Retired pope Benedict XVI has ventured out of retirement to publish an essay blaming the Catholic church’s sexual abuse scandals on the sexual revolution of the 1960s and “homosexual cliques” among priests.
“Why did paedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God,” Benedict wrote in the 6,000-word essay published on Thursday in the German monthly Klerusblatt, the Catholic News Agency and other conservative media.
Benedict traced the start of the crisis to the 1960s, citing the appearance of sex in films in his native Bavaria and the formation of “homosexual cliques” in seminaries, “which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate”. He also attributed it to failures in moral theology in that era.
“Perhaps it is worth mentioning that in not a few seminaries, students caught reading my books were considered unsuitable for the priesthood,” the conservative theologian wrote. “My books were hidden away, like bad literature, and only read under the desk.”
Benedict also faulted church laws that gave undue protection to accused priests. During the 1980s and 1990s, he wrote, “the right to a defence [for priests] was so broad as to make a conviction nearly impossible”.
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict spearheaded reforms of those laws in 2001 to make it easier to remove priests who abused children. Benedict took a hard line against clerical sex abuse as the Vatican’s conservative doctrinal chief and later as pope, defrocking hundreds of priests accused of raping and molesting children.
Pope Francis has blamed the scandal on a clerical culture in the church that raises priests above the laity.
At his retirement in 2013, Pope Benedict had said he would devote his remaining life to penance and prayer, leaving Pope Francis to guide the church. He said in the introduction to the essay that Francis and the Vatican secretary of state had given him permission to publish. The Vatican confirmed it was written by Benedict.
Church historian Christopher Bellitto questioned if Emeritus Pope Benedict, who turns 92 next week, was being manipulated by others. He said the essay omitted the critical conclusions that arose from the pope’s February sexual abuse summit in Rome, including that “abusers were priests along the ideological spectrum, that the abuse predated the 1960s, that it is a global and not simply western problem, that homosexuality is not the issue in pedophilia”.
“It is catastrophically irresponsible, because it creates a counter-narrative to how Francis is trying to move ahead based on the 2019 summit,” he told Associated Press in an email. “The essay essentially ignores what we learned there.”