Writing nearly half a century ago (1970), the Italian Catholic philosopher Augusto Del Noce noted that
I often find myself envying unbelievers: Does not contemporary history provide abundant evidence that Catholics are a mentally inferior species? Their rush to conform to the opinion about Catholicism held by rationalist secularists is stunning.
Those words from his essay “The Ascendance of Eroticism” open Del Noce’s brilliant reflections—part analysis, part prophecy—on Europe’s then-current sexual revolution. At a time when a young priest named Joseph Ratzinger was predicting a smaller, more hard-pressed, but purer Church of the future in his 1969–70 German and Vatican radio interviews, Del Noce was explaining how it would happen. He foresaw that “the decisive battle against Christianity [can] be fought only at the level of the sexual revolution. And therefore the problem of sexuality and eroticism is today the fundamental problem from the moral point of view.”
History has proven him right, and for obvious reasons. Sex is both a powerful bond and a fierce corrosive, which is why, historically, nearly all human cultures have surrounded it with taboos that order its harmonious integration into daily life. The naive eagerness—“stupidity” would not be too strong a word for Del Noce’s purposes—of many mid-century Church progressives in accepting, or at least accommodating, sexual license as a form of human liberation, spearheaded the intellectual collapse of an entire generation of Catholic moral theology. Since the 1960s, license has morphed into widespread sexual and social dysfunction, conflict, and suffering—also foreseen by Del Noce.
Unfortunately, the lessons of the ’60s are steadfastly ignored today by much of the Church’s own intellectual class: Simply put, sex is tied intimately to anthropology, to human self-understanding and the purpose of the body. Thus, for the Church to remain the Church, there can be no concordat with behaviors fundamentally at odds with the Word of God and the Christian understanding of the human person as imago Dei. All such attempts lead inevitably to what Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI, pope emeritus) once called silent apostasy. The current situation with Germany’s bishops’ conference comes to mind; but the problem is wider than a single local Church.
In his April 10 essay “The Church and the Scandal of Sexual Abuse,” a much older Joseph Ratzinger looks at the abuse phenomenon through the lens of his own life experience, dividing his text into three parts: origins of the crisis, initial Church responses, and what now needs to be done to heal Catholic life. The essay lacks some of the rigor of his earlier formal writings, and it will not satisfy those critics who see John Paul II and Benedict as slow in addressing the scale and gravity of the problem, but his words are nonetheless as clear and penetrating as ever.
Read more at First Things.