“The abuse debate drives benedict around”

Pope em. Benedict XVI. has spoken out on the causes of the current church crisis – this is not only met with enthusiasm. Mathias Peter from the editorial department of theology classifies the essay in an interview.

Interviewer: How unusual it is that the pope emeritus speaks out publicly? (to the wording)

Mathias Peter (our site Theology Editorial)This is rarely the case, but it happens from time to time. Benedict himself said at his resignation that he would like to live in secret from now on – but this did not work out that way, again and again he expressed himself in writing, be it when works of his were republished, or when a book of interviews with him was published, up to articles that he wrote anew.

But: this is always done with the approval of the current pope. Benedict also says this new text was written in consultation with the Vatican.

Interviewer: Now there is much discussion in Germany on the subject of abuse about abuse of power by clergy, about structures in the church that encourage abuse. How does Joseph Ratzinger argue in this context??

Mathias Peter: He presents a different analysis. Benedict explains how, in his opinion, due to the revolt of the 68 generation in the period from 1960 to 1980, "the previously valid standards in questions of sexuality completely broke away". In his opinion, a normlessness has arisen. Part of the physiognomy of the '68 revolution, therefore, is that pedophilia was now also considered permissible and diagnosed as appropriate, according to Ratzinger. At the same time, there was a collapse of Catholic moral theology.

Even professors of theology and sometimes bishops would have questioned and not followed the moral teaching of the Church. There was therefore no longer the good, but only the relative, in the moment and depending on the circumstances, better. And: the climate in priestly training had changed, homosexual clubs had arisen in the seminaries, which acted more or less openly. So: the sexual revolution of '68 combined with the collapse of moral teaching is partly responsible for sexual abuse in the church. This is how he writes that.

Interviewer: Now the church is a community of believers. How does the question of faith play into the abuse scandal??

Mathias Peter: This is his core thesis: "Only where faith no longer determines man's actions are such offenses possible," is how Benedict puts it. This has two levels: In terms of society: "A world without God can only be a world without meaning. There are then no longer any standards of good or evil. Then only what is stronger than the other can prevail."

So it is with pedophilia, he says, it has become more and more widespread. And secondly, it has done so in the Church and among priests, which Ratzinger finds particularly distressing. There is also too little faith within the Church and among priests.

Interviewer: So much for the analysis: what does the pope emeritus propose as a solution to the problem?

Mathias Peter: Here Benedict has a clear demand: to put God and faith at the center again, in thought, speech and action. Accordingly, we must learn again to recognize God as the foundation of our lives and not to leave him aside as a somehow unreal phrase – this also applies to the people in the church.

So it is about a renewal of faith, not of the church per se. For Benedict says that of course there is sin and evil in the Church. But there is also today the holy church, which is indestructible – so he does not want that now it is pretended that everything is bad at and in the church and the church must be created completely new. But: The Church is also today the instrument through which God saves us – Ratzinger says this at the end of his text and then explicitly thanks Pope Francis for his work as pope.

Interviewer: Yesterday evening the text became known. What is your personal impression?

Mathias Peter: You can tell how closely Benedict follows what's going on in the church and society, and that the debate over sexual abuse is still on his mind despite being almost 92 years old. He combines personal memories of the time of the '68 protests, which was very upsetting for him, with theological reflections. And I think that the pope emeritus also wants to point out that as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later as pope he took clear action against abuse.

He was the first pope ever to meet with abuse victims and they recounted their horrific experiences, citing one example in the essay. Secondly, one also notices that Benedict is still struggling with the so-called 68ers – he sees in the upheavals of the 1960s the cause for many later undesirable developments in church and society – just also with regard to sexual abuse.

However, it must be said that not everyone will follow this interpretation, as first reactions show today, especially since there was sexual abuse in the church earlier in the 1950s and before. It is also a pity that he hardly addresses the ies of abuse of power and structural reasons for abuse. He says we don't need to create a new church, that has already been tried and failed. Therefore: Only obedience and love for Jesus Christ can show the right way, as the Pope Emeritus puts it.

The interview was conducted by Jann-Jakob Loos.

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