Page last updated at 12:01 UTC, Friday, 14 June 2019 PH
There is a Latin phrase which translated into English states “The corruption of the good is the worst.” The Catholic world has experienced this very unfortunate type of corruption in one of its worst forms in the scandals of men of God (priests, bishops and Cardinals) having been convicted of crimes of sexual abuses against innocent children, teenagers and adults. Last April 10, 2019, the Catholic News Agency of the Vatican issued a previously unpublished essay from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who wanted to contribute to a new beginning by sharing his insights into the possible causes of such a moral crisis within the Church that was established by God Himself. Quoting from the introduction to his brief statement: “The extent and gravity of the reported incidents has deeply distressed priests as well as laity and has caused more than a few to call into question the very Faith of the Church. It was necessary to send out a strong message and seek out a new beginning, so to make the Church again truly credible as a light among peoples and as a force in service against the powers of destruction. 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.”
I could identify very much with the description of the moral (or more strictly speaking, immoral) environment which was at the root of this crisis because in May 1968, I was already very much involved with the education of the youth as a professor of economics at De La Salle University. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI refers to the Paris Spring or the so-called Revolution of Love of 1968 which included in its fight for freedoms “an all-out sexual freedom, one who no longer conceded any norms.” It was in Europe and the United States (especially in the campus of the University of California, Berkeley) where this sexual revolution took its most virulent forms. As Benedict XVI reports, “Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of 1968 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.” It is not a coincidence that the most numerous cases of pedophilia committed by priests started in the 1980s since by then, the products of the seminaries were contaminated with these aberrations in moral teachings. Benedict XVI mused: “For the young people in the Church, but not only for them, this was in any ways a very difficult time. I have always wondered how young people in this situation could approach the priesthood and accept it, with all its ramifications. The extensive collapse of the next generation of priests in those years and the very high number of laicizations were a consequence of all these developments.”
I still remember those years in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council (ended 1965) when as a professor in a Catholic school, I had to contribute to the moral education of my students as they grappled with tough social and economic issues. As usually happens after every ecumenical councils in the Church, there were tendencies to throw out all the old ways of thinking and to celebrate any new teaching, no matter how heretical. I remember especially having to defend traditional teachings of the Church on morality: that there are actions which are intrinsically evil and can never be justified by a good end. There surfaced among professors in some Catholic schools the so-called “situation ethics.” As Benedict XVI succinctly describes it: “In the end, it was chiefly the hypothesis that morality was to be exclusively determined by the purposes of human action that prevailed. While the old phrase ‘the end justifies the means’ was not confirmed in this crude form, its way of thinking had become definitive. 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 was almost inevitable that these heresies in moral theology would eventually affect the way Catholic seminaries were run. The radicalism of the 1960s creeped into the intellectual and moral formation that was being given to the seminarians. Benedict XVI saw it at close range: “In various seminaries homosexual cliques were established, which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries. In one seminary in southern Germany, candidates for the priesthood and candidates for the lay ministry of the pastoral specialist lived together. At the common meals, seminarians and pastoral specialists ate together, the married among the laymen sometimes accompanied by their wives and children, and on occasion their girlfriends. The climate in this seminary could not provide support for preparation to the priestly vocation.” In fact, the sexual revolution of 1968 had its practical consequences on some seminaries run by aberrant bishops. Benedict XVI reports: “One bishop, who had previously been seminary rector, had arranged for the seminarians to be shown pornographic films, allegedly with the intention of thus making them resistant to behavior contrary to the faith.” What a lack of even the most minimal common sense! (To be continued).