Vatican City, VATICAN CITY STATE:  Pope Benedict XVI waves to the pilgrims before his weekly general audience on St-Peter's square at the Vatican, 15 June 2005.  Pope Benedict XVI has asked Cardinal Josef Glemp to celebrate in Warsaw on Sunday the beatification of two Polish priests, the Vatican announced. AFP PHOTO/ Patrick HERTZOG  (Photo credit should read PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images
Vatican City, VATICAN CITY STATE: Pope Benedict XVI waves to the pilgrims before his weekly general audience on St-Peter's square at the Vatican, 15 June 2005. Pope Benedict XVI has asked Cardinal Josef Glemp to celebrate in Warsaw on Sunday the beatification of two Polish priests, the Vatican announced. AFP PHOTO/ Patrick HERTZOG (Photo credit should read PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:03
Why this Pope's resignation shocked the world
Police shoot stun grenades at Arab Israelis protesting an increase in gang violence in their towns.
PHOTO: CNN
Police shoot stun grenades at Arab Israelis protesting an increase in gang violence in their towns.
Now playing
04:18
Police shoot stun grenades at peaceful Arab-Israeli protesters
Mount Sinabung in Indonesia erupted on March 2, launching a cloud of ash and dust several kilometers into the sky. No one was injured in the eruption but authorities have warned people to stay away from the crater.
PHOTO: olcanological Survey of Indonesia via Reuters
Mount Sinabung in Indonesia erupted on March 2, launching a cloud of ash and dust several kilometers into the sky. No one was injured in the eruption but authorities have warned people to stay away from the crater.
Now playing
00:40
See this volcano in Indonesia erupt
New satellite images taken by Maxar show that North Korea sometime in the past year built a structure that may be intended to obscure entrances to an underground facility where nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons components are stored.
PHOTO: Courtesy Maxar
New satellite images taken by Maxar show that North Korea sometime in the past year built a structure that may be intended to obscure entrances to an underground facility where nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons components are stored.
Now playing
01:47
See images US intelligence claims is a secret weapons site
nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls released Busari pkg intl ldn vpx_00000423.png
nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls released Busari pkg intl ldn vpx_00000423.png
Now playing
02:09
Tears of joy and relief as 279 Nigerian schoolgirls return home
Protesters take cover behind homemade shields as tear gas is fired during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on March 1, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: STR/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Protesters take cover behind homemade shields as tear gas is fired during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on March 1, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
02:16
Footage shows tear gas, flash bangs used on protesters in Myanmar
01 rivers migrants pkg 02282021
PHOTO: CNN
01 rivers migrants pkg 02282021
Now playing
04:41
CNN correspondent speaks to migrants making dangerous journey to US
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 01: Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy leaves court after being found guilty of corruption and influence-peddling on March 01, 2021 in Paris, France. Mr. Sarkozy is only the second French president in modern times to have been convicted, after the conviction of former President Jacques Chirac in 2011.  (Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Kiran Ridley/Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 01: Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy leaves court after being found guilty of corruption and influence-peddling on March 01, 2021 in Paris, France. Mr. Sarkozy is only the second French president in modern times to have been convicted, after the conviction of former President Jacques Chirac in 2011. (Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:23
'An earthquake in French politics': CNN reporter on Sarkozy sentence
PHOTO: Isaac Abrack
Now playing
03:00
Hear from schoolgirl who escaped abduction in Nigeria
UK police appealed for help Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, to find three teenage girls who are missing from their homes in London and are believed to be making their way to Syria.

The girls, two of them 15 and one 16, have not been seen since Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, when, police say, they took a flight to Istanbul. One has been named as Shamima Begum, 15, who may be traveling under the name of 17-year-old Aklima Begum, and a second as Kadiza Sultana, 16. The third girl is identified as Amira Abase, 15.
PHOTO: Metropolitan Police
UK police appealed for help Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, to find three teenage girls who are missing from their homes in London and are believed to be making their way to Syria. The girls, two of them 15 and one 16, have not been seen since Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, when, police say, they took a flight to Istanbul. One has been named as Shamima Begum, 15, who may be traveling under the name of 17-year-old Aklima Begum, and a second as Kadiza Sultana, 16. The third girl is identified as Amira Abase, 15.
Now playing
00:39
Shamima Begum loses legal bid to return home to appeal citizenship revocation
PHOTO: Obtained by CNN
Now playing
08:29
How a religious festival turned into a massacre
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 2018.
PHOTO: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 2018.
Now playing
02:10
US intel report: Saudi Crown Prince responsible for approving Khashoggi operation
A Fijian rugby team serenaded workers in the Sydney hotel where they are quarantining.
PHOTO: Costa Argyrous
A Fijian rugby team serenaded workers in the Sydney hotel where they are quarantining.
Now playing
00:45
See Fijian rugby team serenade quarantine staff in Australia
Soldiers stand guard outside the CRS Turi prison in Cuenca, Ecuador on February 24, 2021. - At least 79 inmates died in simultaneous riots blamed on gang warfare at four prisons in Ecuador, officials said Wednesday. (Photo by FERNANDO MACHADO / AFP) (Photo by FERNANDO MACHADO/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: FERNANDO MACHADO/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Soldiers stand guard outside the CRS Turi prison in Cuenca, Ecuador on February 24, 2021. - At least 79 inmates died in simultaneous riots blamed on gang warfare at four prisons in Ecuador, officials said Wednesday. (Photo by FERNANDO MACHADO / AFP) (Photo by FERNANDO MACHADO/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:54
Ecuador prison riots leave dozens dead in gang 'extermination'
Russian diplomats working in the Pyongyang embassy had to use a handcar as they returned home from North Korea with their family members.
In a video released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday (February 25) diplomats and their family members are seen pushing a handcar and cheering as they cross the bridge which serves as a demarcation line between the two countries.
PHOTO: Russia MOFA
Russian diplomats working in the Pyongyang embassy had to use a handcar as they returned home from North Korea with their family members. In a video released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday (February 25) diplomats and their family members are seen pushing a handcar and cheering as they cross the bridge which serves as a demarcation line between the two countries.
Now playing
02:38
Video shows Russian diplomats leaving North Korea on handcar
The Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC is seen from the air January 24, 2017.  / AFP PHOTO / Daniel SLIM        (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Daniel Slim/Getty Images
The Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC is seen from the air January 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel SLIM (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
05:24
US carries out airstrikes on Iran-backed militia groups
(CNN) —  

Pope Benedict XVI has broken his silence in a rare essay on the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, claiming that it was caused in part by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the liberalization of the church’s moral teaching.

In the 11-page analysis published today in a German magazine for priests, Klerusblatt, the former Pope also reveals some of the behind-the-scenes struggles between the Vatican and American bishops in handling the crisis and admits that the Vatican was initially overwhelmed in dealing with it.

Catholic News Agency first published the letter in English on Wednesday afternoon.

A top Vatican official has confirmed the essay’s authenticity to CNN. Since his resignation in 2013, Benedict has rarely left his monastery high on a hill in Vatican City. In his farewell address as pope, Benedict promised to stay “hidden” from the world, though he has spoken out occasionally on church matters.

Nearly 92, Benedict appears to be frail but in relatively good health.

“Since I myself had served in a position of responsibility as shepherd of the Church at the time of the public outbreak of the crisis, and during the run-up to it, I had to ask myself – even though, as emeritus, I am no longer directly responsible – what I could contribute to a new beginning,” Benedict wrote, in explaining why he is speaking out now.

But his comments on the sex abuse crisis seem certain to inflame tensions between conservative Catholics, who largely blame homosexuality and lax sexual ethics for the scandal, and liberals, who say there is no known connection between homosexuality and pedophilia.

As word of Benedict’s essay spread Wednesday evening, conservative Catholics hailed it, while others called it “embarrassing.”

“This is an embarrassing letter. The idea that ecclesial abuse of children was a result of the 1960s, a supposed collapse of moral theology, and ‘conciliarity’ is an embarrassingly wrong explanation for the systemic abuse of children and its coverup,” wrote Catholic theologian Brian Flanagan on Twitter.

Shifting standards

In the essay, Benedict asserts that the changes in traditional moral standards on sexuality both in society and within the Catholic Church laid the groundwork for the sex abuse crisis.

“Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ‘68,” he writes, “was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.”

Benedict says that this mentality also affected bishops and Catholic seminaries and caused, “the extensive collapse of the next generation of priests.”

“There were – not only in the United States of America – individual bishops who rejected the Catholic tradition as a whole and sought to bring about a kind of new, modern Catholicity,” he writes.

“In various seminaries homosexual cliques were established,” he writes, “which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries.”

Benedict cites one bishop who showed seminarians pornographic films, “allegedly with the intention of thus making them resistant to behavior contrary to the faith.”

Liberal theologians who questioned the church’s traditional norms on sexuality are also partly to blame, the former Pope says.

“There could no longer be anything that constituted an absolute good any more than anything fundamentally evil; there could be only relative value judgments,” the former Pope said, characterizing the liberal position on morality.

Benedict also reveals that the Vatican’s two investigations into US seminaries, called Apostolic Visitations, were thwarted by cover-up.

“The Visitation that now took place [1983-1987],” he writes, “brought no new insights, apparently because various powers had joined forces to conceal the true situation.”

The former Pope does not elaborate on who was involved in the alleged concealment.

“A second Visitation was ordered [2005-2006]” he writes, “and brought considerably more insights but on the whole failed to achieve any outcomes.”

The ‘absence of God’

Benedict also reveals a tug-of-war between the Vatican and US bishops over zero-tolerance.

The Pope Emeritus says that Church lawyers in Rome “had difficulty” with the US proposal for zero-tolerance and preferred that priests guilty of sexual abuse of minors receive only a temporary suspension.

“This could not be accepted by the American bishops,” he writes, “because the priests thus remained in the service of the bishop and thereby could be taken to be still directly associated with him.”

As a result, the former Pope writes, a new code of Church criminal law was created and cases of child sexual abuse were judged by the Vatican office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of which then-Cardinal Ratzinger was the head.

But Benedict admits that the prospect of full criminal trials for sex abuse was “overwhelming” for the Vatican.

“Because all of this actually went beyond the capacities of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and because delays arose which had to be prevented owing to the nature of the matter, Pope Francis has undertaken further reforms,” he writes.

The former Pope says that since the 1970s “the situation in seminaries has generally improved,” but that part of the answer to the crisis lies in returning to obedience and fidelity to Jesus’ message.

A large portion of the essay laments the increasing loss of religious beliefs in society in recent decades, which Benedict says is at the heart of the sexual abuse crisis.

“Why did pedophilia reach such proportions?” he asks. “Ultimately the reason is the absence of God.”

CNN’s Daniel Burke contributed to this report.