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Pope speaks on the crisis, and on women theologians

 |  NCR Today

In his regular Wednesday General Audience today, Pope Benedict XVI said something that cannot help but sound like commentary on the sexual abuse crisis in Catholicism, and what's required for the church to recover.

In a nutshell, the pope said that renewal won’t come from changing church structures, but rather from penance and conversion.

The remarks came in the context of Benedict's reflections on St. Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century German mystic and a Benedictine abbess. Among other things, the pope noted that Hildegard demanded that the priests of her day live “a life consistent with their vocation,” in response to perceptions of widespread corruption and immorality in the clerical ranks.

At the same time, Benedict added, Hildegard was opposed to the Cathars, a quasi-Gnostic medieval reform movement seeking a more “pure” church.

Here’s what Benedict said:

“The Cathars … proposed a radical reform of the church, above all to combat abuses by clergy. She criticized them strongly for wanting to subvert the very nature of the church, reminding them that a true renewal of the ecclesial community isn’t obtained so much with change in structures, but a sincere spirit of penance and a difficult path of conversion.”

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“This,” Benedict concluded, “is a message that we must never forget."

On a different note, Benedict XVI also offered St. Hildegard of Bingen as a role model for women theologians, praising the perspective that women bring to theological discussions.

"Theology can receive a unique contribtuion from women, because they're capable of speaking about God and the mysteries of the faith with a special intelligence and sensibility," the ppope said.

"I therefore encourage all those women who perform this service to do it with a profound ecclesial spirit, nourishing their own reflections with prayer, and looking to the great richness, in part still unexplored, of the medieval mystical tradition, above all that represented by luminous models such as Hildegard of Bingen."

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