National Catholic Register has just published an extraordinary reflection by Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI, on the abuse scandal and its roots. First, though, let me share with you this passage:
Faith is a journey and a way of life. In the old Church, the catechumenate was created as a habitat against an increasingly demoralized culture, in which the distinctive and fresh aspects of the Christian way of life were practiced and at the same time protected from the common way of life. I think that even today something like catechumenal communities are necessary so that Christian life can assert itself in its own way.
But that’s only a single paragraph from the long new reflection by the Pope Emeritus, a reflection that is dark and at times unsparing. Here the former pope begins by talking about the culture that formed a generation of priests:
The matter begins with the state-prescribed and supported introduction of children and youths into the nature of sexuality. In Germany, the then-Minister of Health, Ms. [Käte] Strobel, had a film made in which everything that had previously not been allowed to be shown publicly, including sexual intercourse, was now shown for the purpose of education. What at first was only intended for the sexual education of young people consequently was widely accepted as a feasible option.
Similar effects were achieved by the “Sexkoffer” published by the Austrian government [A controversial ‘suitcase’ of sex education materials used in Austrian schools in the late 1980s]. Sexual and pornographic movies then became a common occurrence, to the point that they were screened at newsreel theaters [Bahnhofskinos]. I still remember seeing, as I was walking through the city of Regensburg one day, crowds of people lining up in front of a large cinema, something we had previously only seen in times of war, when some special allocation was to be hoped for. I also remember arriving in the city on Good Friday in the year 1970 and seeing all the billboards plastered up with a large poster of two completely naked people in a close embrace.
Among the freedoms that the Revolution of 1968 sought to fight for was this all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer conceded any norms.
The mental collapse was also linked to a propensity for violence. That is why sex films were no longer allowed on airplanes because violence would break out among the small community of passengers. And since the clothing of that time equally provoked aggression, school principals also made attempts at introducing school uniforms with a view to facilitating a climate of learning.
Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ’68 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.
For the young people in the Church, but not only for them, this was in many 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.
BXVI goes on to talk about the internal collapse within the Church. Read this passage, especially the final paragraph:
I shall never forget how then-leading German moral theologian Franz Böckle, 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.
It was God, the Merciful, that spared him from having to put his resolution into practice; Böckle died on July 8, 1991. The encyclical was published on August 6, 1993 and did indeed include the determination that there were actions that can never become good.
The pope was fully aware of the importance of this decision at that moment and for this part of his text, he had once again consulted leading specialists who did not take part in the editing of the encyclical. He knew that he must leave no doubt about the fact that the moral calculus involved in balancing goods must respect a final limit. There are goods that are never subject to trade-offs.
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 a basic category of Christian existence. The fact that martyrdom is no longer morally necessary in the theory advocated by Böckle and many others shows that the very essence of Christianity is at stake here.
More, about the sources of the abuse scandal:
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 [Pastoralreferent] 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 by their girlfriends. The climate in this seminary could not provide support for preparation to the priestly vocation. The Holy See knew of such problems, without being informed precisely. As a first step, an Apostolic Visitation was arranged of seminaries in the United States.
… There were — not only in the United States of America — individual bishops who rejected the Catholic tradition as a whole and sought to bring about a kind of new, modern “Catholicity” in their dioceses. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that in not a few seminaries, students caught reading my books were considered unsuitable for the priesthood. My books were hidden away, like bad literature, and only read under the desk. [Emphasis mine — RD]
The [1980s] Visitation that now took place brought no new insights, apparently because various powers had joined forces to conceal the true situation. A second Visitation  was ordered and brought considerably more insights, but on the whole failed to achieve any outcomes. Nonetheless, since the 1970s the situation in seminaries has generally improved. And yet, only isolated cases of a new strengthening of priestly vocations came about as the overall situation had taken a different turn.
Imagine the pain of Ratzinger, in the lines I bolded above, knowing that this was how many of the Church’s seminaries considered his writing. And, do not fail to recognize the bluntness with which he states that the two apostolic visitations failed.
This is the darkest passage:
And finally, there is the Mystery of the Church. The sentence with which Romano Guardini, almost 100 years ago, expressed the joyful hope that was instilled in him and many others, remains unforgotten: “An event of incalculable importance has begun; the Church is awakening in souls.”
He meant to say that no longer was the Church experienced and perceived as merely an external system entering our lives, as a kind of authority, but rather it began to be perceived as being present within people’s hearts — as something not merely external, but internally moving us. About half a century later, in reconsidering this process and looking at what had been happening, I felt tempted to reverse the sentence: “The Church is dying in souls.”
But he ends with hope:
Today’s Church is more than ever a “Church of the Martyrs” and thus a witness to the living God. If we look around and listen with an attentive heart, we can find witnesses everywhere today, especially among ordinary people, but also in the high ranks of the Church, who stand up for God with their life and suffering. It is an inertia of the heart that leads us to not wish to recognize them. One of the great and essential tasks of our evangelization is, as far as we can, to establish habitats of Faith and, above all, to find and recognize them. [Emphasis mine — RD]
I live in a house, in a small community of people who discover such witnesses of the living God again and again in everyday life and who joyfully point this out to me as well. To see and find the living Church is a wonderful task which strengthens us and makes us joyful in our Faith time and again.
When people mischaracterize the Benedict Option as nothing but a running-away from the world, I’ll refer them to the line of BXVI’s that I bolded just above. Establishing “habitats of faith” is “one of the great and essential tasks of our evangelization.” Do you see? Building Benedict Option communities is ESSENTIAL to evangelizing! So says Benedict XVI, who lives in one of these communities himself. Let’s build them, find them, and hold them up for people to see.