Reflecting on 2010 in his annual December address to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI noted that the “Year for Priests” had “unfolded so differently from the way we had expected,” a reference to the abuse scandal that erupted in Europe. As Pope Benedict acknowledged, it was a year of “tribulations” for the Church.
The abuse scandal, alas, stands as one of the major stories of 2010. Fresh media attention to cases of priestly abuse of minors started in Ireland, jumped to continental Europe, then ricocheted back to America via a New York Times smear campaign against the Holy Father. The coverage reached its most feverish point during Holy Week.
Pope Benedict received the brunt of the criticism for the abuse scandal, even though he had shown the most leadership among Curia officials in confronting it. Nevertheless, the Holy Father kept his eye on the essential truth beneath the biased coverage: that the Church still hasn’t recovered from the aftershocks of dissent and decadence from the post-Vatican II period and needs ongoing reform. As Pope Benedict noted in the interview-book Light of the World released in November—a book which represents a singularly unique document in the history of the papacy—the Church’s critics wouldn’t have scandals to use against her if Church officials didn’t commit them.
The aftershocks of 2010 had come from a theological earthquake decades before. Relativism had seeped into the thinking of Church officials and infected policies ranging from seminary admission standards to the application of canon law. “In the 1970s, pedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,” Pope Benedict said to the Curia. “It was maintained—even within the realm of Catholic theology—that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than’ and a ‘worse than.’ Nothing is good or bad in itself.”
But for all of 2010’s problems, the year also contained many moments of hope and pride.
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