Francis is not the only Pope making headlines. Today Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI made his first public comments since he retired from the papacy on February 28–he wrote an 11-page letter to an Italian mathematician and philosopher, Piergiorgio Odifreddi, earlier this month, and the Italian newspaper La Repubblica has published excerpts in Tuesday’s edition.
Benedict directly addressed the sexual abuse crisis that has plagued the Catholic church for much of the last decade. It is believed to be the first time he addressed the crisis in the first person. “As far as you mentioning the moral abuse of minors by priests, I can only, as you know, acknowledge it with profound consternation. But I never tried to cover up these things,” he wrote. “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.”
More broadly, the letter is part of an ongoing conversation about Benedict’s theological writings. Piergiorgio, an atheist thinker, had published a lengthy essay in 2011 critiquing Benedict’s work as far back as his 1967 “Introduction to Christianity,” and Benedict took the opportunity to respond. The former pope addressed a range issues beyond the sex scandals, from classic theological questions like the conflict between good and evil and how much can be known about Jesus as a historical figure to wonkier debates like whether or not theology should be considered a science. Benedict also told Odifreddi that a “religion of mathematics” does not take into account the “three fundamental themes of human existence,” freedom, love, and evil.
Earlier this month, La Repubblica published a letter that Pope Francis had written an atheist intellectual Eugenio Scalfari.