Earlier today it was published that Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote a letter, a strong message, as he calls it. This is my very limited but relevant commentary.
He writes this message in three parts, first giving history to how such scandal could come about, the effects it has had on formation for the priesthood, and then finally what he sees as a proper response to the crisis.
Part I: History
I am grateful for more historical context. I don’t think I will ever be wary of trying to understand better where faults come from and hearing about things that are antidote to them. I am pleased he has written this part as a way to understand some rudimentary beginnings of this collapse of morality within our church.
Part II: Seminary Formation
He then proceeds to part two which speaks of this impact on formation of seminarians and the culture of seminaries following the promulgation of relative morality. He speaks of a specific situation at one seminary in the second paragraph, but gives little to no real explanation of what was lacking. At this seminary, apparently seminarians and “candidates for the lay ministry of the pastoral specialist lived together. At the common meals, seminarians and pastoral specialists ate together, the married among the laymen sometimes accompanied by their wives and children, and on occasion by their girlfriends. The climate in this seminary could not provide support for preparation to the priestly vocation.”
Guys, I have questions. There is no reference point for this, no extra notes. It’s a very odd and strange set up, but I want to know what is inherently lacking in sharing community with married and single people. The problem with this part (and I’ll grant it’s a very small part of the document) is that it holds this example up to shame it without telling us exactly the points to why it is shameful. And it’s not that I don’t see that there are less than ideal areas in it, but the part that is sticking with me is that the community meals were also held up for shame. Without defining exactly what is meant by this, the example may as well have been left out for all it’s intent and purpose.
So there was that.
He then outlines more specific incidents of very very poor moral judgement of seminaries. Which wholeheartedly can be endorsed as skewed morality, at best.
He then describes the issues Rome had with altering canon law to address the concerns of pedophilia and priests. He says they were reluctant to change and properly address the situation, and from what I read and would estimate, likely in part due to lack of proper education regarding pedophilia. I would hazard a guess – as it became viewed more as a disease – that the church in Rome was slow to incorporate that knowledge into its understanding of how to properly address these situations.
But he also states that there has been and alludes to there continuing to be large problems of guarantorism within stated law. Now, this is not an English-based word. It is a translation from German. I do not know what he intends with this word and I am ill prepared to figure it out. An informant (*coughcough*Fr.Harrison*coughcough*) tells me that it might mean, “that while there is a legal process, no severe canonical penalty would be applied.” This has been problematic. And he also alludes to collusion surrounding such cases where there have been trials. Also quite problematic.
He mentions that there have been some reforms but does not seem to indicate that they are adequate quite yet. He does not explicitly say this, but indicates that proper addressing of the issues of pedophile priests has not been satisfactorily covered under existing Congregations at the Vatican, which is why Pope Francis has “undertaken further reforms.”
Part 3: the proper response
This is the part that sounded like it should have been most encouraging. I had higher hopes; they kind of fell flat. He speaks to our hope in Christ Jesus, incarnate. Which is not misplaced by any means. He means well, and his words are exceptionally true. However, given his starting criticism of the way the Church dabbled in relative morality, I expected more. I expected that we would be encouraged to call out the wrong so that the light might shine forth more clearly. Encouraged to continue the fight for right judgement. All things he alludes to in his previous parts of the message.
I expected more. I don’t know if I have much more to say except that the last section was a bit of a disappointment. If concrete steps were taken (albeit slowly) in the 90s to address the issues, surely could we not also be encouraged to find a way to make sure that the little ones do not stumble in their faith due to the actions of evil? I don’t think it would have been too much to ask, but I also am not constrained by saying too much or too little on a subject and possibly stepping outside of the boundaries of my episcopate.
I suppose to err on the side of saying too little won’t stir the pot. But too little said has been the standard for so long. I yearn for a change in this.
To read the whole of his letter, you can find it in English at the Catholic News Agency.