Maike Hickson

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at St Peter's Basilica on December 8, 2015. Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

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Reflections on Benedict’s sexual abuse letter – from a convert, child of the sexual revolution, and mother

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

April 23, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – On April 10, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI's letter on the sexual abuse crisis was published, a document that caused a great stir in Catholic circles. Some German moral theologians responded with much indignation and rejected the former Pope's criticism of their own lax moral teachings and of the effects of the 1968 revolution in the West. They all received a platform on the website of the German bishops. Cardinal Gerhard Müller subsequently forcefully defended Benedict and pointed out that the anger of his critics is due to the fact that he “pierced the boil.” He spoke the truth. For the German theologian and head of the Pope Benedict XVI Institute, Dr. Christian Schaller, the reactions to Pope Benedict's statements “always follow a certain pattern.”

And I agree that Pope Benedict has opened up with his letter a much-needed discussion about how the Catholic Church faced and dealt with the sexual and cultural revolution of the 1960s and the growing permissive liberalism among moral theology, especially in Germany.

It was time that this boil was pierced.

Since I am a convert and myself a child of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, I can only confirm Pope Benedict's words. I can confirm that the world needs God, and that without Him, the world gets lost. Having lived more than thirty years of my life without the Catholic Faith, I know how it is when one gets lost. And as a child of a family influenced by the ideas of the 1968 revolution, I know what that revolution meant for the moral life of man. I know from the inside how even children from early on were exposed to acts, images and themes that they should not have learned about. (I would like to make also a reference here to Albert Christian Sellner, a German author and a member of the 1968 revolution in Germany, who now gratefully acknowledges the truth spoken by Benedict.)

I know about the damaging effects on families, broken families, and also on the effects of women who started to believe that their true worth can only be found outside the home, away from children and a married household.

Thus, when I entered the Catholic Church, I saw the truth. I saw the truth of the Church's moral teaching and realized how it was all corresponding to reality. How chastity before marriage leads to happy marriages, because the word counts and one promises one's all to only one person, forever. A life without such a promise leads to a life without bonds. A chasteless life leads to a lack of reliability and of fidelity and of trust. It empties one's life, even without realizing it.

And then I came to realize that there have been for decades Catholic moral theologians attenuating and  nibbling away that firm moral teaching that I, coming out from a culture of moral laxity, had found to be true and liberating! They seem to repeat the mistake of the larger society now in the Church.

Then I became a mother, and I realized the grave responsibility of my husband and me to educate the young, to teach them the good and the true and the beautiful, but also to condemn the evil and the lie and the ugly. Both have to go together, the affirmation and the condemnation. Silence about evil often means a condoning of evil.

The Catholic Church has always known that. She has combined the love for the sinner with the hatred of the sin. She has helped the sick, the poor, and the dying and has fought the heretic who wanted to take away from the poor his last hope, the Faith. She built a fence around the flock so that the flock could frolic and jump in joy and safety, yet also tried to draw in more sheep from without.

But, then, for fifty years or so, there seems to have been a change. The Church became doubtful. She questioned her ways. She wanted to be less authoritative. She was not so sure anymore about her teachings. Or, if she was not doubtful herself, she did not stop those who spread their doubts within her bosom. Nor did she forcefully enough punish and remove those priests in her midst who scandalized the Little Ones, a violation about which Our Lord says it would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around the offender's neck.

Here, some of that corrective criticism could also apply to some of the recent Popes. When asked about their role with regard to the moral problems in the Church, Cardinal Gerhard Müller just told LifeSiteNews that the moral teaching was upheld by the recent Popes, but in the face of the sexual revolution, “one did not also dare to take disciplinary actions. One restrained oneself because one does not want to play the bogeyman in public opinion.”

That is to say, the recent Popes hesitated to condemn error and heresy. That is why there are now, under Pope Francis, so many theologians who cheer and welcome this current pontiff's doctrinal attenuations and innovations, to include Communion for the “remarried” divorcees and Communion for Protestant spouses. Had all the Popes before Pope Francis acted like Pope Pius X, there would now be essentially no Catholic theologian publicly cheering about a departure from the Catholics Church's traditional doctrine.

Let us consider one specific example. An example from Germany. Cardinal Karl Lehmann, according to his own published words, was a dissenter. He did not agree with Paul VI's ban on artificial contraception, and when he became the head of the German bishops in 1987, Pope John Paul II spoke with him about it and requested from him to rescind the Königsteiner Erklärung that revolted against Humanae Vitae. Lehmann argued with him and they agreed that he first write down why he supported that controversial dissenting document. He sent it to the Pope some years later, but never heard back from him. “John Paul II did not afterwards show a great interest any more in this topic,” Lehmann states in his own memoirs. He adds that his request to meet with the pope in person in order to discuss his paper was delayed one or two times. Then, finally, the pope told him: “Talk with Cardinal Ratzinger about it!” Lehmann continues, saying: “This discussion never took place. Pope John Paul II was too good an ethicist not to notice that, with all the remaining problems, the problem [of the German bishops’ dissent about Humanae Vitae] would not be solved in any way by a decision to insist upon the withdrawal of the Declaration of Königstein.” Thus, the German prelate remained in his obstinate disobedient attitude toward the Magisterium, a teaching based on the natural law and as continuously taught over the centuries. But the Pope remained silent and did not take any disciplinary action against Lehmann. On the contrary, he made him a cardinal, in 2001. How does one understand this?

Now if I look at this behavior as a mother, I know that this laxity is wrong. When my husband and I tell our children not to go outside in socks and play in the mud, and when they do and we remain silent, then it is our own fault when all the socks turn brown.

This is a small example, but this is how finally all humans, not only children, understand rules and limits. If they are not implemented, they have no enduring value.

For a German Catholic, for example, suffering under the confusing dissent expressed by then-Bishop Lehmann, the implicit sign from Rome is: his dissent in matters of the Magisterium is really not so serious and he may still become a cardinal.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller recently had something similar to say, also in light of the current abuse crisis. He pointed to the modernist stream within the Catholic Church which claims that morality can evolve since humanity itself is evolving. In light of these claims, the German prelate explains, “that which was morally forbidden yesterday, may be permitted today. There would be numerous names to be mentioned here, also those who have taught at Papal Universities but without being removed from their offices.”

Many of these modernist theologians, Brandmüller adds, “were able to spread the seed of error without interference, right in front of Rome and the bishops. The attitude of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in these cases is, in retrospect, simply incomprehensible. It saw the wolf come and stood looking on while it ravaged the fold.” Later attempts at correcting erroneous concepts in Veritatis Splendor, he explains, “presented the foundations of the Catholic moral teaching with great clarity, but it was largely rejected by theologians. This perhaps is also due to the fact that it [the encyclical] only appeared when the moral-theological decay was already far advanced.”

When we look more specifically at when the weakening of the Catholic Church's stance started, we must not avoid looking at the Second Vatican Council. As the German Rome Correspondent of Kath.net, Dr. Armin Schwibach, commented on Twitter: “Pope Benedict XVI just named two taboos: the homosexual problem in the Church, the problem of the 1968 years. What was missing: the tragic mistake of the VII Council, of a historic drama that cannot be removed with any hermeneutic of continuity.”

Schwibach, who is a great admirer of Pope Benedict, has raised here an important point. It is there that the modernists gained prominence and influence. As the Italian Church historian, Professor Roberto de Mattei has pointed out, it was during the Second Vatican Council that Cardinal Suenens criticized the Church's ban on contraception.

As my husband, Dr. Robert Hickson, likes to say, the sexual revolution would not have taken so much force and root, had it not been for the weakened state of the Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council.

Instead of stemming with all of its force against the tide of licentiousness and moral decay, the Church appeared to get confused in her midst. Cardinal Ottaviani still had written in preparation for the Council a forceful comment on the need to defend chastity in the face on an onslaught of immorality in society. He wrote: “With supreme loathing, furthermore, the Sacred Synod knows how many and how great are the detestable onslaughts today against chastity, by which in countless manifestations of today's culture, even if under the pretext of play, recreation, science, art or praiseworthy beauty, souls redeemed by the blood of Christ are in fact constantly and almost everywhere, even within the family, being encouraged and even handed over to evil.”

Clearly pointing out the dangers in our society, Ottaviani also shows the means of how to respond to them: “It urges all, therefore, to arm themselves against such dangers by prayer, fasting, the sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, and devotion to the Virgin Mary. They should also flee what are called near occasions. For how can they honestly pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation’ (Mt 6:13), if they freely seek temptations? Mindful of the Lord's words against those who scandalize, the Church has the right and duty to repudiate those who give scandal and especially the public corruption of sexual morality. And civil authority also must guard and defend morality by appropriate and effective means, especially by assisting the efforts of all, individuals or groups, to foster public morality, including cases where it is being harmed by  writings, radio programs, television, or other instruments of human culture.”

Let us repeat here Ottaviani's words: “The Church has the right and duty to repudiate those who give scandal and especially the public corruption of sexual morality.”

Ottaviani's powerful – and truthful – words were later discarded by the Council, together with all the other schematas. Cardinal Ottaviani's microphone was even turned off at a crucial moment at the beginning of the Council. One feels a little bit reminded here of how later Cardinal Gerhard Müller was asked to leave the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, most probably for his insistent defense of the Sacrament of marriage.

Since I came out of this permissive and seductive culture that Ottaviani was warning against, I can say that I wished I had heard such a warning. I know how, at our progressivist school that touted all the progressivist themes of the time, we children were left prey to the world of the media, advertisement, and fashion industry. We were left to be prey, not protected. We were uprooted and isolated – also due to the many divorces of our parents – and thus more vulnerable.

The Church should have spoken firmly, and fought against the onslaught of that revolution that destroyed so many families and emptied so many homes, leaving the children bereft of a warm home and hearth. The Church should have shown to the world the goodness of God's moral teaching. It is good for us, because, in following His Laws, we can lead a truly happy life!

In light of my own life experiences, which stand as a living proof for the truthfulness of Pope Benedict's references to the effects of the sexual revolution in the West, let us now also go some steps further. Let us free ourselves from those shackles that still hinder us from fully and freely proclaiming God's truth, without shame.

As Cardinal Müller just stated in an interview with LifeSiteNews: “With a false diagnosis, one can never find the right therapy, but, rather, one will only worsen the illness.”

Thus, let us also continue to encourage our Church leaders to give an honest accounting of why and when and where they tolerated abuser priests who destroyed the lives and the souls of children. As a mother, I insist on this, also for the sake of our children.

May Pope Benedict now go even further here and give us a model of someone who was in leading positions in the Catholic Church for more than thirty years – first as the Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, then as Pope. If I were in his position – especially in light of all the suffering of abuse victims and the high numbers of scandalized Catholics now leaving the Church – I would shiver to think where I might have failed to protect the Littles Ones and vulnerable adults such as the seminarians. “What omission did I commit?,” I would ask myself, that might have helped to damage one single soul? Where was I too lax, not insistent and forceful enough after hearing about a morally corrupt seminary? About a morally corrupt seminary director? Yes, and did I do enough about a Cardinal McCarrick? Was my intervention to silence him and to impose upon him some restrictions enough? Should I not have laicized him so as to give a clear signal to all that a deliberate and repeated violation of the Sixth Commandment on the part of a clergyman will not be tolerated? Was I, too, morally too lax? Did I try to avoid conflict?

I, as a simple Catholic mother, fear for my own acts of commission and omission since I one day will face God alone. As a journalist, I, too, have my grave responsibility. What retractations would I make at the end of my life, before it is too late? And my husband and I, too, sometimes have to apologize to our children for our mistakes and admit our weaknesses. May Pope Benedict continue to give us – and especially all the other bishops and cardinals in the world – a further shining example of how we give an accounting of our acts in public office, for the sake of healing, rebuilding of trust, and for the sake of truth.

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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.