German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, former president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, is pictured in a 2017 photo. Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way the cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, and he defended taking the title "pope emeritus." (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See BENEDICT-LETTERS-BRANDMULLER Sept. 20, 2018.
By Anian Christoph Wimmer, CNA,
Cardinal Walter Brandmüller made headlines last week, after he told German news agency DPA that debate over the clerical sexual abuse crisis should not “forget or silence the fact that 80% of the cases of sexual assault in the Church affected male youths not children,” adding that a connection between homosexuality and sexual abuse has been “statistically proven.”
Brandmüller, 90, told the news agency Friday that “only a vanishingly small number” of priests has committed sexual abuse, and that it was “hypocritical” to focus only on the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.
“What has happened in the Church is nothing other than what is happening in society as a whole,” he said.
In an interview with CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language sister agency, the church historian explained his remarks – and pointed to causes of the Church crisis and possible solutions:
Your Eminence, your interview on Friday has generated a great deal of attention. How do you deal with the reporting and the reactions?
What secular media makes of statements that do not correspond to the worldview of the reporting journalists might well raise certain questions. But I was concerned with scandals that are more important than how I am being dealt with as a person.
You’re referring to the abuse scandals and their coverup?
Well, I would argue that the real scandal is that when it comes to this issue, clergy and employees of the Church are not sufficiently distinguishable from society overall. The apostle Paul admonished the Romans, “do not be conformed to this world.” [[12:2]]
[But] sexual abuse – in whatever form – is anything but a specifically Catholic phenomenon.
How is that to be understood in this context?
The sexualization of society over decades – think of Oswalt Kolle and Beate Uhse – has left its mark on Catholics and those in the employ of the Church. This statement may help explain the heinousness of the transgressions, but is by no means an excuse!
[ed. Note: Oswalt Kolle was an author, filmmaker, advocate for the sexual revolution in Germany, prominent during the 1960s and 1970s. Beate Uhse AG is a German distributor of pornography, “sex toys,” and lingerie.]
In other words, the role and self-conception of the clergy are at the heart of the issue?
First of all, it must be emphatically emphasized that hundreds of thousands of priests and religious people faithfully and selflessly serve God and men. To put them under general suspicion is just as offensive as unjustified, considering the tiny percentage of abusers. On the other hand, it equally is an excessively narrow view of reality to look only at the Catholic Church.
But surely one must be differentiate between abuse in the Church and across society?
It would be no less unrealistic to forget or conceal that 80 percent of cases of abuse in the church context were perpetrated against male adolescents, not children. This relationship between abuse and homosexuality has been statistically proven – but it has nothing to do with homophobia, whatever one might mean by that term.
How can sexual misconduct and abuse be prevented in principle? Irrespective of whether it is perpetrated against minors or adults, men or women?
In the first place it will be necessary, before any religious consideration, to once again refamiliarize and deepen our understanding of the principles of sexual morality brought about by human nature being that of man and woman. John Paul II, with his Theology of the Body, has made a groundbreaking contribution on this matter.
Surely such an understanding would particularly be required of the clergy, and anyone in a teaching capacity, both in terms of educating on this matter and themselves actually living it?
Indeed, this doctrinal teaching of John Paul II should also form the basis for the selection and formation of future priests and religious educators. Then we should pay attention to their psycho-physical constitution. However, it should not be forgotten that all of this is not just about psychology and sociology, but rather about recognizing a true vocation coming from God. Especially when it comes to priests! Only when these aspects are duly considered and taken into account can a candidate be admitted to ordination.
This is also what Pope Francis has said on several occasions.
By the way: Experienced rigor in the selection of candidates also leads to a higher attractiveness of the priestly profession.
Given this falls under a bishop’s bailiwick, surely theirs is a key role in bringing this about?
The present crisis can only be overcome if, above all, the bishops understand it as a call and an incentive to a new spiritual awakening, drawing on the roots of our Faith. Is it not it astounding that the “conventional” seminars of so-called traditionalist communities, especially in France but not only there, have no shortage of seminarians? So why not adopt this model for success?
In the face of the current crisis, the credibility of the Church as a moral institution is severely shaken in the eyes of many. What is more, Catholics are asking themselves in which direction the Church is headed.
The question I ask myself is whether there really is any direction. Is the Church not tossed back and forth on contradictory currents? Can one recognize any direction at all?
In any case, it is obvious that – at least in Western Europe – Church statements are more or less in line with the social mainstream, and that purely secular matters often determine the speeches and actions of ecclesiastical authorities instead of following the lead of Benedict XVI, who in his speech in Freiburg in 2011 talked about the necessary detachment from worldliness [Entweltlichung], which promptly was misunderstood and even met with disapproval.
In the meantime, even some bishops, especially in the field of morality, have expressed views that are diametrically opposed to Scripture. But in doing so, one removes oneself from the very foundations of the Church’s existence.
So the Church and its foundations are still in their place?
Naturally. And of course it is all the more embarrassing when a financially potent but spiritually foundering Church in Germany reckons it has a mandate to lecture its “poorer brothers and sisters” in – of all places – regions where the Church is experiencing a period of spiritual vitality and growth, ie in Eastern and Northeast Europe as well as regions such as Africa and Asia.
What is also noteworthy in the West, however, is the phenomenon of religious awakenings among the youth, who are unimpressed with the decline around them.
“Fluctuat nec mergitur” – This expression is written on the coat of arms of the city of Paris, which shows a ship on high waves: Despite being tossed back and forth, it is not lost! In fact, Jesus Christ is on board even when he appears to be asleep. This is a depiction of of the Church.