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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Theologians condemn Pope Benedict’s letter on abuse crisis on German bishops’ website

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

April 16, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Since the publication of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI's 10 April letter on the abuse crisis, the German bishops' news website Katholisch.de has published several harsh rebukes of the former Pope. For example, they accuse the Pope of causing a “schism,” of making “absurd” references to the cultural revolution of the 1960s, and also of “abusing” the very “topic of abuse.”

Cardinal Gerhard Müller has come to Benedict's defense, rebuking the German moral theologians as “people who neither believe nor think.”

On April 10, Pope Benedict published his 6,000-word-long document, in which he discusses some of the roots of the current sex abuse crisis in the Church, and he thereby points to the moral relativism and laxity that entered the Catholic Church in the wake of the cultural revolution of the 1960s in the West.

He writes: "I try to show that in the 1960s an egregious event occurred, on a scale unprecedented in history. It could be said that in the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely, and a new normalcy arose that has by now been the subject of laborious attempts at disruption.”

Benedict makes it clear that there are many moral theologians who reject the Church's moral teaching and the very claim that there are indeed intrinsically evil acts, that is to say, acts that are always evil. “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.” This lawlessness entered many Catholic seminaries, according to the former Pope, and there were already “homosexual cliques” established in them.

Having drawn this picture as an explanation of why there is to be found such a strong increase of cases of sexual abuse in the Church, Pope Benedict caused an uproar among exactly those moral theologians whom he has described in his open letter. Some observers would say that they did not only cry out, but they screeched.

Below are some examples, all of which have been prominently published by Katholisch.de, the German bishops' news website.

The German Association of Moral Theologians (Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Moraltheologie) which comprises about 40 theologians – among them the promoter of homosexuality, Professor Stephan Goertz – published on 15 April a two-page letter condemning Pope Benedict's document. They claim that the former Pope bases his arguments “on a set of unfounded assumptions” and they say that “it is as a whole a failed and useless contribution to the discussion on the abuse crisis.” The theologians argue that Benedict's letter is “defaming” German moral theology since he claims that it has been “collapsed” since the 1960s. 

These moral theologians especially reject Pope Benedict's reference to the changes in society due to the cultural and sexual revolution of the 1960s. For them, he represents a “theology detached from the world” (“entweltlicht”) that “can perceive the problem of abuse only in a distorted manner.”

Because, for these German theologians, there always existed sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and this is due to the “sinful structures of the Church herself.” Therefore, they say, “the topic of abuse is being instrumentalized by Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI in order to repeat his long-known critique of a moral theology whose positions in the field of sexual morality he does not share.”

In the view of these moral theologians, simply to criticize, for example, “the heretofore known rigorism of condemning all forms of contraception” does not lead to a “lawlessness.” They wonder whether Benedict “cannot understand that a moral-theological respect for the dignity and rights of all human beings does not at all lead to moral relativism?” For them, it is rather the “Tradition as glorified by Benedict” that has helped to cover up for abuse in the Church. 

The journalist Tilmann Kleinjung writes in his own April 12 commentary: “the Pope emeritus is promoting a schism.” For him, Benedict's letter seems to be an “echo of times long past.” “That Joseph Ratzinger now even publishes his views, damages him and his predecessor,” he argues. In his view, Benedict's “speech on moral relativism” is “unable to deal with a complex phenomenon such as sexual abuse of minors.” How is it, Kleinjung asks, that there took place abuse even before the 1960s? He laments that, in the Catholic Church, there are “structural preconditions for abuse” and that for her, “morality is everything and is absolute.”

The German journalist also puts Benedict in opposition to Pope Francis when he states: “Francis came in order to reconcile the Church's teaching with the life of men. But even if he expresses several times his loyalty toward his successor, his text is a pamphlet against the current Pope. It gives support to all those forces who accept homosexuality and moral laxity as the only causes for abuse.” 

Tilmann concludes: “The 'pope emeritus' is promoting the schism of his Church.”

For Professor Thomas Sternberg – the president of the German Committee of German Catholics – the cause of the rejection of Catholic morality was not the “changes in the academic moral theology, but a hierarchy which still believed itself to be able to give people restrictive rules for the life of people who have long been self-determined.”

The moral theologian Magnus Striet claims in yet another statement published on Katholisch.de that Pope Benedict's reference to the sexual revolution of the 1960s as a main cause of the abuse crisis is “absurd” since abuse had taken place also before that time period. He also points out Benedict's own responsibility when he asks: “Who, by the way, has appointed these bishops who are now under strong accusations of cover-up, or who became themselves abusers?” 

His colleague, German theologian Wunibald Müller, even argues that Joseph Ratzinger himself, as archbishop of Munich, has not dealt in a proper manner with abuser priests in his diocese so that they thus were able to continue their abusive behavior. “There was a lack of sensibility, of empathy, of compassion.” He would have wished to hear from Ratzinger that he apologizes toward abuse victims of sexual violence “where he certainly, without wishing it, contributed to their suffering.” In Müller's eyes, Ratzinger was later to learn and grow in understanding when he was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then when he was Pope. However, this theologian believes that Benedict's own attitude toward the Church's sexual morality or his attitude toward homosexuality have contributed to the abuse crisis.

However, in an interview with the Austrian Catholic news website Kath.net, Cardinal Gerhard Müller has responded to some of these sharp rebukes as published by the German bishops' own website. “One cannot really speak here of critiques, because the word critique means to differentiate intellectually demanding things in order to make a contribution to the understanding important questions,” the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states, adding: “These are people who neither believe nor think. Most of all, they lack the slightest decency.”

For Cardinal Müller, the current debate is similar to the scene with St. Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles: “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” (Acts 7:54) “One speaks of renewal and reform, but one means merely the adaptation to one's own decadence,” he comments. “He who would only have a remnant of charity left in his heart would not allow himself to write such base pamphlets.” 

“It is a scandal,” the German prelate continues, “that Catholic bishops finance platforms – thus abusing the Church tax – that clearly present positions that are in contradiction to the Catholic doctrinal and moral teaching.”

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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.