Benedict's essay articulated its own version of "zero tolerance" in that framework, noting that "Jesus protects the deposit of the faith with an emphatic threat of punishment to those who do it harm."
Presenting sexual abuse as a crime against the soul, not just the body, and recognizing that it can have cascading tiers of victims, refocuses the legal process through the lens of its most quoted maxim: "salus animarum suprema lex est."
Benedict seems to argue that if the salvation of souls is the Church's highest law, the protection of the faith should be understood as a legal good at least as important as protecting the rights of accused abusers.
From that vantage point, Benedict observed that there is much legal reform still to be done, and that Pope Francis is rightly carrying it forward.
Much of the ongoing discussion has centered around what other kinds of sexual misconduct, in addition to the abuse of children, should be canonically criminalized.
Some prominent bishops have insisted on distinguishing between the sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct between adults, arguing that potentially consensual sexual misconduct by clerics should not be accorded the status of a major crime. In light of Benedict's essay, some are now likely to see in that approach the juridic framework that Benedict described as guarantorism.
But other bishops, including Cardinal Séan O'Malley of Boston, have emphasized the importance of seeing sexual abuse of clerical power treated with the same gravity as abuse of a minor.
The pope seems to be thinking along the same lines as O'Malley, demonstrated by his recent expansion of the definition of a "vulnerable adult" in the canonical norms of the Roman Curia and the Vatican City State.
Benedict's theology of penal law, which holds at its center the crimes against the faith of the Church - and of the victims of abuse - offers a powerful rationale for Pope Francis' action.
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea," Benedict quotes from the gospel.
These little ones, the Pope emeritus wrote, are not only those who physically suffer abuse but also the "common believers who can be confounded in their faith," be they children or adults.
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'It is important to see," Benedict says, "that such misconduct by clerics ultimately damages the Faith."
Set against this understanding of the depth of sexual abuse as a crime both physical and spiritual, Pope Francis' ongoing efforts to articulate legally the policy of "zero tolerance" may find a renewed impetus.
Such a policy, Benedict has now argued, is essential to the salvation of souls.