The editor of a German magazine has come down heavily on Benedict XVI for what he said was the retired pope’s “intellectual pessimism” on the clerical sex abuse crisis.

Driving the news

In April, Benedict published in Klerusblatt, a German-language resource for priests, what he called “some notes” on the Church’s pedophilia scandals.

The Pope Emeritus, in large part, attributed the crisis to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, a “collapse” in Catholic moral theology after the modernising Second Vatican Council and a general “absence of God”.

But Benedict’s analysis earned him criticisms from some theologians and scholars of religion, who called it “embarrassingly wrong”, “deeply flawed”, and worse.

“The willingness to blame a permissive culture and progressive theology for a problem that is internal and structural is stunning”, said Julie Rubio, a professor of theology at Santa Clara University, in a comment representative of the critiques.


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The big picture

Just this week Benedict responded to the critics, writing a brief reply to German Church magazine Herder Korrespondenz.

“As far as I can see, in most reactions to my contribution, God does not appear at all”, which is “exactly what I wanted to emphasise” as the central problem, the Pope Emeritus wrote.

He added that “the general deficit in the reception of my text” was the willingness to engage with the idea that the sex abuse crisis was caused by a lack of faith and morals.

Benedict concentrated in his latest reply on the response to his analysis offered by the German historian Birgit Aschmann, published in Herder Korrespondenz in July.

“In the four pages of the article by Mrs. Aschmann, the word God, which I made the central point of the question, does not appear”, the retired pope lamented.

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Go deeper

A new twist in the tale came Tuesday, when the editor of Herder Korrespondenz, Volker Resing, hit back at the Pope Emeritus and sprang to Aschmann’s defence.

Resing said Aschmann “couldn’t simply ignore” Benedict’s criticism of the May ’68 movement, which the Pope Emeritus said had brought “all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer conceded any norms”.

“Aschmann traces historically the movement of ’68 and also the sexual revolution to which Benedict refers”, Resing explained.

“In fact, she reflects it very well: the true Catholic suffering of 1968 did not arise from the excesses of a youth movement, but from the encyclical Humanae Vitae“, the journalist continued.

“Even the most convinced Catholics, who were not suspected of having danced in Woodstock, said at that time: ‘We’re facing a Catholic moral doctrine that interferes in the most private areas of life'”.

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Why it matters

But Resing didn’t stop there in his criticisms of Benedict XVI.

The editor of Herder Korrespondenz went on to point out that the Pope Emeritus “doesn’t refer to criticisms on the ’68 and sexual morality questions”.

“I’d like to hear what the Pope Emeritus thinks of that”, said Resing, noting that Benedict had said that Aschmann’s article “could inspire a deeper reflection”.

On the point in which Benedict insisted in his latest article – the absence of God – Resing noted that “speaking of God is correct and important, but it is reductive if it is only done from pure intellectual pessimism”.

“If one reads Benedict XVI’s [original] text, he talks about the decline of society.

“From there, one wonders where Christian hope ends up.

“Where is the love that God gives us when society is supposed to be decadent and the women’s emancipation movement is not valued as the work of God that it is?”

But as if these criticisms weren’t enough, Resing then took one final shot at Benedict.

The journalist questioned whether the Pope Emeritus was really living, with all these forays into public debates, the life of silence and prayer he promised to live when he resigned the papacy in 2013.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.