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I didn’t try to cover up child abuse, says Benedict XVI

Benedict XVI (CNS)

Benedict XVI has denied trying to cover up cases of child abuse in the Catholic Church in extracts of a letter published by Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.

The letter was addressed to Italian mathematician and philosopher Piergiorgio Odifreddi, who published a book in 2011, Dear Pope, I’m Writing You, which challenged Benedict’s trilogy of books on Jesus of Nazareth.

Benedict XVI wrote: “I never tried to cover up these things. That the power of evil penetrates to such a point in the interior world of the faith is, for us, a source of suffering. On the one hand we must accept that suffering, and on the other, at the same time, we must do everything possible so that such cases aren’t repeated.

“It’s also not a motive for comfort to know that, according to sociological research, the percentage of priests guilty of these crimes is no higher than in other comparable professional categories. In any event, one must not stubbornly present this deviance as if it were a nastiness specific to Catholicism.”

The former pope has long engaged in dialogue with nonbelievers, most notably with his Courtyard of the Gentiles initiative and his 2011 Assisi gathering. He said he appreciated Odifreddi’s efforts to engage in a frank and open dialogue with the Catholic faith. However, Benedict said he met “with deep dismay” Odifreddi’s unspecified comments about the clerical abuse scandals.

Just as it is wrong “to be silent about the evil in the church,” it is wrong to remain silent about the good, holy and loving service the church has offered, he said.

Benedict explained that he read Odifreddi’s book “with pleasure and benefit.” However, he also offered some sharp criticisms against Odifreddi’s arguments as well as his lack of explanation for very real and observable phenomena such as love, liberty and evil.

The Pope Emeritus said it was curious that someone like Odifreddi, who considers theology to be nothing but “science fiction,” would even consider the Pope’s works as “worthy of such a detailed discussion.”

The retired pope said one of the things the two men have in common is a belief in a First Cause to the universe, only Odifreddi replaces God with “Nature” as the origin. Concerning Odifreddi’s “religion of mathematics”, Benedict said this belief system does not consider three major human realities: “freedom, love and evil”.

“I’m amazed that with just one stroke you eliminate freedom, which has existed and is the fundamental principle of the modern era. Whatever neurobiology says or doesn’t say about freedom, this is present as a decisive reality in the actual unfolding of our history, and it must be taken into consideration,” he wrote.

The former pope, who has also long-supported the compatibility of faith and science as both being dedicated to the truth, underlined that the task of theology is to keep religion and reason closely connected. One without the other will lead to certain dangerous “pathologies” in either religion or reason, he added.

Benedict gave Odifreddi some recommended reading to address the mathematician’s doubts about being able to know anything for certain about the historical figure of Jesus. Just because there is shoddy research out there “doesn’t compromise the importance of serious historical research,” which has brought real and certain knowledge about the figure of Jesus, he said.

“All of my efforts have been aimed at showing how the Jesus described in the Gospels is also the real historical Jesus; that it is history that has really taken place,” Benedict continued, referring to his writings on Jesus of Nazareth, before ending his letter admitting he may have been harsh in some of his criticisms, but that “frankness is part of dialogue”.

Benedict XVI, who was the first pontiff to meet with abuse victims, previously spoke out against “the filth” in the Church, clarified Church laws to expedite cases, and mandated bishops’ conferences put in place stringent norms against abuse, among a number of other initiatives.

The publication of the excerpts of his letter on Tuesday follows La Repubblica’s publication earlier this month of a letter written by Pope Francis to Italian journalist and leftist activist Eugenio Scalfari.