Q:Should Pope Benedict XVI be held responsible for the escalating scandals over clerical sexual abuse in Europe? Should he be investigated for cases of abuse that occurred under his watch as archbishop of Munich or as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer? Should the pope resign?
Pope Benedict XVI is the official head of ship of the Roman Catholic Church with ultimate say in what goes on in the name of his organization. As such, it is his duty to make sure that people who work for the Church, especially as priests and nuns, act in accord with its doctrines and morals. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest he has been aware for years that some Catholic priests were abusing children, he had the authority to try to prevent it, but he did little or nothing to stop it. If, in fact, this is the case, then he clearly has to take responsibility for not acting and should face severe punishment. He cannot feign ignorance or innocence.
One of the apparent reasons Church officials have been hesitant to crack down on abuses by the clergy is that there are so few priests in contemporary times relative to the organization’s current membership numbers and needs. In 1965, for example, 1,575 men took ordination as priests in the U.S. By in 2005, that number fell to less than 170. Consequently, Church leaders have tended to turn a blind eye to many of the reports of abuse. One of the reasons for the dwindling number of clergy is the narrow minded approach to life and religion that church officials have sought to perpetuate. When Pope John XXIII called for the Second Vatican Council in 1959 (it was begun in 1962), he did so to bring in a new era of openness to the Church. Unfortunately, he died shortly thereafter, and the movement to broaden the Church’s thinking was short lived.
A study of Catholic priests published in National Catholic Reporter, May 23, 2003, found that the nearly half of those who resign from the priesthood do so because they fall in love and no longer want to remain celibate. The Church promotes celibacy for the priests and nuns for two main reasons: sex, and even sexual feelings, outside of marriage is evil and married clergy will be encumbered (personally, financially, emotionally, etc) in doing the Church’s work. Celibacy is not presented as a part of a positive growth process for members of the clergy, so those who do practice it see it as a sort of penance. Practicing celibacy because sexual desires and sex are seen as sins or as evil will far more likely lead to a suppression rather than an extinguishing of those feelings, and it will not necessarily promote any genuine spiritual growth or transformation. Moreover, it can lead to a perversion of feelings and emotions, which may well be what happened to those priests who sexually abuse children, homosexually or heterosexually. Celibacy can work for renunciants, those who live away from or on the outskirts of everyday society. However, Catholic priests live among a sexually active population, are daily exposed to a highly sexualized society, and are often involved with those who may arouse them sexually. Allowing marriage would be an intelligent move for the Church, as most other Christian denominations do, and it might help alleviate some of its problems.
The vast majority of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain renunciants remain celibate because they see it as a valuable tool in their spiritual growth. They also do yoga and other practices that aid them in the sublimation of sexual desires and the transformation of them into energy for use in elevated consciousness. In short, celibacy is not a burden but a benefit. With this approach, the results are far more positive. This is not to say that there are no Indian renunciants who have sex or who may even be pedophiles, but they are extremely rare. It is much easier to remain celibate in both thought and deed if you have a healthy understanding of sexuality, if you have practices to transform sexual feelings, and if you live predominantly isolated from members of the gender who may arouse them.
If Catholic priests were taught practices like those in the yoga system to help them, I think the situation would be different. In the 1970s and 80s, various Catholic monasteries invited Hindu and Buddhist monks to teach concentration and other yogic practices to help the monks and nuns in prayer, in mental focus, and in the sublimation of sexual longings. However in December, 1989, then Cardinal Ratzinger issued a document entitled “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian meditation,” in which discouraged and sought to discontinue the use of “eastern methods” of prayer and meditation, which he denigrated as erroneous. Consequently, monasteries canceled future classes that taught these. In the process, valuable tools and techniques for helping priests and nuns in their lives was taken away from them.
As head of the Vatican office known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) from 1981 to 2005, Ratzinger’s primary role was “to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world.” Yet, during that time, there were numerous reports of priests sexually abusing children, and he did nothing of substance to prevent them. In at least one case, as detailed in a just published article in the New York Times by Laurie Goodstein, Ratzinger allegedly squelched a Church investigation and planned trial of a priest accused by five individuals of abuse when they were students in a Catholic school for the deaf. In 2005, Ratzinger left his position as head of the CDF to become Pope Benedict XVI.
The pope has long been complicit, to one degree or another, in protecting the reputation of the church at the expense of the victims of priestly abuse. This shows a lack of moral conviction for an individual who is supposed to be the moral and spiritual leader of Catholics. It is no wonder there are so many ex-Catholics today. The pope is now reaping some of the fruits of the narrow-minded approach to life that he has promoted for decades, an approach that may have benefited some, but has hurt countless others both inside and outside the Church.