Pope emeritus Benedict XVI is looking to the 1960s sexual revolution in search of a scapegoat for the sexual abuse prevalent amongst the Catholic clergy. In a recent letter, Benedict cited the 1960s sexual revolution as the reason for the recent history of sexual abuse in the Church, suggesting that the solution to the issue is “obedience and love for our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Unfortunately, Benedict’s letter fails to touch on any tangible issue. The question is not whether the Church is being secularized by the lascivious happenings of the outside world. Instead, the Church needs to examine options at the institutional level to ensure that this abuse isn’t allowed to continue. The letter fails to suggest any such option. There is no acknowledgment of the accusations of cover-ups that have been flooding the Church since the 1980s, and Benedict’s insistence that the Church resolves to be more obedient is not actionable enough. Trying to pin the blame on the rest of society serves only as an exercise in pointless moral relativism, and it distracts the Church from addressing the causes for the abuse.
Some supporters of the Church may argue that the prevalence of porn and other examples of sexual liberation during the 1960s brought about an overall degradation of society’s values as a whole, so it stands to reason that the Church was also impacted. One need only consider, however, the fact that the Catholic Church is one of the groups most often cited as having sexual abuse problems. Other similar religious groups do not face the same scandals. The Catholic Church has been facing accusations since as early as the 1950s, a decade prior to the cited sexual revolution, before the scandals achieved media attention in the 1980s with the accusations leveled against Gilbert Gauthe. This suggests that the sexual abuse scandals are not brought on by the degradation of religious morals, but instead by a failure on an institutional level to properly address instances of abuse.
Pope Francis, Benedict’s successor, holds a drastically different view on the causes for the scandal, and he seems interested in addressing the institutional corruption that supported the predators amongst the clergy. The Vatican held a summit of bishops around the world last February that focused on the topic of sexual abuse in the Church. This is significant, as it is a public admission that the Church not only has an ongoing issue with sexual abuse of children within its walls but that it has been actively trying to cover up those crimes.
The summit sought to discuss methods for both preventing further abuse, as well as increasing transparency around the issue. German Cardinal Reinhard Marx went as far as to admit that records documenting the abuse had been destroyed. There is an argument to be made that Pope Francis’ plans have their shortcomings (as thorough of a discussion the summit involved, the specifics for handling instances of abuse still aren’t quite clear), but his acknowledgment that the abuse is a failure on the part of the Church is a step towards a solution that Benedict seems uninterested in taking.
Trying to provide excuses for sexual abuse is frivolous — the victims deserve better than that. The Church needs to turn its collective eye towards establishing safeguards that will prevent potential abusers from preying on minors. One can only hope that the intense pressure the current pope is under will give rise to a viable solution.