Foucault and Pope Benedict XVI


Recently in the news, there have been many articles and much discourse over the sex abuse scandals surrounding Pope Benedict XVI.  This seems to have everything to do with Foucault’s discussion of sexuality in discourse, as identity, and as stemming from the Christian confessional.  Simply typing in ‘Pope Benedict’ and ‘sex’ in any online search engine brought up pages upon pages of websites speculating and reporting on the matter.  One particular article I read in looking up this story can be found here:

Before this particular scandal arose, the pope had received praise for his ‘zero tolerance’ policy on sex abuse scandals and, as the above article states, he had publicly “denounced ‘filth’ in the church – widely viewed as a reference to clerics who abused children.”

Only in recent months has news emerged over Pope Benedict concerning cases from his time as Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich.  These cases accuse him of having allowed certain priests involved in sex abuse to be transferred to other parishes, or at least having turned a blind eye to these cases.  One case involves Ratzinger in the decision to transfer Rev. Peter Hullerman, accused of abusing boys, to Munich for therapy and then allowing him to continue parish work only days after being admitted for psychiatric treatment. (Ratzinger’s ‘then-deputy’ later took responsibility for this).  Another prominent case involves a priest in Milwaukee accused of molesting some 200 deaf boys being put on trial only to have the case continually halted by Ratzinger who was then head of the disciplinary office at the Vatican.

Throughout the past few months, the Vatican has been surprisingly silent in response to attacks against the pope, only recently coming out with vague ‘apologies’ and promises for action to the victims of these abuses.

There has been an explosion of discourse and interest in sexual scandals of the Church since 2001, and it seems that as Foucault suggests, victims are speaking out and attempting to achieve some kind of sexual liberation by doing so together (acting in concert as Arendt discusses).  The case with Pope Benedict XVI is of particular interest because he is the leader of an institution (the Catholic Church) that has long ‘repressed’ sexuality as something that needs to be confessed or ferreted out as Foucault explains.  The pope’s entire identity and authority is being questioned. In the above mentioned article, a poll recently released in Stern magazine shows that only 39 percent of Germany’s (the pope’s home country) Catholics trust the pope, as opposed to 62 percent before the scandal.  The research & reporting worldwide on the subject trying to uncover the extent of the pope’s involvement in the scandal is another example of Foucault’s ‘scientia sexualis’, turning matters of sexuality into something to be studied or investigated.  As the article states: “It all comes down to the question of what the pope knew and when.”  This quote even bears resemblance to the same principles of a Catholic confessional.  There is a public need or desire to know the earliest stirrings of the pope’s transgression and everything that lead up to his actions. Sending one of the priests to therapy for his abuse is also part of this scientia sexualis mentality.  The fact that all of these cases deal with sexual abuse by priests demonstrates an interest in the “sexually perverse”.  Perhaps the reason the Vatican and Pope Benedict have had mysteriously little to say in response to accusations is because of the link between sexuality and secrecy.  The private confessional of the Catholic Church has turned into a very public worldwide confessional.


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