Retired Pope Benedict XVI made a rare public statement Thursday with an essay on the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse crisis, linking it to a breakdown in sexual morality in the 1960s and warning against an excessive focus on the rights of accused abusers.
The retired pope’s words are in striking contrast with the Vatican’s policy under Pope Francis, which has increasingly emphasized the rights of the accused and reduced punishments for abusers on appeal.
Pope Benedict’s statement could provide encouragement to proponents of the “zero tolerance” approach to clerical abuse, which requires the removal from ministry of any priest found guilty of even one instance of abuse of a minor. Bishops in the U.S. and a handful of mostly English-speaking countries promote zero tolerance for use by the church at large, but the Vatican hasn’t endorsed the policy for global application... Pope Benedict’s essay also deviates from statements by Pope Francis, who generally has played down sexual morality and attributed the abuse crisis largely to a culture of “clericalism,”or excessive power in the hands of the Catholic hierarchy.Pope Benedict wrote that his 6,000-word essay, published Thursday by German, Italian and English-language outlets including the Catholic News Agency, was in response to an international summit on sex abuse held at the Vatican in February.
“Since I myself had served in a position of responsibility as shepherd of the church at the time of the public outbreak of the crisis, and during the run-up to it, I had to ask myself—even though, as emeritus, I am no longer directly responsible—what I could contribute to a new beginning,” he writes, noting that he obtained the permission of Pope Francis to publish his thoughts.