Pope links failure to tackle abuse with 1960s reform

Wed, Nov 24, 2010, 00:00

THOSE WHO have suggested that the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has had his “wings clipped” and does not see eye to eye with Pope Benedict XVI vis-a-vis his handling of the Irish church’s sex abuse crisis may want to think again after reading Light Of The World, the pope’s new book launched in the Vatican yesterday.

Based on six hours of conversation between the pope and German journalist Peter Seewald, the book attempts to use what senior Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi called “simple, concrete and accessible” language to provide answers to a wide range of key questions concerning today’s church.

At one point, Seewald suggests that the evident episcopal mishandling of abuse cases represents a complete “failure” for the church. By way of response, Pope Benedict says: “The Archbishop of Dublin told me something very interesting about that. He said that ecclesiastical penal law functioned until the late 1950s; admittedly, it was not perfect – there is much to criticise about it – but nevertheless it was applied. After the mid-sixties, however, it was simply not applied any more.

“The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather a Church of love: she must not punish . . . This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people.”

Asked by Seewald about the overall impact of the Irish sex abuse crisis, Pope Benedict says: “In Ireland the problem is altogether specific – there is a self-enclosed Catholic society, so to speak, which remained true to its faith despite centuries of oppression, but in which, then, evidently certain attitudes were also able to develop. I cannot analyze that in detail now.

“To see a country that gave the world so many missionaries, so many saints, which in the history of the missions also stands at the origin of our faith in Germany, now in a situation like this is tremendously upsetting and depressing. Above all, of course, for the Catholics in Ireland itself, where now as always there are many good priests.”

Asked by Seewald why the sex abuse scandals in the USA and Ireland had not prompted rigorous preventive investigations in other countries, Pope Benedict replies: “We responded to the matter in America immediately with revised, stricter norms.

“In addition, collaboration between the secular and ecclesiastical authorities was improved. Would it have been Rome’s duty, then, to say to all the countries expressly: Find out whether you are in the same situation? Maybe, we should have done that. For me, in any case, it was a surprise that abuse also existed on that scale in Germany.”

Referring to his pastoral letter to the Irish of last March, the pope says that “what was true for Ireland was not said just to Ireland”.

Thus far, the pope’s book has prompted most controversy because of his remarks about the circumstances in which the use of condoms is acceptable.

In the English translation, the pope says: “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization . . .”

Father Lombardi yesterday explained that the term “male prostitute” was simply the fruit of a poor translation from the original German: in fact the pope’s reference was to prostitutes, male or female.

The point of the condom remarks is further explained by the pope himself in the book, when he says: “The Church, of course, does not regard it (the condom) as a real or moral solution but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

Elsewhere, the pope’s book reiterates traditional teaching on women priests and the incompatibility of homosexuality with the priestly vocation.