Monday, December 20, 2010

Pope Benedict on the Roots of the Sexual Abuse Scandal

Catholic liberals and secularist alike delight in bashing the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope and traditional theology using the child sexual abuse scandal as a club. They seek to imply that, somehow, conservative moral theology is the problem and that if only the Church adopted liberal theology then all would be well.

There is absolutely no evidence in favor of this tendentious claim and much against it. In his annual Christmas address to the Curia, Pope Benedict XVI explains why it is not conservative moral theology and its commitment to absolute principles of morality, but the abandonment of these things things which is at the root of the problem.

In the vision of Saint Hildegard, the face of the Church is stained with dust, and this is how we have seen it. Her garment is torn – by the sins of priests. The way she saw and expressed it is the way we have experienced it this year. We must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen. We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good. We must be capable of doing penance. We must be determined to make every possible effort in priestly formation to prevent anything of the kind from happening again. This is also the moment to offer heartfelt thanks to all those who work to help victims and to restore their trust in the Church, their capacity to believe her message. In my meetings with victims of this sin, I have also always found people who, with great dedication, stand alongside those who suffer and have been damaged. This is also the occasion to thank the many good priests who act as channels of the Lord’s goodness in humility and fidelity and, amid the devastations, bear witness to the unforfeited beauty of the priesthood.

We are well aware of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and of our corresponding responsibility. But neither can we remain silent regarding the context of these times in which these events have come to light. There is a market in child pornography that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society. The psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are reduced to articles of merchandise, is a terrifying sign of the times. From Bishops of developing countries I hear again and again how sexual tourism threatens an entire generation and damages its freedom and its human dignity. The Book of Revelation includes among the great sins of Babylon – the symbol of the world’s great irreligious cities – the fact that it trades with bodies and souls and treats them as commodities (cf. Rev 18:13). In this context, the problem of drugs also rears its head, and with increasing force extends its octopus tentacles around the entire world – an eloquent expression of the tyranny of mammon which perverts mankind. No pleasure is ever enough, and the excess of deceiving intoxication becomes a violence that tears whole regions apart – and all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines man’s freedom and ultimately destroys it.

In order to resist these forces, we must turn our attention to their ideological foundations. In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos. It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a "better than" and a "worse than". Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist. The effects of such theories are evident today. Against them, Pope John Paul II, in his 1993 Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, indicated with prophetic force in the great rational tradition of Christian ethos the essential and permanent foundations of moral action. Today, attention must be focussed anew on this text as a path in the formation of conscience. It is our responsibility to make these criteria audible and intelligible once more for people today as paths of true humanity, in the context of our paramount concern for mankind.

Here are a few observations:

First, is it not startling that in discussing this issue the Pope should be driven to quoting the Book of Revelation? Clearly, he sees the threat to the Church's witness as extremely serious and indicative of a great setback in spiritual warfare.

Second, Pope Benedict XVI goes back to the roots of the child sexual abuse scandal by referring to the rise of consequentialist thinking and the denial of the existence of objective right and wrong in the post-Vatican II rush to embrace secular and progressive thinking in the Roman Catholic Church.

Third, it is instructive to note that he highlights Pope John Paul II's great encyclical Veritatis Splendor and calls it "prophetic." In this encyclical, John Paul II forcefully and beautifully proclaims the permanent and objective character of moral truth in contradistinction to the subjective and shifting standards of morality found in contemporary left-wing theology.

Fourth, Benedict XVI notes that Veritatis Splendor must be utilized in the formation of conscience. Later in the address, Benedict XVI speaks of John Henry Newman and stresses that for Newman, as for the tradition in general, conscience does not denote the subjective feelings of an individual based on the current situation, but rather, the voice of the Spirit as it comes through Scripture, sound doctrine and a knowledge and love of the law of God.

Fifth, the clergy abuse scandal cannot be separated from other evils of the 70s and 80s including the rising acceptance of homosexuality, the breakdown of marriage, abortion and sexual licentiousness in general. In all cases the idea of a well-formed conscience was transformed into a fancy word for fleshly desires and the idea that some actions are always and in themselves evil was abandoned as "old-fashioned."

The Roman Catholic Church needs reform in doctrine, it is true, but one must admire her constancy in speaking the truth of moral theology in courageous opposition to the spirit of the age. In an age characterized by "the dictatorship of relativism" the Papacy is a liberation movement fighting for truth, goodness and joyful obedience to the law of Christ.

Any Protestant denomination or theological movement which purports to be "reformed" and "biblical" must demonstrate a similarly clear-headed approach to moral theology if it wishes to be taken seriously. Sadly, many Protestants and even many Evangelicals fall short of this standard, to our great shame and the world's great loss.

No comments: