Homosexuality and Abuse – Coping With the Crisis: The Lessons of History

By Cardinal Walter Brandmüller

NOTE: this is a Google translation of an article from the Vatican Magazin, November 2018.

To learn that sexual abuse and homosexuality are almost epidemic among clergy and even in the hierarchy of the Church in America, Australia and Europe, shakes the current Church to its foundations, not to say that it has even fallen in a sort of shock state.

It is a phenomenon that, although present also in the past, until the mid-twentieth century was unknown in the terrible current dimensions.

The question then arises as to how we could get to this point.

In the search for an answer, the gaze immediately falls, as well as on the current society characterized by extreme liberalism, also on the moral theology of the last decades and its representatives. Among them, some opinion leaders have abandoned the classical foundation of natural law and the theology of revelation and proclaimed new theories. An autonomous morality, which does not want to recognize the commonly binding norms, a consequentialism, which judges the ethical quality of an action based on its consequences, or a situational ethics, which makes the good or the evil of an act depend on the relative concrete circumstances of human action: all these new approaches in moral theology have been defended by professors in theology classrooms, or in seminaries, and naturally also applied to sexual morality. So there, then,

In the background the old typically modernist conviction acted – the pattern of “evolution” was followed – that the dynamics of the development of humanity towards an ever higher cultural level also included religion and morals. Thus, having reached the next higher level of awareness, what was still forbidden yesterday could be allowed today. The names that should be mentioned here are famous; some of them even taught in pontifical universities without being exempt from their office. The consequences of all this emerged very soon when some seminars, especially in the United States, turned into incubators of homosexuality.

When this degeneration became obvious, the Catholics, as frightened as they were outraged, reacted on a large scale, as the various internet portals impressively show.

As a consequence, the usually abundant flow of money from the donations of Catholic lay organizations to the Vatican coffers has begun to diminish: it was not the episcopate that took hold of the issue, but the laity. The fact of denying the usual rich offers is seen, not wrongly, as a protest against the shortcomings of Rome in the current crisis. And it was precisely this that followed – probably without knowing it – a historical example of the early Middle Ages.

The situation is comparable to that of the Italian Church in the 11th-12th centuries. The fact that during the first millennium the papacy, the episcopal seats, even the simplest ecclesial functions, because of the income that they guaranteed had seemed increasingly appealing, had the consequence that they were fighting, fighting and trading to take possession of them. This evil was called simony: Simon Magus had offered money to the apostle Peter to give him the gifts of the Holy Spirit. To this was added the claim of temporal rulers to interfere in the attribution of high offices in the Church – the lay investiture – and obviously also the concubinage of many priests.

The same was true of the papacy, which in the 9th and 10th centuries had even become the bone of contention among the noble families of the Crescenzi and Tuscolo families. These, therefore, put – no matter how – one of their respective sons or relatives as pope. Among them there were also very young and morally dissolute men, who felt themselves more masters of Peter’s patrimony than the supreme pastors of the Church.

In the wake of these developments also grew homosexuality among the clergy. And this happened to such an extent that St. Peter Damian in 1049 gave the newly elected Pope Leo IX his “Liber antigomorrhianus”, written in an epistolary form, in which he exposed this danger to the Church and to the salvation of the soul of many. The title of the discussion refers to the city of Gomorrah which, according to Genesis 18, had been condemned by God to destruction along with Sodom.

Damian expected from this pope, known as a zealous reformer, an effective intervention against widespread sin. He wrote: “The sodomitic filth creeps like a cancer into the ecclesiastical order, or rather, like a blood-thirsty beast raging in the fold of Christ with free audacity, so that the salvation of the souls of many is more secure under the yoke of the servitude of lay people, who with the voluntary access to the service of God under the iron law of the tyranny of Satan “who reigned among the clergy.

It is somewhat noteworthy that almost simultaneously a secular movement was formed, directed not only against the immorality of the clergy and the concubinage of the priests, but also against the seizing of ecclesiastical offices by secular powers, or the possibility of buying them. It was precisely this that among the clergy insinuated elements that had neither the capacity nor the will to lead a life in conformity with the clerical state. For the lay gentlemen, having loyal vassals on the episcopal chairs was often more important than the good of the Church.

Against all this was the vast popular movement called the “pataria”, led by members of the Milanese nobility and also by some members of the clergy, but supported by the people. Collaborating closely with the reformers close to Pier Damian, and then with Gregory VII, with the Bishop Anselmo of Lucca, an important canonist who later became Pope Alexander II, and with others, the “Patarini” solicited, also resorting to violence, the realization of the a reform which was later adopted by Gregory VII as “Gregorian”: for a celibacy of the clergy lived faithfully, against the occupation of dioceses by lay powers and simony.

The interesting aspect is that the reformer movement almost simultaneously broke out in the highest hierarchical circles in Rome and among the vast Lombard lay people, in response to a situation considered unsustainable.

This union of interest, however, did not last long. In fact, when the different ramifications of the pauperistic movement were formed, without however resuming the intentionally ecclesiastical and hierarchical impulse of the first Franciscans, but challenging with spontaneous and unauthorized preaching the resistance of a hierarchy that did not include the signs of the times, not few of the “poor of Christ”, with their rejection of the hierarchy founded on the sacrament, slipped into heresy and disobedience. Thus were born ramified pauperistic movements, which only thanks to the far-sighted pastoral action of Innocent III could largely be reintegrated into the Church.

Remembering these developments in the present context is useful, because even today it is possible to recognize some of those deviations, when lay people who are too “committed” turn against priests and bishops.


Today as then, arise from the conflicts between an episcopate entangled in institutions and bureaucracy – including the Roman curia – and lay movements that feel abandoned, if not even betrayed, by pastors and teachers of the Church, by the successors of the apostles. To overcome the loss of trust that is created among the faithful, a not inconsiderable effort on the part of the hierarchy and the clergy will be necessary. Of course, the congregation for the doctrine of the faith has published documents of moral theology, such as “Persona humana” (1975). In addition, two teachers were revoked, respectively in 1972 and 1986, the teaching license due to theological errors, and some books on sexual morality were condemned. But really important heretics, like the Jesuit Josef Fuchs, that from 1954 to 1982 he was a lecturer at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and Bernhard Häring, who taught at the Redemptorist Institute in Rome, as well as the influential moral theologian of Bonn Franz Böckle or that of Tübingen Alfons Auer, were able to spread undisturbed, under the eyes of Rome and the bishops, the seed of error. The attitude of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith and of the bishops in these cases is, in retrospect, simply incomprehensible. We saw the wolf coming and watched as it broke through the flock. The encyclical “Veritatis splendor” of 1993 by John Paul II – the contribution that Joseph Ratzinger has given you has not yet been duly recognized – has clearly indicated the basis of the Church’s moral teaching, but it clashed with the wide rejection of theologians. Perhaps because it was published only when the theological-moral decay was already too advanced.

Although on one hand the failure of the hierarchy is incomprehensible and deplorable, and on the other hand the laity’s commitment to the current situation is necessary and praiseworthy, in both these attitudes and behaviors it is possible to identify significant elements of risk. If the behavior illustrated above of the so-called “institutional Church”, which worries more about finances and administration, causes the growing abandonment of the Church by populations who were once Catholics, a far too sure laity is in danger of not to recognize the nature founded on the sacred order of the Church and to slip, in the protest against the failure of the hierarchy, in an evangelical community Christianity.

Although the consciously Catholic laity that is being formed above all in North American Catholicism must be understood not only, but also acknowledged and encouraged in its protest against sexual degeneration among priests, bishops and even cardinals, one can not lose sight of the constitutive priestly and pastoral ministry, founded on the sacrament of order, let alone the fact that most priests live faithfully according to their vocation.

Meanwhile, precisely the tension between the two poles could become useful to overcome the current crisis.

However, attention must be paid to avoiding a new edition of the conflict between the bishops and the lay “trustees” in the United States concerning the sovereignty over ecclesiastical finances, which arose in the mid-nineteenth century, and remained virulent even afterwards.

Rather, it would be good to remember the blessed John Henry Newman, who marvelously paid tribute to the important role of the testimony of the faithful “in matters of doctrine”, that is, in matters of doctrine. What he wrote in 1859 should also be applied today to economic and moral matters, just now that – as in the Christological struggles of the fourth century – the episcopate for long stretches remains inactive. The fact that this can also be seen in the current crisis of abuse may depend on the fact that personal initiative and awareness of one’s responsibility as pastor of the individual bishop are made more difficult by the structures and apparatus of the episcopal conferences, under the pretext of collegiality or synodality.

However, the more the bishops will be able to feel supported by the firm will of the faithful to renew, to revive the Church, the easier it will be for them to start a work of authentic reform of the Church.

It is in the collaboration of bishops, priests and faithful, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that the current crisis can and must become the starting point of the spiritual renewal – and therefore also of the new evangelization – of a post-Christian society.