Vatican statement slaps Schoenborn

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna surprised many of us when he called for an "unflinching examination" of mandatory clerical celibacy as a response to the sexual-abuse scandals. He stunned even more people when he went after former Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Cardinal Sodano for having "deeply wronged the victims" of sexual abuse by apparently dismissing news reports of the scandal as "petty gossip." Making matters more heated, Schoenborn then accused Sodano of blocking an investigation of allegations against Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who resigned in 1995 after he was accused abusing seminarians (he never admitted guilt). The cardinal who wanted to investigate Groer? Joseph Ratzinger--one-time professor of Christoph Schoenborn.How interesting, I thought at the time, that Schoenborn was going out on those limbs. He is, after all, supposedly close to the pope--and played a major role in Ratzinger's election. Had he consulted with anyone in Rome before publicly airing his concerns about celibacy, about Sodano's bad behavior? Apparently not.Today, the Vatican press office released an unusually detailed statement (Italian only) describing a meeting between Schoenborn and the pope, who were eventually joined by Sodano and the current secretary of state, Tarcisio Bertone. Usually by this time Monday, the Vatican issues its English press release via e-mail. That hasn't happened yet, so for the time being we'll have to rely on Rocco Palmo's translation (feel free to offer your own in the comboxes):

In the second part of the audience, some widely-circulated misunderstandings partially derived by some comments of Cardinal Christoph Schnborn were clarified and resolved, for which he expressed his sorrow over the interpretations given.In particular:a) It is recalled that in the Church, when accusations are made against a Cardinal, the competence [of judgment] rests solely with the Pope; other instances have a function of consultation, always with the proper respect for persons.b) The word "chiacchiericcio" ["chatter," "gossip"] was erroneously interpreted as a lack of respect for the victims of sexual abuse, for whom Cardinal Angelo Sodano holds the same sentiments of compassion and condemnation of evil, as expressed in diverse interventions of the Holy Father. That word, pronounced in his Easter address to Pope Benedict XVI, was taken literally from thepapal homily of Palm Sunday and referred to the "courage that doesn't let one be intimidated by the chatter of dominant opinions."

So Sodano was quoting the pope. And those of us who found the timing indicative of Sodano's meaning have "erroneously interpreted" that line, so says the unsigned Vatican statement. I'm not sold.Neither am I convinced that the "comptence [of judgment]" regarding "accusations made against a cardinal" rests solely with the pope. What kind of judgment? What kind of accusations? Canonical? Schoenborn's criticisms of Sodano--which, let's face it, could have been worse--were not issued as canonical pronouncements. They carried no sense of finality. Schoenborn was simply standing up for victims who felt slighted by the suggestion that media accounts of the scandals amounted to "petty gossip"--an egregious claim coming from one of Maciel's chief defenders on Easter Sunday in an address that had no place in the liturgy. Are cardinals not allowed to "judge" one another? Or are they supposed to refrain from criticizing one another in public?I don't recall that standard being applied when Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was criticized for his role in creating the Common Ground Initiative--a project designed to bring together liberal and conservative Catholics to discuss their disagreements and agreements. At the time, three cardinals piled on: Anthony Bevilacqua, James Hickey, and, of course, Bernard Law.

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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