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Wounding the body of Christ

April 14, 2019

To solve a problem, as the saying goes, one must first recognize its existence. Put another way, the important first step to problem-solving is to define exactly what the problem is. The Catholic Church has done as much in dealing with the crisis of clerical sex abuse.

For Pope Francis and his top aides, the root cause is “clericalism,” a combination of elitism and careerism and the kind of power wielded by iniquitous clergymen over their victims.

This is a common theme of Francis’ papacy that is not without its critics. The militant, New York-based Catholic League, for instance, argues that this is a Marxist analysis that skirts the real issue of why there are priests who prey on minors or young men.

In the Vatican, it has become politically incorrect to blame the crisis on homosexual predation, and this was in full display at the sex abuse summit attended by the world’s bishops in Rome in February.

Clericalism might explain why bishops covered up abuse cases and, thus, helped propagate and prolong it. The Church is hierarchical after all. But “irresponsible decisions account for sexual molestation, not a mantle of power,” the League argues.

This line of thinking has been validated by no less than the retired Pope Benedict 16th. In a 6,000-word essay published by select German and American outlets late last week, the emeritus Pope broke his silence on the recent wave of abuse revelations in the Church that has seen the downfall, so far, of two cardinals, Theodore McCarrick of America and George Pell of Australia, formerly the Vatican’s third highest official.

Benedict, who had defrocked hundreds of priests for sex abuse, is known to not mince words on what he had called “filth” in the Church.

In his latest missive, Benedict blamed the sexual permissiveness of the 1960s that found its way into the Church and led to a collapse in its authority.

“[In] the 1960s an egregious event occurred … the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely and a new normalcy arose,” he wrote. “This was in many ways a very difficult time … the extensive collapse of the next generation of priests in those years and the very high number of laicizations were a consequence of all these developments.”

He added: “Catholic moral theology suffered a collapse that rendered the Church defenseless against these changes in society.”

Ultimately, the crisis is a crisis of faith. It was no coincidence that under Benedict, cases of priestly sexual abuse fell not under the Vatican dicastery or office for clergy or bishops, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the former Holy Office of Inquisition.

“Why did pedophilia reach such proportions?” Benedict asks.

“Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God.”

Sex abuse in the Church and the way it is being dealt with by the Vatican is a problem so grave that a retired pontiff had to be roused from monastic seclusion and weigh in on the issue.

Benedict’s views come ahead of the holiest week of the liturgical calendar, and should give laity and clergy a reason to reflect ever so deeply on how best to deal with the wounds inflicted on the Church, the mystical body of Christ.

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