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2023: the year of choices that can no longer be avoided

by Luigi Sandri

by Luigi Sandri, Confronti Editorial Staff

Ratzinger, known by his papal title Benedict XVI, denies having “tolerated” pedophile priests in Munich, but the accusations persist. Meanwhile, the German Synodaler Weg, a “Path” charted to correct the sexual abuse scandal, proposes opening the diaconate to women, optional celibacy for priests, and the blessing in church of LGBT + couples. Following here are the proposals of the Community of St. Paul to the Synod.

The Synod of Bishops of 2023 promises to be an ecclesially “dramatic” event, because some facts, which have emerged in recent weeks, suggest that that the Assembly will be faced with choices that can no longer be avoided. Among them: 1) the status of the clergy and the scourge of pedophilia which affects between 3 and 5% – according to the country by country data – of the 410 thousand Catholic presbyters in the world; 2) the admission of women to all ministries; and 3) the overturning of the norms of the Catechism which condemns the sexual relations of LGBT+ people.


An independent commission proposed by Archbishop of Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx, and presided over by a law firm, announced on January 20 its report: between the years 1945-2019, at least 497 minors were abused by 235 people: 173 priests, 9 deacons, 5 pastoral representatives and 48 employees in schools linked to the Church. According to the report, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, at the head of the diocese from 1977 to 1982, also “tolerated” pedophile priests in at least four cases. Immediately – indirectly – the pope emeritus, who lives in the Vatican, denied the accusation. Then, dated February 6, and made known two days later, a letter from him arrived signed “Benedict XVI.” This was a stretch, as the interested party often must choose between signing himself J. Ratzinger or calling himself “pope emeritus,” in order to distantiate himself from those “ultra-Catholic” groups that still consider Benedict the “true” bishop of Rome, and Francis an “abusive” tenant of the office. As for the merits of the facts attributed to him, he acknowledges that, in individual cases, there may have been some error of assessment, but he denies having consciously “tolerated” rapist priests.

A lawyer from the Munich law firm described Ratzinger’s explanations as “not very credible,”but Monsignor Georg Gänswein, his personal secretary, reiterated that the accusations against the former archbishop are not proven.

In the letter, Benedict XVI expresses “profound shame and great pain” for the incident. “Every single case of sexual abuse is terrible and irreparable,” he writes. However, though hew speaks of “very great guilt,” he does not admit his mistakes. He says he is well aware that he will soon have to present himself to God’s court—he was born in 1927.

Beyond the ascertainment of the individual facts – which is up to the German and Vatican courts to evaluate – in this text there is an impression of the absence of regret for not having, while in Munich (though he would so, on occasion, later as pontiff), met the abused girls and boys, albeit now adults, to ask for their forgiveness. It is quite right for a believer to rely on God’s judgment. But, in the meantime, waiting for that unpredictable occasion, while still on this earth, shouldn’t a bishop refer pedophile priests to civil courts, and ask victims for forgiveness in person—in place of a “guilty” priest who does not want to or cannot do it?


At the beginning of February was the first meeting of the participants of the Synodaler Weg of the German Catholic Church—totaling 240, half clergy, half lay, both men and women. The second, and final meeting, will take place in October. They have proposed: very severe measures against the clergy pedophilia; optional celibacy for presbyters; women in the diaconate, acknowledged as a transition towards the presbyterate; the blessing in church to homosexual couples; and the full co-responsibility of the laity, with the priests, in the conduct of parishes. If confirmed in the autumn, these proposals will arrive at the Synod in 2023. Will every decision be postponed once again? If so, the Catholic Church in Luther’s homeland will explode. But there is a small fact that, perhaps, represents a “green light” signal. Cardinal Jean-Claude Höllerich, Jesuit, archbishop of Luxembourg, chosen by Bergoglio as speaker at the next Synod, in an interview with the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, praised the institution of permanent deacons, even married ones, and even asked, “And why not married priests too?”

However, there are signs of a different nature. The newspaper Domani, on February 11, reported two letters from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), one from 2012 to the bishop of Lucera-Troia (Foggia), and the other from 2015 to Cardinal Phillip Barbarin, then bishop of Lyons, with whom he was asked to stand trial against two pedophile priests but decided, that punishing them would create “scandal among the faithful” and would be avoided. And so, by hiding the priests, further crimes of the two rapists were protected, even if the priests themselves were demoted to lay status. At that time, and since 2008, the Spanish Jesuit Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer was secretary of the CDF. In 2017, the pope would appoint him prefect of the same dicastery, and then promote him to cardinal.


Reinhold Marx on May 21, 2021 had offered the pope his resignation as Archbishop of Munich: “The Church in Germany,” he wrote, “is going through moments of crisis, and the crisis is also caused by our personal failure. It seems to me that I have reached a ‘dead end’… For me it is essentially a matter of assuming co-responsibility for the catastrophe of sexual abuse perpetrated by representatives of the Church in recent decades. There have been personal failures and administrative errors, but also an institutional and ‘systemic’ failure.” Francis rejected the dismissals: Marx, moreover, is one of the cardinals who helped him prepare the reform of the Curia and take control of Vatican finances.

Even more crucial is the case of Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (b. 1956), archbishop of Cologne: last September, he admitted: “I made mistakes in handling cases of abuse [of presbyteries on minors] and I made mistakes in communication. I am sorry for this, especially thinking of the victims who have been so retraumatized.” Therefore he asked the pope, who granted it to him, “a time (of about six months) to reflect and then return to walk together in the archdiocese.”

It seems that in this world there are three or four other voting cardinals (each of age below 80 years old) accused of having “tolerated” pedophile priests. Among the observers one wonders: after so many Vatican proclamations against those whom in some way “tolerate” the violence of minors, if there was a conclave, would those prelates be permitted entry?


In view of the Synods – the general one of 2023, and the Italian one of 2025 – little by little the desired proposals begin to arrive in the Vatican, from the dioceses of the world and from individual groups. Among them are the recommendations of the community of Saint Paul in Rome, of which we give two citations [for the complete text: www.confronti.net/2022/02/cdb-doc-sinodi].

Through our study of the Bible with the historical-critical method, we “discovered” that Jesus in the Gospels never speaks of a “priest” for his community, and neither do the Apostolic Letters or the Acts. The whole community is priestly, but no person alone is. For this reason, the presidency of the Eucharist can be of any person who was baptized. And the women? “Their absolute exclusion from the ‘high ministries,’ which at a certain point affirmed itself in the Eastern and Western Churches, is not at all a mandate of Christ but, on the contrary, a historical construction that renders the Gospel distorted and rigid. The fact that the risen Jesus appears to Mary of Magdalene, and entrusts to her – a woman – the mission of reporting to the apostles that He was risen, seems to us a fundamental event of the Church of yesterday and tomorrow.” On another theme: “The Catechism launched by Pope Wojtyla in 1992 defines the sexual behavior of LGBT  people as ‘disordered gestures.’ But if all exclusions are unacceptable, those based on people’s identity, on their nature, are the most oppressive. All studies now tell us that homosexuality and transsexuality are not choices. One is homosexual or transsexual, one does not choose to be.” Therefore: “If the two Synods cannot carry out the necessary substantial reforms (doctrinal, canonical and pastoral), the time will come when a new and unprecedented Council of fathers and mothers “is convened to reflect, and finally courageously deliberate.”

Ph. Saint Peter statue outside the Basilica, Vatican, Rome © Fr. Barry Braum via Unsplash

Luigi Sandri

Luigi Sandri

Confronti Editorial Staff

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