Maike Hickson

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Pope Benedict reacts to criticisms of his letter on the sex abuse crisis

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August 27, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – In a short commentary for the Catholic German journal Herder Korrespondenz, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI responds to Birgit Aschmann, a history professor who criticized his April 2019 letter on the sex abuse crisis. In his response to Aschmann, Benedict calls her critique “typical of the general deficit in the reception of my text.” 

“I notice that on the four pages of the article by Mrs. Aschmann,” Benedict writes, “the word God – which I have made the central aspect of the question – does not appear once.” 

Pope Benedict XVI had written a lengthy text first for Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin as a sort of contribution to the February 2019 Rome sex abuse summit. In April, the retired Pope decided to publish the text and thus make it available to a larger audience.

In this text, Benedict stresses the influence of the cultural revolution of the 1960s which undermined sexual morality and affected many priests in their own moral conduct. As the Pope wrote: “Among the freedoms that the Revolution of 1968 sought to fight for was this all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer conceded any norms.” After describing how sexual license also entered Catholic seminaries and how it increased cases of sexual abuse in the Church, Pope Benedict asks the question of how to address this current grave crisis and evil: “Why did pedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God.”

Repeatedly in his text, Pope Benedict refers to God: “The power of evil arises from our refusal to love God. He who entrusts himself to the love of God is redeemed. Our being not redeemed is a consequence of our inability to love God. Learning to love God is therefore the path of human redemption.” Benedict goes on to say that “a world without God can only be a world without meaning,” adding, “then there are no standards of good or evil.”

Thus, for Pope Benedict the way to address the abuse crisis is to return to God and His Commandments.

In the responses to his April 2019 letter, many German theologians were especially indignant that Pope Benedict criticized the sexual revolution of the 1960s, which they hold in high regard.

So it is also the case for Professor Aschmann, who rejects Pope Benedict's critique of the 1968 revolution and claims that it was rather the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae. By disallowing artificial contraception, Humanae Vitae did damage by undermining human freedom of conscience. For her, the “true Catholic suffering” started with Humanae Vitae, since people did not like that the Church “intruded into the sexual practices of the spouses.” Aschmann regrets the “restrictive” doctrinal attitude which is “distant from...real life.” Therefore, she argues, the Church was incapable of addressing the “sexual needs” of some of her priests in a right manner.

According to Professor Aschmann, the sexual abuse crisis is therefore “homemade” by the Church because of its restrictive teaching on sexuality. In her view, many couples “distanced” themselves from the Church after Humanae Vitae. In her view, it was the “lack of being able to speak” about sexuality and the frustration about this fact that drew the priests into “seeking sexual contacts with other men and women, and also children.”

Aschmann is a member of the Central Committee of German Catholics, a prominent lay organization that asks for female priests, married priests, and a change of the Church’s teaching on sexuality.

Pope Benedict, in his response to Aschmann’s critique, reminds her that she does not once mention God, while he wrote that “a world without God can only be a world without meaning.” He also quotes his own words of the April letter, according to which society in the West is forgetting God and, with it, loses its “measure for humanity.”

“As far as I can see,” Benedict writes in his concluding paragraph, “God does not appear in most of the reactions to my contribution, and with it, exactly that is not being discussed which I had wanted to stress as kernel of the question.”

This fact, the retired Pope continues, “shows me the seriousness of a situation, in which the word God even in theology often seems to stand at the margins.”

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.