Go ahead, blame everything on the ’60s sexual revolution.
I mean, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (born Joseph Ratzinger) just did.
In a rambling 6,000-word open letter published Thursday by a Catholic media outlet and the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra, the retired pontiff lamented the growing secularization of the West and railed against the cratering of morality within the church and throughout Western societies.
“I try to show that in the 1960s an egregious event occurred, on a scale unprecedented in history,” Benedict wrote in his letter. “It could be said that in the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely, and a new normalcy arose that has by now been the subject of laborious attempts at disruption.”
In Benedict’s view, this period of social upheaval caused the collapse of sexual mores, turned priests into homosexuals and pedophiles (as seminaries became filled with “homosexual cliques,” he says), and led to a general crumbling of Western morality and a crisis in the Catholic Church’s monolithic moral credibility.
And the crucible for this moral erosion apparently, according to Benedict, was a then-new trend toward teaching sexuality to children. He writes:
“The matter begins with the state-prescribed and supported introduction of children and youths into the nature of sexuality. In [West] Germany, the then-Minister of Health, Ms. (Käte) Strobel [served from 1966-69], had a film made in which everything that had previously not been allowed to be shown publicly, including sexual intercourse, was now shown for the purpose of education. What at first was only intended for the sexual education of young people consequently was widely accepted as a feasible option.”
So, to Benedict’s way of thinking, sex-ed in postwar Germany led to the undoing of Western civilization and a deep crisis in the church.
The proof? Violence.
One of his proofs of its viral depravity is that it was, he says, “linked to a propensity for violence.” He explains,
“That is why sex films were no longer allowed on airplanes because violence would break out among the small community of passengers. And since the clothing of that time equally provoked aggression, school principals also made attempts at introducing school uniforms with a view to facilitating a climate of learning.”
In his letter, he reveals zero awareness that such strong reaction might actually be due to conservative people who for long centuries had been drilled by the church on the mortal sinfulness of unbridled sex and the inherent shamefulness of human bodies (see: Garden of Eden) became aggressively exercised when faced for the first time with natural sexuality.
Benedict also reported, falsely, that, “Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ‘68 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.”
Nonsense. Pedophilia is as universally condemned today as it ever was. Perhaps he’s referring specifically to priests’ views about it. That’s one of the reasons the current pope, Francis I, is so laser focused on eradicating it in the church.
But, for Benedict, this supposed debauchery was all brand new in the ’60s.
For instance, he writes, “The question of pedophilia, as I recall, did not become acute until the second half of the 1980s.”
Certainly it’s patently irrational for Benedict to believe that priestly pedophiliac behavior began in the ’80s. This sort stuff has been going on for millennia, as even the Bible tells us, and there’s no reason that priests, no matter what the church in its sublime holiness imagines, are not subject to the same human weaknesses of the flesh and character as anyone else.
Disturbing and sad
This long but genteelly worded screed against situational morality and the fading away of an ancient church’s once almost absolute power and influence is at once disturbing and sad.
In his letter Benedict decries the evolution of human morality from absolute law to a social consensus of right and wrong “exclusively determined by the purposes of human action.” He explains:
“Consequently, there could no longer be anything that constituted an absolute good, any more than anything fundamentally evil; (there could be) only relative value judgments. There no longer was the (absolute) good, but only the relatively better, contingent on the moment and on circumstances.”
It is a world he clearly views as desolate and void of meaning.
He expresses deep yearning for Catholicism’s monolithic past, when the faithful would apparently gladly martyr themselves for God and Jesus.
“Martyrdom is a basic category of Christian existence. The fact that martyrdom is no longer morally necessary … shows that the very essence of Christianity is at stake here.”
It would be so much better for the West if we were all more like Islamic State terrorists, not only willing to wear suicide vests for the Lord, but joyously.
‘Unprecedented and awkward’
A Washington Post article today reporting the publication of Benedict’s letter summarizes what it means in the larger church context:
“Since abdicating the papacy six years ago, Benedict — living in a monastery inside the Vatican City walls — had remained nearly silent on issues facing the church, in part to yield full authority to his successor, Pope Francis. But Benedict’s decision to speak out shows the unprecedented and awkward position facing the ideologically divided Roman Catholic Church, which has — for the first time in six centuries — two potential authority figures who hold sometimes-differing views.”
But the greater individual freedoms unleashed in the 1960s, including the freedom to not believe in chimera, are proving a difficult if not impossible genie to put back in its bottle.
However, the church’s current plague of pedophilia scandals is not the result of the ’60s. It was almost certainly happening long before that as well. The spotlight that exposed and continues to expose these scandals is the result of better technology — smart phones, the internet and computers that exponentially inform millions instantly and are difficult to evade — and a new, powerful tendency of victims of church sexual abuse to speak out.
As always, the God humankind can never seem to locate except in our minds is not the first question or final answer.