Former Pope Benedict XVI has broken years of silence to publish a letter that blames sex abuse within the Catholic church on the "all-out sexual freedom" of the late 1960s.
In his letter, published in German Catholic publication Klerusblatt, the ex-pontiff says the introduction of sex education for school children led to the normalisation of pornography, and claimed that "paedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate".
He says these changes in cultural norms created an environment within the church where "homosexual cliques" operated openly and priests involved in sexual abuse allegations were unable to be convicted of any crime.
Benedict's explanation for the sexual abuse crisis within the church contrasts Pope Francis' own view that abuse results from the corrupted power of clergy.
The letter has been widely criticised as being divisive, embarrassing and unsound in its logic.
Brian Flanagan, a Catholic theologian, said in a tweet that "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".
Fellow theologian Julie Rubio described the letter as "deeply flawed" while church historian Christopher Bellitto claimed Benedict was being manipulated by groups opposing Pope Francis within the church.
"If, as seems likely, this was ghost-written (and badly) to use his mantle to bolster their positions, are we looking at deception - even fraud? Elder abuse, in fact?"
While Benedict was given permission to publish the letter by Pope Francis, its content will no doubt provide for further fierce debate within the church on how it continues to respond and reflect on the sexual abuse crisis.
"It's not good for the church to have two voices," Flanagan told the Washington Post. "If this is seen as Benedict attempting to give more context for his decisions, maybe this can be a helpful way to understand his mind-set. But this raises the spectre of his voice being seen as an alternative to the papacy of Pope Francis. And that is bad for the unity of the church."