Early Monday, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn had a Come to Jesus meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, and in an event as rare as the Virgin birth, the Vatican Press Office, via its blog (never let it be said that Rome is behind the technological times), released a communique in the afternoon detailing what happened in the private meeting. The news of this hit the mainstream press just after 5 and, oddly, neither the New York Times’ report nor the one from the Associated Press had a link to the actual document or copy of the text. I had to find that via one blog then another. (Those bloggers, go figure.)
The memo is written as all political and religious pronouncements are: in jargon. You can read the entire thing at the links above, but the basics are this: Schönborn asked for the meeting to clarify his prior statements regarding Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and the former Vatican Secretary of State. Sodano had given an Easter speech in which he called media reports of sexual abuse in the Church in Europe as “petty gossip.” After Sodano’s speech, Schönborn publicly criticized him, saying Sodano “deeply wronged” victims of sexual abuse with his speech. This Vatican memo on Monday’s meeting essentially says that Schönborn recognizes that he was out of line publicly shaming a fellow Cardinal.
Various voices are weighing in with opinions and analysis about what all this means (here’s one from the left, and one from the right), so I’m not going to add much to that mix. But as someone who knows intimately the after-affects of sexual abuse, I will say this: When someone as high up as Schönborn has the guts to call out a brother Cardinal who is essentially poo-pooing the soul-murder and suffering of sexual abuse victims, his boss should commend him, for God’s sake, not have him participate in a public mea culpa. Especially, as in this case, said Cardinal is defending you, the boss.
As the New York Times explains quite nicely:
In April, Cardinal Schönborn said that in the 1990s, Benedict, then the head of the Vatican’s powerful doctrinal office, had wanted to open an investigation into Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer of Austria, who stepped down as archbishop of Vienna in 1995 after allegations he had sexually abused seminarians, but that the “diplomatic” branch of John Paul’s papacy had blocked it, a clear reference to Cardinal Sodano.
Exactly. Cardinal Sodano, in this case, is the bad guy; Cardinal Schönborn the good guy – at least where transparancy in the Church is concerned. Yet as head of the College of Cardinals, Sodano is essentially in a dotted-line authority over Schönborn and could (and apparently did) push Pope Benedict for some sort of statement that would put Schönborn in his place. That place-putting came in this statement from the memo:
It must be reiterated that, in the Church, when accusations are made against a cardinal, competency falls exclusively to the Pope; other parties may have a consultative function, while always maintaining due respect for persons.
Since Benedict used to be Schönborn’s professor and most everyone in the know agrees they are friends, and since Benedict himself was no doubt frustrated that when he wanted to investigate Gröer he was stimied by Sodano, one wonders why Benedict would have done this. Blame it on ancient tradition and being trapped by Canon Law, I guess. Whatever the reason, the wrong Cardinal was reprimanded in Monday’s communique.