A theologian has accused a German bishop of “moral bankruptcy” for opposing reform after the clerical sex abuse crisis.

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Viennese fundamental theologian Prof. Wolfgang Treitler launched the charges against Bishop of Regensburg Rudolf Voderholzer.

Voderholzer had declared in a controversial New Year’s Eve sermon that the clerical pedophilia scandal was being instrumentalised and used as an excuse to reinvent the Church via the German ‘synodal path’ reform process.

“The outrage over the abuses is the fire over which the stew of the synodal path will be cooked”, Voderholzer said.

“That is why this fire must be kept burning. Nothing should be boiled off, not even the scientifically-proven evidence that celibacy for the kingdom of heaven in itself has nothing to do with sexual abuse and that the vast majority of these crimes are committed in family settings, by people who have not committed to celibacy”, the Regensburg bishop added.

Those were the sentiments Treitler blasted as “moral bankruptcy” on Voderholzer’s part, since to reduce the outrage over the pedophilia crisis to the abuse in itself is to ignore the anger over the concealment and complicity of bishops in those crimes, explained the theologian, himself a survivor of sex aggressions.

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In his polemical sermon, Voderholzer also complained that “certain pressure groups” with “the strong support of the mainstream media” are seeking the “adaptation of the Catholic Church and its sacramental structures to the plausibility of a supposedly enlightened mainstream”.

For Trietler, that “mainstream” statement is inconclusive and as irrelevant as a “cheap slogan” in “serious theological discussion”.

“I know another church, one that genuinely strives to be sincere on this topic” that is the relationship between celibacy and abuse, the theologian added, referring to the series of lectures he has been organising on the abuse crisis at the University of Vienna.

There is certainly a church in which “celibacy is lived honestly and yet this way of life is correctly identified as a not inconsiderable reason for abuse, given that sexuality is largely taboo within the Church”, added Trietler, explaining that this Church that tries to come to terms with the possible connection between celibacy and abuse is the Church he “fights” for.

Why it matters

The theologian described it as a “fatal signal” to “exclude change in central areas of Church teaching”, however “dogmatically imperative” these may appear.

The reason: “nothing is directly divine about the Church”, although “hopefully most of it is a serious, time-tested answer to God”, Trietler said.

The essence of ecclesiastical and Christian existence is “turning back to God, sincerely and in everything, beyond all self-justification, carried by real empathy as the human response to the God of Jesus Christ”, the theologian recalled.

That’s something Trietler missed in Voderholzer’s sermon, which he insisted was “insensitive and a spiritual annoyance”.

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