“That Can’t Be”

Martin Werlen OSB is the former abbot of Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland. This commentary is his response to the recently released essay of Benedict XVI, “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse.”

That can’t be! That was my first reaction when I read the long essay on the topic of abuse on April 11, 2019. Someone who has looked even a little bit into the tragic problem of abuse in the Church could not write this way. Therefore, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Faith and pope cannot possibly be the author.

For him it would be clear that sexual assault and cover-up did not begin after Vatican II, and that he himself had especially promoted conservative factions accused of abuse whose members had never been involved with the Cologne Declaration. Most of the assaults I’m familiar with took place in a time and by people which the author even presents as exemplary. I’ve never met a perpetrator who justified his deeds with the zeitgeist. Otherwise it wouldn’t have had to take place in secret and be covered up.

I assumed that the writer was someone who wished to harm the Church. Meanwhile I’ve been informed otherwise. The personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein confirmed that the 92-year-old former prefect of the CDF and pope wrote the essay alone. And traditionalist circles are proud of this. In fact, they celebrate the essay as an explosive missive directed at Francis.

Here, one must agree with the journalist Tilmann Kleinjung:

“After the abuse meeting in Rome in February, we reporters judged Pope Francis very harshly. Because the concrete results were rather thin, because the Catholic Church still has problems with a radical no-tolerance-policy for perpetrators and those who cover up, because everything is moving too slowly in dealing with this monstrous scandal.

“But now that we have gotten a good look into the worldview of his predecessor Benedict XVI, we must say: we did Pope Francis an injustice. At a tempo which is, in a Catholic content, very quick, he is attempting to bring about a change of consciousness in his Church. The voice of the pope emeritus comes across as an echo of a time long gone. That Joseph Ratzinger still publishes his viewpoint harms himself and his predecessor.”

Thanks be to God that the Church did not stand still with Benedict XVI. For me, his piece is an encouragement to stay the course with Pope Francis in the face of all resistance. That is a question not of church politics, but of credibility.

This article first appeared in German at the website of the Katholische Medienzentrum in Zurich kath.ch and is reprinted in translation with their kind permission.





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