Having had half a day more to think about the letter, there are a few other things that are sitting with me.
I find there is some weird nostalgia regarding olden times. In with the nostalgia is authentic need to go back to some traditions and practices that were lost in the mid-1900s, so it’s hard to just flatline say that we can’t go back to the way it was. There are layers to that statement, the first obviously that we are different that we were then, so we actually can’t go back. Secondly, just because it was prior to Vatican II/sexual revolution does not mean it wasn’t a broken system/church. I feel that Pope Emeritus Benedict inadvertently indicates that prior to this time sexual abuse was not in the church. I would heartily disagree with this. I do not think he intended to say it as such, but he also did not acknowledge it, so it is hard to say. Thirdly, I do believe that we are greatly lacking authentic relationships with Jesus and so in our sinfulness it’s hard to see the sin and to turn back to God. But I don’t believe this is necessarily only a problem that has occurred in the 20th century. I think this challenge has been here since the start of Christianity. It’s just taken a very distinctive embodiment in the 20th century.
Pope Emeritus Benedict comments a lot on how ‘the west’ has lost its place for God. But it is not only the west that is beset with sexual abuse problems. Most notably, India has been in the public eye for one of its bishops raping a nun continuously and blaming her for it, while a priest who would have stood witness against him is suspiciously murdered. (I am still terribly upset over this situation and the lack of commentary). I’ve just read that the church in Japan is now investigating sexual abuse cases up to 20 years ago. Pedophilia and abuse of power have been around far longer than the sexual revolution.
The problem of sexual abuse spans far wider than just the west. The thing that determines whether it is public or not is how much of a hush hush culture there is bringing this sin to light. It depends on the culture’s understanding of honour and how that is applied in cases such as minors or vulnerable peoples and powerful, authority figures.
The problem is the culture. Everywhere. The problem is ordained ministers not taking their vows seriously. The problem is that there is little accountability for cover ups.
Do these things stem from not having one’s relationship to Christ central to their lives? Absolutely. From being banned from having God in the public sphere? In part, but I don’t believe on the whole.
In his discussion on the current problem with canon law and pedophile priests, he does not mention once the protection of the victims. He speaks of the problem of the accused in law, wherein it is hard to convict them at all. And he speaks of the need for canon law to “also protect the Faith, which is also an important legal asset.” But nowhere does he mention those who were wronged. Those who have been damaged by the action of ordained ministers. It is a great loss to neglect them in this.
I think he tried, and he said some insightful things. But as someone who has been abused, this is not a letter in which I find terribly much comfort in. I want to know that my church wants to protect me and bring me into relationship with Christ while respecting my God-given dignity. In so many ways, so far, our universal church’s response has been, ‘Meh, you’ll get over it. Let’s not stir the pot too much here.”