Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cardinal Schonborn More Or Less Says No, But I Still Take Hope

Who are the ants making this picture?  Twitter and Flickr users.  Not too many of them up in my neck of the woods.  The one of Europe is pretty cool too.


Vienna cardinal takes tough line on priest revolt

The head of Vienna's Roman Catholic community ruled out sweeping changes demanded by dissident priests and said there could be "serious conflict" if they defied Church teaching on celibacy or give communion to remarried divorcees.

Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said he would not lead his diocese into a schism with leaders in the Vatican by letting priests flout Church rules after a group of priests issued a "Call to Disobedience" manifesto to try to press reform. (Interesting phrasing--leaders in the Vatican.)

In weekend interviews with Austrian radio and television, Schoenborn backed celibacy for priests, limiting ordination to men and preserving marriage as a life-long commitment.

"If in our diocese here I would step out of line with the community of the Catholic Church then I would lead our diocese into a schism. I am not ready for this and I think no Austrian bishop is ready for this," he said on Saturday. (More interesting phrasing.  He could have said "I would never do this", but he didn't.)

Late on Friday, he again warned dissident priests that they faced consequences if they stuck to their revolt.
"If it comes to actions that clearly contradict Catholic teaching on faith then it can lead to serious conflict," he said, adding it was not too late to reach common ground in a second round of talks due later this year. (Another interesting phrase, he could have said "contradict Catholic discipline" but he didn't.)

"All possibilities are open. I am counting on dialogue and cooperation," he said.

Dissidents led by parish priest Helmut Schueller have issued the manifesto and say they hope the campaign will persuade Schoenborn to push reforms with Pope Benedict and the Vatican.
The dissidents, who have broad public backing in opinion polls, say they will break Church rules by giving communion to Protestants and remarried divorced Catholics or by allowing lay people to preach and head parishes without a priest.

They oppose the current drive to group several parishes together because of a shortage of priests.
"We are now really going to step on the gas," Hans-Peter Hurka, head of the Catholic reform group "We are the Church," told newspaper Der Standard this week, announcing plans to have hundreds of demonstrators march on bishops' offices.

"It is like in Egypt. There will be a revolution of Church people in Austria. We will make St. Stephen's Square (before the cathedral in Vienna) into Tahrir Square," another activist, Anton Achleitner, said, referring to the square where Egyptians staged protests that ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak.

The dispute has come to a head just before Pope Benedict's September 22-25 visit to neighbouring Germany. Benedict, 84, grew up in Bavarian villages close to the Austrian border.
Catholic reform groups in Germany have made similar demands, and a prominent retired Irish bishop, Edward Daly, called on Tuesday for an end to compulsory celibacy for priests, saying it was pushing new recruits away.


Cardinal Schonborn is playing a very careful strategy.  I keep thinking back to yesterday's posted article from Vatican Insider.  If Cardinals like Schonborn and Martini have serious support in the global church, a schism in Austria- or elsewhere-would not be a welcome event.  Cardinal Schonborn' statement is carefully worded to make the distinction between the universal Church and 'leaders in the Vatican'.  I think I get where he might be going.

The global world is in serious straights.  The one global organization which might still have the moral standing to make a difference is the Roman Catholic Church.  It can't effectively do that if it splinters into more sects, especially nationally driven sects.  I'm aware of the fact I might have written something about an autochthonuos American Church, but in the bigger global picture, that was not terribly strategic on my part. I'm not talking about a global strategy ala JPII where Catholicism becomes a kind of uber theocracy, or the kind of strategy being employed by the dominionists to turn the US into a Christian theocracy.  I'm talking about a global strategy that provides a consistent helping hand for refugees and immigrants--the least of the least. A hand that isn't colored by national drum beating, that doesn't need to bring 'help' via a military presence.  A hand that takes events like the upcoming Assisi meeting and lives that kind of spirituality as a matter of course, not a one time single event.

Three of the more pressing problems facing the Church are the clerical abuse scandal, the hemorhaging of cradle Catholics across the globe, and the uber traditionalists who want to retreat into fortress Catholicism.
By the time Pope Benedict is done, the uber traditionalists will have their own personal forts where they can live out their theology of fear through the certitude of answers the pre Vat II Church excelled at.  The rest of us can move on, but not all that effectively if we separate into national or regional churches.

I've written previously that the trend in spirituality is towards the recognition that on a fundamental level we are all one.  We are in the mess we have made of our world by own free choice and we are all together in that mess.  Nothing is separate from it's constituent parts.  Nothing happens in some sort of holy vacuum.  No one, not even Benedict, has the whole Truth.  All we really have are pieces of a puzzle that none of us has the pay grade to claim we've put all together.  We never will as long as our perception is limited by this reality.
We are like ants crawling across a painting.  We can claim knowledge of the color in the area we are in, but we are totally blind to and unaware of the beauty of the Mona Lisa for which our colors are a part. Imagine the hubris to remove the colors of other ants when you have no idea what the painting describes. 

I don't read these words of Cardinal Schonborn as capitulation to the Vatican.  I think he's working a bigger strategy and he wants to avoid a tactical schism for the sake of the bigger strategy.  He's given plenty of hints of what that strategy will include and it won't be more Latin in exchange for less transparency.

I think Pope Benedict will have a much different experience in Germany than he did in Spain during the heavily orchestrated World Youth Day.  He's going to see for himself that he hasn't quite rubbed out the ants who believe Vatican II had serious things to say.  We may have walked off of the painting, but we haven't forgotten the colors. 



  1. I am not certain that you are correct, Colleen, if you believe that "a Roman Catholic Church" because of size will be able to make good ethical differences in the world. This church is set up so that an authoritarian leadership is in control and because of the pure numbers of very dogmatically conservative cardinals and bishops, it seems to me that the moral actions these men are asking for are certainly not ethical. To replace this leadership without extreme change, change that most of the leading curia would not agree with or to.

    I think that the only way to get more ethical spirituality into catholicism is to in fact not follow this leadership where ever it takes us. This more than likely is already leading to local churches. Perhaps not one Catholic church in a country but several different ones. I think it is necessary for this to happen so people can study and understand truth of and in their lives. The RCC leadership will not tolerate this kind of truth seeking as it believes some how that it is the source of revelation of truth.

    Finally, I agree we are all flawed but especially Benedict is exceptionally flawed as a theologian and leader. So I think the better course will be for more catholic churches not one. dennis

  2. Fascinating story, I'm following it closely. Thanks for the updates! Schonborn is a genuinely spiritual man (one who truly listens to the Spirit) trapped in an impossible situation. It would be naive, I suppose, to suggest he might effect great reforms if he were Pope or that one man alone could make much difference within the Vatican, but the 'eternal child' within me is hoping this does in fact take place. Perhaps this conflict is the trial that precedes that eventuality.

  3. I like the careful analysis here, especially about how continuing unity can keep the church as an effective advocate for the powerless. I do wonder if it is possible given how the college of cardinals gets stacked against reform during the current pontiff's term.
    I think actors exist in the Vatican who will do anything to continue in power even if it means becoming a bastion for the traditionalists alone and separating itself from the world with a severe, rigid doctrinal moat.

  4. Dennis, what can the Vatican realistically do if more and more areas take up the Austrian priests call for disobedience? They did not call for a schism but for disobedience to some aspects of Catholic discipline. Schonborn can threaten disciplinary action, and then make sure it takes years to carry out. Fr Bourgeious' disciplinary action has been going on without resolution for three years. Three years is a long time and lots of things can happen. It's plenty of time for more and more people to take the same path.
    Realistically the Vatican controls some bishops, but not all of them and some of them like Bishop Vera of Saltillo have come back from the Vatican woodshed with his commitment to social justice issues unchanged.

    For me though, the real problem for the Vatican is not with Northern Bishops, it's with South American bishops. I am not the least bit surprised the WYD is in Brazil and the time frame move up. That there are virtually no South American bishops in the Vatican curia says to me that Benny and the boys can't trust them. Same thing with Africa and the Orient. Benny is running a very Eurocentric regime and unfortunately for him, the Church is hardly Eurocentric anymore. When there are more Chinese Catholics who go to Mass on Sunday than all of Europe, major changes are coming just because of numbers.

  5. Jayden, I agree with you that Schonborn is truly spiritual and listening to a Voice other than Benedict's. As far as one man making great changes, it's possible but only if he makes massive changes in the Vatican from day one and then calls for a Vatican III. Our hypothetical Pope would absolutely have to know where his global bishops stood on many issues.

    One thing we do know for sure is a significant percentage of bishops say one thing in private and another thing in public. While that kind of thing is going on there can be no spiritual integrity in Catholicism.

  6. John, if the Church does not stand as an effective voice and hand for the powerless, then it has no business surviving into any future.

  7. Because of the way leadership is selected in the RCC, it will be very difficult to move toward much truth. There is far too much centralization of power and the Vatican has been corrupt since its very beginnings. It once operated in a world that was organized around this type of centralization of power and it caused a lack of progress and "Dark Ages." Today we see that authoritarianism seems often not to last into a second generation in most authoritarian governances. NOT TRUE FOR THE RCC.

    I think if we look at various Protestant religions and I am thinking of the Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans, Methodists, Libertarians, Presbyterians and others we see effective advocates for the health and well being of the people of the world. The problems in Protestantism like those in the RCC, are dogmatic authoritarians.

    The idea that secular knowledge and relativism are in any way wrong is a good example of what is wrong in the RCC. Our church has been fighting these for over 100 years like Quixote windmills. The church would be much better off realizing that scientists and theologians are inspired by the Holy Spirit as much as are priests and therefore secular ideas must be thought about and recognized. As far as relativism goes, the church begins with the premise of mortal vs venial sins. Some wrongs are relatively worse than others. Then of course there is Einstein's theory of relativity. The church loves to sum relativism and secularism up as if they are some part of an evil modernism that believed truth could always be discovered if we as humans try hard enough. Well over twenty years ago the thought of the world moved into a post modern period. I think the ideas of Einstein helped when he said the more we understand, the more we know that there is much more to comprehend.

    "There was an extended period of time in the last two years where I seriously wondered if I was going to have the patience to outlast what seemed to be Vatican intransigence to deal with the problems effecting the Church in the West and South America. The issue that made this period of official obduracy so difficult was that I never believed the exodus of clergy and laity out of Catholicism was due to a lack of faith in Jesus or the influence of secularism, but it was due to the very real feeling of not being heard and that leading to feelings of powerlessness and that finally leading to indifference. I also never lost sight of the fact that abuse victims were treated exactly the same, had many more legitimate reasons not to be treated this way, and that indifference was not an option for them. There were many times I wondered why I kept on keeping on."

    It is not a matter of enough patience of outlasting, "Vatican intransigence," it is a matter of changing the way the Vatican leadership is formed. Unless the whole question of changing this authoritarian leadership formation is challenged successfully, the People of God will not have theologic, scientific, philosophic, or any other input to the Catholic worlds moral teachings trough this group of rouge men. Unless the whole organization could look for ways to attempt to act as authoritative rather than authoritarian, Colleen, you are Waiting for Godot.

    RCC leadership has always been authoritarian and this fact precludes a better ethic of authoritative understanding. The RCC is simply not going to make the changes necessary to get itself out of these problems!

  8. Dennis, I can't disagree with your analysis. I also believe for many many Catholics, unless a leader like Schonborn leads them to a new rebirth without the Vatican, they will continue to support the existing structure, either by their passive resistance, or leaving Roman Catholicism with Rome still in charge.

    For whatever reason, guys like Schonborn who know Benedict is taking the Church into oblivion, still think change can be effected from with in. Maybe he has a safe deposit box full of nasty secrets--or something. :)

  9. Some Wandering Thoughts

    If Benedict would truly want to shine a light in the darkness of the world with the light of Christ, love and mercy that is Christ-like, forgiving even those who he supposes persecute him, in his case "liberals" - he would stand out in history as he might truly desire. The light that anyone receives in the form of divine grace seems relative to one's humility towards Christ, themselves and their neighbor. Benedict seems to lack such grace by denying the grace in his supposed enemies.

    Then again, perhaps his "light" flickers to such an extent that he is too apt to drown out the colors.

    Any "light" that any of us have does not come by our own wishes. Paul the Apostle has already made that clear. The RCC truly needs a Paul, or Paula's, to bring the Love of God into this world.

    word verif is prizess

  10. I am at a complete loss to understand why so many reports on this affair are headlined "Cardinal shuts the door on reform", or "No hope for reformists", or the like.

    I have gone through the original full text of his detailed response several times, and find no hint of any confrontational approach. Reports of follow-up interbiews suggest a garder line, but this is also misleading. In warning that active disobedience will lead to "conflict" with the church as a whole, or that he is unable to change the rules on celibacy, he is doing no more than stating the obvious.

    He is not slamming any doors on anything. Instead, he makes it clear that in Austria, his own area of jurisdiction, there is already an extensive program of reform under way, and that he joins with others in wanting more. The fundamental disagreement here is not on the need for reform, which Cardinal and priests agree on, but on how to achieve it, within the bounds of the possible.

    What is notably absent, and which should give us all cause for hope, is an insistence on the importance of continued dialogue and shared responsibility, rather than the usual whip-cracking that we are accustomed to seeing from the Vatican and its apparatchiks.