Sex, scandal, the Church, and a general atmosphere of disintegration: That’s the main focus of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s unexpected intervention into today’s unhappy Church politics. Benedict, with Pope Francis’s consent, has written a statement on the Church and its sex abuse scandal that he plans to publish in a Bavarian periodical. The tone of the document is his usual one, that of calm and matter-of-fact statements. Overall, it’s more testimony than analysis, testimony from a man who lived through cultural convulsions and theological betrayals. And it’s a faithful man’s testimony of God’s enduring love.
The Revolution of ’68 has always loomed large in Benedict’s accounts. The events of that fateful year were felt much more acutely in Western Europe than the United States. The war-smashed continent took a deep breath in 1945, and the next fifteen years saw determined efforts to rebuild. The object was not just material reconstruction, but moral and spiritual restoration as well.
Somehow the West succeeded, but at a cost. It took steely resolve to turn back communism in France and Italy. Germany and Austria had Russian divisions on their borders. Everyone felt the ominous threat of nuclear annihilation. In retrospect, it was not the young people who changed so much in ’68. It was their parents, many of whom had neither the will nor inclination to resist. Perhaps they were spiritually exhausted, first by the civilizational catastrophe of the first half of the twentieth century, and then by the two long decades of painstaking efforts to bring back prosperity, decency, and normal life.
Whatever its causes, Benedict is surely correct. The Revolution of ’68 shattered the prohibitions, inhibitions, and stable norms that are necessary to restrain man’s appetites, and thus contributed to the conditions in which clerical sexual malfeasance and abuse festered. But it is important to realize that ’68 unchained more than just sexual desire. It unleashed pleonexia. The enduring content of that historical moment was an imperative of release that ministered to a voracious desire for sensual experiences and material consumption.
Read more at First Things.