We have all been aware of the fuss made about Pope Benedict’s recently published article on morality and the Church. Here I reproduce a comment written by Thomas Reece in the National Catholic Reporter.
“Most of the media attention since a German Catholic magazine published Benedict’s 6,000-word statement has been focused on Benedict blaming the sex abuse crisis on the collapse of sexual standards in the 1960s….But Benedict also wants to blame sex abuse on contemporary moral theologians who challenged the church’s traditional, natural law ethics, especially as it applied to sexual ethics. Contemporary moral theology is less rule-based and, rather, takes a more personalistic and relational approach. Challenging the Church’s opposition to birth control, as did most theologians, opened the floodgates to all sorts of sexual sins, including child abuse, in his view.”
Reece’s text is at: https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/signs-times/benedicts-unfortunate-letter-ignores-facts-catholic-sex-abuse-crisis.
Benedict’s complete text is at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/full-text-pope-emeritus-benedict-xvi-lays-out-thoughts-on-abuse-crisis
There are some interesting points here for us to consider. The first thing that strikes me is that whether natural law is true or bunkum it is not difficult to see that sexual abuse of the young is simply wickedness. And that wickedness is mightily increased when a cleric uses his standing and authority not only to achieve his ends but also to protect himself from the consequences.
We might usefully probe the concept of the Natural Law. Of course it existed, under other names, as a key to morality long before the Church was founded. The assumption was quite simple: if we act in a way which conforms with human nature, we flourish. If we do the opposite we damage ourselves and the others involved. A simple example would be our realisation that human beings are by nature social beings. Thus stealing or lying, being inconsistent with the needs of society, are against the Natural Law.
When the Church developed the details of Natural Law much attention was paid to sexual questions. Since nothing was originally known about evolution, biology became the immediate evidence. Given God’s direct creation, biology told us precisely how we should, and shouldn’t, behave. Thus, to take the most obvious example, the creation of the reproductive organs clearly told us that homosexual relations defied God’s creative will – and thus was directly wicked. Today we might still accept that homosexual behaviour involves a biological mismatch, but we might now take into account the question of homosexual orientation, and committed homosexual relationships..
In fact Natural Law is not a fixed code. It cannot be because it is based on nature, and since we continuously develop our understanding of nature we must always be open to modifying our verdict. For example the controversy over artificial birth control was between those who held that the structure of sexual intercourse was the overriding principle and those who held that the relational needs of marriage should prevail. Josef Fuchs, the great Natural Law theologian, eventually concluded that married women had a clearer view of Natural Law in marriage than the official Church. We may agree or disagree.
Finally, we may consider whether or what aspects of the Church’s teaching and its hierarchical nature may have contributed both to the occurrence of abuse and the failure to control it
(Earlier this week an editorial article in NCR relevant to this theme was published at https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/editorial-one-pope-quite-enough?clickSource=email )