Pope Benedict XVI has ventured out of retirement to publish an essay blaming the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal on the sexual revolution of the 1960s and church laws that protected priests.
His analysis was immediately criticized as "catastrophically irresponsible" -- a conflict with efforts by his successor, Pope Francis, to lead the church out of its crisis.
"Why did pedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God," Benedict wrote, in the 6,000-word essay published Thursday in the German monthly Klerusblatt, the Catholic News Agency and other conservative media.
Benedict traced the crisis to the '60s, citing the appearance of sex in films in his native Bavaria and the formation of "homosexual cliques" in seminaries "which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate." He also attributed it to failures in moral theology in that era.
"Perhaps it is worth mentioning that in not a few seminaries, students caught reading my books were considered unsuitable for the priesthood," the conservative theologian wrote. "My books were hidden away, like bad literature, and only read under the desk."
Benedict also faulted church laws that gave undue protection to accused priests. During the 1980s and 1990s, he wrote, "the right to a defense (for priests) was so broad as to make a conviction nearly impossible."
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict spearheaded reforms of those laws in 2001 to make it easier to remove priests who abused children. Benedict took a hard line against clerical sex abuse as the Vatican's conservative doctrine chief, and later as pope, defrocking hundreds of priests accused of raping and molesting children.
Francis has blamed the scandal on a clerical culture in the church that raises priests above the laity.
Church historian Christopher Bellitto said the essay omitted the critical conclusions that arose from the pope's February sex abuse summit in Rome, including that "abusers were priests along the ideological spectrum, that the abuse predated the 1960s, that it is a global and not simply Western problem, that homosexuality is not the issue in pedophilia."
"It is catastrophically irresponsible, because it creates a counter-narrative to how Francis is trying to move ahead based on the 2019 summit," he told The Associated Press. "The essay essentially ignores what we learned there."