Friday, May 7, 2010

Is Austria's Cardinal Schonborn Really A Ray Of Hope?

Schönborn attacks Sodano and urges reform
Christa Pongratz-Lippitt - The Tablet - 8 May 2010

The head of the Austrian Church has launched an attack of one of the most senior cardinals in the Vatican, saying that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, “deeply wronged” the victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy when he dismissed media reports of the scandal. (There is also the little matter of 'paid lobbying' for the Legion.)

In a meeting with editors of the main Austrian daily newspapers last week, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, also said the Roman Curia was “urgently in need of reform”, and that lasting gay relationships deserved respect.

He reiterated his view that the Church needs to reconsider its position on re-married divorcees.

On Easter Day, Cardinal Sodano called the mounting reports of clerical sex abuse “petty gossip”.

This had “deeply wronged the victims”, Cardinal Schönborn said, and he recalled that it was Cardinal Sodano who had prevented Joseph Ratzinger, then a cardinal, from investigating allegations of abuse made against Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, the previous Archbishop of Vienna, who resigned in disgrace in 1995. (Somehow I don't think Sodano and Schonborn will be sharing any Papal brunches in the near future.)

Cardinal Schönborn said that Pope Benedict was “gently” working on reforming the Curia but he had the whole world on his desk, as the cardinal put it, and his way of working and his style of communication did not make it easy to advise him quickly from outside. (Here's another person imtimating it's hard to get past Benedict's gatekeeper, Msgr Ganswein.)

Cardinal Schönborn studied under Joseph Ratzinger at Regensburg University and is known to be close to him. (Not close enough to get past Georg.)

Questioned on the Church’s attitude to homosexuals, the cardinal said: “We should give more consideration to the quality of homosexual relationships,” adding: “A stable relationship is certainly better than if someone chooses to be promiscuous.” (It is sad that I find myself in the position of cheering on a Cardinal for promoting the obvious. However, this is quite an admission from a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church.)

The cardinal also said the Church needed to reconsider its view of re-married divorcees “as many people don’t even marry at all any longer”. (Here's another admission that I never thought to hear.)

The primary thing to consider should not be the sin, but people’s striving to live according to the commandments, he said. Instead of a morality based on duty, we should work towards a morality based on happiness, he continued. (This is a truly spiritual statement. It could revolutionize the Church's sexual morality. This is not a call for a morality based on secular relativism and me first thinking. It's a call for mature loving relationships.)

Cardinal Schönborn said clergy had often primarily protected perpetrators of abuse instead of the victims. “It was said in the Church that we must be able to forgive, but that was a false understanding of compassion,” the cardinal insisted. Since the Groer affair 15 years ago, however, the Austrian Church had appointed an ever-increasing number of lay people, especially women, to investigate abuse cases. (It was the confusion of forgiveness with enabling behavior.)

However this new openness on the part of the Church was not shared by everyone in the Vatican, he said. (I'm sure this statement is one hundred percent true.)

Asked if he thought celibacy was one of the causes of clerical sex abuse, Cardinal Schönborn said he had no answer and psychotherapists were divided on the issue. (Here's some humility too.)

Asked how he would rate the Church’s loss of credibility due to the abuse “tsunami” on a scale of 1 to 5, the cardinal said, “In Ireland the situation is catastrophic – almost a 5. In Austria it is dramatic – I’d say a 3.” (And honesty.)

The Vatican press spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, praised the Austrian Church for its openness in dealing with the clerical abuse crisis and told the Austrian daily Kurier on Monday that Cardinal Sodano’s words at Easter were “certainly not the wisest”.


I really really want to believe that Cardinal Schonborn represents a voice of reason, and faith, and compassion in the Vatican hierarchy. I want to believe that at least one Cardinal is listening and understands changes in how the system operates have to be made before Catholicism loses 90% of it's European and North American Catholics.

Instead I find myself thinking: "until he walks his talk I reserve judgement". I don't particularly like myself for my attitude because I want to believe him so badly, but I don't need another betrayal by great talkers who aren't great walkers. I don't need another well meaning talker whose chain is yanked by the Vatican and turns into just another chastised lock step walker. Another Cardinal who was misquoted or misinterpreted or taken out of context. Another Cardinal who didn't really mean what he said -- a la Cardinal Rino Fisicella in the Brazilian nine year old rape case.

Worse case scenario, I don't need to hear talk from a designated spinner of disinformation whose purpose is to stop the pew bleeding while covering for the fact there will be no substantial changes because Benedict's way of working is slow and gentle and no one can get to him.

I can't forget that this is the same Cardinal who blamed his predecessors for failing to back Humanae Vitae , stating that was the reason European whites were not replacing themselves. I can't forget that this is the same Cardinal who caved into to ecclesiastical pressure concerning his recent trip to Medjugorge. So I have one request of Cardinal Schonborn: Walk your talk.


  1. This man needs prayers and bodyguards!

  2. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, is speaking brilliantly and it sounds very hopeful for gay persons and for the divorced and remarried. These are two very critical issues that the Church cannot continue down the same path they've been going on for way too long.

    It will take more than these words from the Cardinal, as you indicate Colleen, to stop the bleeding from the Catholic Church in Europe and the US.

    I will be praying for the Cardinal. I have a special fondness for Vienna and hope that he continues to listen to what the Holy Spirit is guiding him to do and to be, if it is truly the Holy Spirit that he will continue to let guide his steps.

  3. I more or less prepared this article late last night and now find it is all over the place-at least on the more centrist and progressive blogs, with not much of a peep from the conservative side.

    One commentator on Commonweal made an insightful observation, that historically real change has come from inside the old guard a la John XXIII, after a sort of conversion or spiritual maturing with in the dysfunction of the Old Guard system.

    Shonborg certainly qualifies in this definition. I will certainly pray for him, but I will also pray that if the backtracking and misquoting should come into play I'll continue to keep on truckin' on.

  4. I've been rather surprised by some of the things Schönborn has said in recent months, and when I read about this story on the Commonweal blog I nearly fell out of my seat. I never thought I'd see a Cardinal with (apparently) a serious shot at becoming pope say such things.

    On the other hands, maybe saying such things makes his shot at becoming pope less serious. Despite everything that has happened, I doubt there is much of an appetite for reform within the College of Cardinals. I'd love to think there is a silent majority who agree with Schönborn, but I'm not optimistic about that.

  5. I hear you Colleen. I want so much to believe and have hope that the Holy Spirit is converting someone everyday, even in the hierarchy that exists now.

    I am reminded of Archbishop Oscar Romero and his conversion. I pray that any attempts of bloodshed against those who are converted truly to the Resurrected Jesus will be foiled and put asunder by the hand of God.

  6. Let's see, Colleen, how can I disagree with your pessimism without being condescending? Being a prophet requires one to take on pain, and I'm glad you can share that rather than internalize/ignore it (seems to be my skill set, and I'll blame the Y chromosome for now). But, hey, the Cardinal just went against the old boys, future papacy be damned. Sounds like at least time for a smile. Let's give him a high five and ask him to keep following the truth.

    ps the word is "amingod". You sure you don't control these things?

  7. Colleen, I don't know how much substance there is to the Cardinal's remarks. However, obvious though they are to the rest of us, they are a significant departure for a senior person in the church: "Homosexualitatis Problema" doesn't even recognize the existence of homosexual relationships - instead it speaks only of homosexual "condition", and homosexual "acts".

    If nothing else, these remarks could get some more discussion out in the open.

    I also liked his statement that we should replace a "morality of duty" with "morality of happiness". How's that for turning traditional Catholic guilt on its head?

  8. Mjc, I don't control that at all, it's just one of the fun little things that happen with this blog. It's kind of a bummer because I don't get a verification word unless I'm using another computer.

    Terrence, I keyed in on both things you mention which is one of the reasons I so want to believe Schonborg really is a ray of hope. And like Butterfly notes, Archbishop Romero didn't start out as any kind of progressive, which in itself is hopeful.

  9. mjc says:

    "Being a prophet requires one to take on pain..."

    That, mjc, is a brilliant statement! I wonder if that is the "pearl of great price".

  10. TheraP there was a similar statement made the the Womens Religious Congress in Rome by Carmelite priest Cio Garcia which makes this same point:

    "Just as mystical life is characterized by the experience of the overwhelming presence of the ‘Other,’ prophetic life is characterized by listening to the Word that comes from the divine and which the prophet feels constrained to transmit, often against his will.”

    I read the "often against his will" part and thought to myself, "No, more like kicking and screaming, that is until you realize the Holy Spirit can easily out wait you and your tantrum.

    I'm not sure it results in the pear of great price, but it does result in a whole new vision of reality, and that's pretty priceless.

  11. But what if the pearl of great price is a "process" and that process relates to both mysticism and prophecy? To a transformation "through" taking on pain, not running away, letting go of self in order to allow the Divine Other to invade us at our deepest core?

  12. Call me cynical. This man is no dummie. He knows that B16 won't last forever. Could this just be a blatant attempt to position himself in what must be the ever-present run for the gold?

    Jim McCrea

  13. There are so many great comments here and so much to think about. May 8, 2010, the Eve of Mother's Day, as well the anniversary of my First Communion, there seems to be a record amount of comments.

  14. Goodness, there is a lot here, isn't there? Butterfly, I've heard your pain and anger on these pages, and it strikes me that you commemorate your First Communion (a wonderfully named sacrament, don't you think). And yet, you and others are willing to let go of being fed to follow where the Lord leads you. That's Jesus invading us, and yes I do feel great kinship with the apostles when Jesus starts talking like some madman cannibal and says "are you leaving too?" I always read the answer as "We'd really love to, thanks very much, but we're hopelessly in love."

    Keep going. My feet hurt, too. Jesus says its good for you, and I lose every argument with Him. BTW, St Catherine of Siena says suffering is evil, but suffering for the good of your brothers and sisters is blessed. Another smart laywoman.

  15. mjc, that's just a great comment because in truth, "my feet hurt too."

    Which brings me to another thought. I think one of the reasons our feet hurt is because we carry a ton of excess baggage. Sometimes that baggabe is not literal, a lesson Professor Reker's seems to need to learn. :)

    Jesus said his yoke was light, and that's true only if you understand his advice to drop all the exess baggage which is what the whole parable of the "eye of the needle" was about.

    The real Eye of the Needle was a gate into the city of Jerusalem which camels could not get through unless they dropped their baggage.

    Every time my feet hurt I ask myself what is it I might still be carrying that I don't need. Too much of the time it's unresoved anger over something.

  16. mjc, I hope that I do not only convey anger. But since you mentioned it, I do carry some, perhaps it is necessary that I do. Some of the anger has to do with how women have been treated by the RCC and primitive ancestors and the attitudes of men towards women in the Church and out and in the culture. It is a deep wound that many women have. It is a deep wound my mother had and of which I feel her wound. It is not a wound that will disappear from my comments. I'm not sure that such a wound is baggage, but is part of my soul.

    On my First Communion I was treated with respect by the RCC and my family. Although it was a long time ago, something mystical happened to me on that day and it has never left me, nor will it ever leave me.

  17. Butterfly, I need to be clear here. I don't see you as only angry. But I was on the sexual abuse committee for our diocese for 8 years. There was an older female Baptist minister on our team (Let me digress a second. In 2002, our bishop -- the third bishop running our diocese with this committee -- made it clear that we would get completely in line with the other bishops and the charter. That included decimating our own policies for abuse of adults and others. That included taking this woman off the committee as a non Catholic. I don't think he really wanted to, but rules must rule and we must have unity. Sigh) .

    Anyway, each time we had some priest in hot water before us, she was the one who wouldn't let go. In her mind, she couldn't let these guys back out after they had proven themselves so unworthy. Not judging them, but certainly judging them as ministers and finding them wanting. That anger, that determination, helped me reopen my own anger that I had locked in a holy, forgiving corner that I had handled beautifully and was done with.

    Needless to say, I forgive better now. I find myself looking up to our female adepts. We men have our goodnesses, but y'all certainly spend a lot of time waiting for us to get in the game. You keep getting angry all you can.

  18. I hear you mjc. I'll do my best.

  19. I appreciate you for posting this Colleen. As I've seen--and understandably so--this most recent news has garnered significant attention.

    I can understand your just, initial cynicism to this news. This has been the way that some leaders of the Church have acted. Saying "compassionate" statements but not really backing them up with any action or concrete works.

    In many ways, this was the contradictory nature of the late Pope John Paul II and now--almost in the same manner--Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict speaks eloquently and forcefully continuously about the need to constantly integrate the virtues of faith and reason in the practice of our spiritual life--yet he never seems to truly put the reason on an equal plane with faith in approaching a whole host of matters.

    I do think Cardinal Schonborn does have some sort of a track record though. Consistently, since the outbreak of the scandal this year he has forthrightly condemned both the forces and the systems within the Church which have given rise to these depraved conditions.

    He was first to suggest the celibacy had something to do with this phenomenon and even though he has kind of backtracked from his initial intensity on this conviction this perhaps proves all the more that the Cardinal was not just saying this to pass the time of day but as a matter of a deeply formed opinion.

    Also, the fact that he went to the trouble of publicly celebrating a Mass of Penance for the victims of this horrible abuse during Holy week seems to prove to me that this is not just a seized opportunity by the Cardinal but indeed a cause that he feels compelled to acknowledge and shine light upon.

    So, I am very hopeful! :) But I can understand your hesitation to start jumping up and down just yet... =P

  20. Phillip, I have a slightly different appreciation for Cardinal Schonborn after reading your article on Open Tabernacle. You had information about him that I had not come across. Information which does put some "walk with his talk'. I also put a great deal of hope in his visitation to Medjugorge because I know for a fact huge personal conversions happen in the energy of Medjugorge.

    One of my off line correspondents maintains the Church is investigating Medjugorge because the messages support the documents of Vatican II and this current hierarchy does not want the Church to take those documents as part of the Tradition. Real Marian visionaries support the Tradition only as far as Vatican I.

    It could be the Cardinal Schonborn is being converted to an understanding that includes Vatican II as a valid progression in Church teaching.

    I guess I know on some level where Schonborn's thinking is leading and I desparately hope he continues his pilgrimage.