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A Leaven In The World… Benedict XVI: “God Is Absent”

April 15, 2019 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK

Benedict XVI released a statement in German last week on the abuse crisis (see text elsewhere in this issue). It shows the extent of the crisis that, although he seeks to live in prayer and contemplation, he has chosen to speak out on this topic with the okay from Pope Francis.
People are craving clear teaching. The Emeritus Pope offers some deeper analysis which, though it does not absolve individuals of responsibility for sin, and should not, gives context to the abuse crisis which has destroyed the lives of the victims, shaken the Church, and threatened the faith of millions.
The Church always exists in a larger society which may or may not share its faith. In the case of the West that has gone to such an extreme that our faith is attacked, ridiculed, and scorned. But there is something even worse.
Benedict XVI says it this way: “Western society is a society in which God is absent in the public sphere and has nothing left to offer it. And that is why it is a society in which the measure of humanity is increasingly lost.”
Where “God is absent” man cannot even fulfill himself, made for the good, the true, and the beautiful as he is. Perhaps most damaging is the way in which the West has simply continued on as if God does not exist. At least hostility acknowledges the existence of the one against whom the ire is directed.
Though I cannot go into great detail here, I urge readers to seek out the full text. Benedict XVI summarizes the three-part statement thusly:
“In the first part, I aim to present briefly the wider social context of the question, without which the problem cannot be understood. I try to show that in the 1960s an egregious event occurred, on a scale unprecedented in history. It could be said that in the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely, and a new normalcy arose that has by now been the subject of laborious attempts at disruption.
“In the second part, I aim to point out the effects of this situation on the formation of priests and on the lives of priests.
“Finally, in the third part, I would like to develop some perspectives for a proper response on the part of the Church.”
He credits the temptation provided by physiological sex education at younger ages and the experimentation it openly suggested as one element of a society rejecting chastity on a wide scale. A “mental collapse” of moral norms was associated with an accompanying surge in violence related to sexual aggression.
“Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ’68 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.”
In the second section he begins, “At the same time, independently of this development, Catholic moral theology suffered a collapse that rendered the Church defenseless against these changes in society.”
He writes that the internal “collapse” of moral teaching within the Church hinged upon the rejection of the natural law with a laudable attempt to base the teaching entirely upon Scripture. This well-intended experiment did not end well:
“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.”
Pope St. John Paul’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor was one of the responses, along with the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1993 to this crisis. Those who claimed to be teachers of Catholic morals were themselves among the loudest of critics:
“I shall never forget how then-leading German moral theologian Franz Bockle, who, having returned to his native Switzerland after his retirement, announced in view of the possible decisions of the encyclical Veritatis Splendor that if the encyclical should determine that there were actions which were always and under all circumstances to be classified as evil, he would challenge it with all the resources at his disposal.”
He died before being able to carry out his threat, an example of many others who had fallen into relativism. The encyclical of 1991 “did indeed include the determination that there were actions that can never become good.”
“There are values which must never be abandoned for a greater value and even surpass the preservation of physical life. There is martyrdom. God is (about) more than mere physical survival. A life that would be bought by the denial of God, a life that is based on a final lie, is a non-life.”
Martyrdom is incomprehensible without some moral goods that are non-negotiables.
“In moral theology, however, another question had meanwhile become pressing: The hypothesis that the Magisterium of the Church should have final competence [infallibility] only in matters concerning the faith itself gained widespread acceptance; (in this view) questions concerning morality should not fall within the scope of infallible decisions of the Magisterium of the Church. There is probably something right about this hypothesis that warrants further discussion. But there is a minimum set of morals which is indissolubly linked to the foundational principle of faith and which must be defended if faith is not to be reduced to a theory but rather to be recognized in its claim to concrete life.”
The teaching that Christ gave authority to the apostles and their successors in the episcopacy to teach in matters of both faith and morals had to be reasserted with forcefulness. The moral witness of the Church is unique.
“The moral doctrine of Holy Scripture has its uniqueness ultimately predicated in its cleaving to the image of God, in faith in the one God who showed himself in Jesus Christ and who lived as a human being.”
Benedict also goes into detail about the reform of procedures for laicizing priests found guilty of crimes including pedophilia.
“It is very important to oppose the lies and half-truths of the devil with the whole truth: Yes, there is sin in the Church and evil. But even today there is the Holy Church, which is indestructible. Today there are many people who humbly believe, suffer, and love, in whom the real God, the loving God, shows Himself to us. Today God also has His witnesses (martyres) in the world. We just have to be vigilant in order to see and hear them.”
“In the trial against the devil, Jesus Christ is the first and actual witness for God, the first martyr, who has since been followed by countless others.”
Thank you, Benedict XVI!

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