God is not presupposed, but presupposed. Not leaving Him somehow in the background, but recognizing Him as the center of our thinking, speaking and acting.

2. God became man for us. The creature man is so dear to him that he has united himself with him and thus entered into human history in a very practical way. He speaks with us, he lives with us, he suffers with us, and he took death upon himself for us. We talk about this in detail in theology, with learned words and thoughts. But this is precisely how the danger arises that we make ourselves masters of the faith instead of allowing ourselves to be renewed and dominated by the faith.

Let us consider this in a central point, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Our handling of the Eucharist can only arouse concern. In II. The Second Vatican Council was rightly concerned to place this sacrament of the presence of the body and blood of Christ, the presence of his person, his passion, death and resurrection, back at the center of Christian life and the existence of the Church. In part, the thing really happened, and we want to be heartily grateful to the Lord for it.

But another attitude is widely dominant: not a new reverence for the presence of Christ's death and resurrection, but a way of dealing with it that destroys the greatness of the mystery. The declining participation in the Sunday Eucharist shows how little we Christians of today are still able to appreciate the greatness of the gift that consists in his real presence. The Eucharist is devalued into a ceremonial gesture when it is taken for granted that courtesy dictates that it be offered at family celebrations or on occasions such as weddings and funerals to all who are invited to attend for kinship reasons. The naturalness with which in some places simply those present also receive the holy sacrament shows that one sees in communion only a ceremonial gesture. So, when we reflect on what needs to be done, it becomes clear that we do not need another Church imagined by us. What is needed, rather, is the renewal of faith in the reality of Jesus Christ given to us in the sacrament.

In my conversations with victims of pedophilia, I have become more and more insistently aware of this need. A young woman who served on the altar as an altar server told me that the chaplain, her superior as an altar server, always prefaced the sexual abuse he committed with her with the words: "This is my body, which is given for you."That this woman can no longer listen to the words of the consecration without feeling the whole agony of the abuse frighteningly within herself is obvious. Yes, we must urgently implore the Lord's forgiveness and, above all, implore and ask him to teach us all anew to understand the greatness of his suffering, of his sacrifice. And we must do everything to protect the gift of the Holy Eucharist from abuse.

3. And finally, there is the mystery of the Church. The sentence with which Romano Guardini, almost 100 years ago, expressed the joyful hope that forced itself upon him and many others at that time, remains unforgotten: "An event of incalculable importance has begun; the Church is awakening in souls."He wanted to say that the Church was no longer experienced and perceived as an apparatus coming to us from outside, as a kind of authority, but began to be felt as present in the hearts themselves – as something not only external, but touching us inside. About half a century later, thinking about this again and looking at what just happened, I felt tempted to reverse the phrase: "The Church dies in souls." Indeed, the Church today is widely seen as little more than a kind of political apparatus. It is spoken of almost exclusively in political terms, even to the point of bishops who formulate their ideas about the Church of tomorrow largely in political terms. The crisis caused by the many cases of abuse by priests urges us to look at the Church as something very much out of order, which we must now thoroughly remake and reshape ourselves. But a church of our own making cannot be a hope.

Jesus himself compared the Church to a fishing net, in which there are good and bad fish, which in the end must be separated by God himself. Alongside this is the parable of the Church as a field in which grows the good grain that God himself has sown, but also the weeds that "an enemy" has secretly also sown on it. Indeed, the weeds in God's field, the Church, are excessively visible, and the evil fish in the net are also showing their strength. But still the field of God remains the field of God and the net the fishing net of God. And in all times there are not only the weeds and the bad fish, but also the seed of God and the good fish. To proclaim both with equal emphasis is not false apologetics, but a necessary service to the truth.

In this context, it is necessary to refer to an important text in the Revelation of John. The devil is identified as the accuser who accuses our brothers before God by day and by night (Acts 12:10). The Apocalypse thus takes up an idea that is at the center of the frame narrative of the Book of Job (Job 1 and 2, 10; 42, 7 – 16). There we are told that the devil tried to talk down Job's righteousness before God as only external. The devil wants to prove that there are no righteous people, that all righteousness of people is only represented from the outside. If you can knock closer, the appearance of righteousness quickly falls off. The story begins with a dispute between God and the devil, in which God had pointed to Job as a truly righteous man. The test of who is right is now to be carried out on him. Take away his possessions and you will see that nothing remains of his piety, argues the devil. God allows him this trial, from which Job comes out positively. Now the devil pushes it further, and he says: "Skin for skin! All that man possesses he gives up for his life. But stretch forth thine hand, and touch his bone and flesh: verily he will curse thee to thy face" (Job 2:4f). Thus God grants the devil a second round. He may also touch the skin of Job. Only to kill him, he is denied. For Christians it is clear that the Job who stands before God as an example for all mankind is Jesus Christ. In the Apocalypse, the drama of man is presented to us in all its breadth. The Creator God is opposed by the devil, who badmouths all humanity and all creation. He says not only to God, but above all to men: Look at what this God has done. Supposedly a good creation. In reality, it is full of misery and disgust in its entirety. The bad talk of creation is in reality a bad talk of God. It wants to prove that God himself is not good and to turn us away from him.

The actuality of what the Apocalypse tells us here is obvious. Today, in the accusation against God, it is above all a question of bringing His Church as a whole into disrepute, and thus of diading us from it. The idea of a church made better by ourselves is in reality a proposal of the devil with which he wants to turn us away from the living God by a lying logic which we fall for too easily. No, even today the Church is not only made up of evil fish and weeds. The Church of God also exists today, and it is precisely today that it is the instrument through which God saves us. It is very important to counter the lies and half-truths of the devil with the whole truth: Yes, there is sin in the church and evil. But there is also today the holy church, which is indestructible. There are also today many humble believers, sufferers and lovers, in whom the real God, the loving God, shows himself to us. God also has his witnesses ("martyres") in the world today. We only have to be awake to see and hear them.

The word martyr is taken from the procedural law. In the trial against the devil, Jesus Christ is the first and real witness for God, the first martyr, who has since been followed by countless others. The Church of today is more than ever a Church of martyrs and thus a witness of the living God. If we look and listen with an open heart, we can find witnesses everywhere today, especially among ordinary people, but also in the high ranks of the Church, who stand up for God with their lives and suffering. It is a sluggishness of the heart that we do not want to perceive it. One of the great and essential tasks of our proclamation is to create, as far as we can, places of faith and, above all, to find and recognize them.

I live in a house, in a small community of people, who again and again discover such witnesses of the living God in everyday life and joyfully also point them out to me. To see and find the living church is a wonderful task that strengthens us and makes us rejoice in faith anew.

At the end of my reflections, I would like to thank Pope Francis for all he does to show us again and again the light of God that has not gone down even today. Thank you, Holy Father!

(Benedict XVI.)

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