Holy See tries to end damaging squabble between two cardinals

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The Irish Times – Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cardinal Schönborn is seen as being close to Pope BenedictCardinal Schönborn is seen as being close to Pope Benedict

THE HOLY See yesterday issued an explanatory communique with the intention of putting the record straight on public tensions between the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, and former Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano. 

Early last month, Cardinal Schönborn prompted international headlines when he criticised Cardinal Sodano, claiming that he had been the person who in 1995 had persuaded the pope, then prefect for the congregation of the doctrine of the faith, not to inquire into sex abuse allegations against the late, disgraced cardinal of Vienna, Hans Hermann Groer. 

Cardinal Schönborn, in an interview with Austrian news agency Kathpress, claimed that Cardinal Sodano had done “massive harm” to victims of sex abuse when, during Easter Sunday mass in St Peter’s, he dismissed international criticism of the church in relation to the sex abuse crisis as “idle gossip”. 

Yesterday’s Vatican statement records that Cardinals Schönborn and Sodano met both Pope Benedict XVI and current secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone in an effort to clear the air. 

Essentially, Cardinal Schönborn asked for the meeting so that he could explain the “exact sense” of remarks he had made about “ecclesiastical discipline” (priestly celibacy) and about Cardinal Sodano. 

The Austrian cardinal, considered to be both close to the pope and a heavyweight in the college of cardinals, is widely believed to have been one of the key “electors” of Pope Benedict at the 2005 conclave. 

Yesterday, he explained to both Pope Benedict and Cardinal Sodano that “equivocations” created by his words were due to mistaken (media) interpretations. 

For his part, Cardinal Sodano emphatically dismissed any suggestion that his Easter Sunday words in any way expressed a “lack of respect for the victims of sexual abuse”. Remarkably, though, the communique does appear to gently rap Cardinal Schönborn over the knuckles when it states: “Let it be pointed out that, in the church, when accusations are made against a Cardinal, competence on the matter lies exclusively with the pope; others may have an advisory role, always with proper respect for the person.” 

All of which led one Vatican observer to describe yesterday’s communique as a “public relations disaster”, two months after the event. Just when the Vatican firemen think they have put out all the fires around them, he commented, senior cardinals manage to start one up right inside the pontifical palace. 

Reuters adds: A Belgian Catholic Church commission monitoring complaints over sexual abuse of children by priests disbanded yesterday after police seized all its files and a computer in raids denounced by the Vatican. 

The unprecedented raids last week on the commission’s office in Leuven and a church centre and former archbishop’s home in Mechelen prompted a sharp reaction from Pope Benedict, who called them “shocking and deplorable”. 

Government officials have defended the raids, however, saying the church had been too slow to investigate sexual abuse in its ranks.


Vatican embroiled in three rows over church abuse as it rebukes outspoken Austrian cardinal and denounces U.S. and Belgium

Daily Mail online

Last updated at 12:51 PM on 29th June 2010 

By Daily Mail Reporter

The Vatican is fighting on three fronts with Austria, Belgium and the U.S. as it faces renewed criticism over abuse cover-ups.

It launched an unprecedented rebuke yesterday of an Austrian cardinal said to be a Papal contender after he accused a retired Vatican leader of blocking clerical sex abuse investigations.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, won support from abuse victims, who said the Vatican should be honoring Schoenborn, not publicly humiliating him, for his calls for greater transparency and demands for a crackdown on priests who rape and sodomise children.

Rebuke: Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn met at The Vatican yesterday to discuss the Austrian's comments about the church's handling of abuse claimsRebuke: Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn met at The Vatican yesterday to discuss the Austrian’s comments about the church’s handling of abuse claims

Schoenborn had accused the former Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, of blocking a church investigation into the late Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who was accused by victims in 1995 of abusing boys at a seminary.

He has also called for an open discussion of priestly celibacy – views that the Vatican said he ‘clarified’ on Monday during an audience with the pope.

As it admonished Schoenborn, the Vatican appeared caught on the defensive on two other fronts in the ongoing sex abuse scandal: it remained locked in a diplomatic row with Belgium over the brazen raid on church offices last week, during which police detained bishops and even opened a crypt in search of church abuse documents. And it bristled at the U.S. Supreme Court decision to  allow a sex abuse lawsuit in Oregon naming the Holy See.

Accused: Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano was the focus of Cardinal Schoenborn's attackAccused: Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano was the focus of Cardinal Schoenborn’s attack

Schoenborn also accused Sodano of causing ‘massive harm’ to victims when he dismissed claims of clerical abuse as ‘petty gossip’ on Easter Sunday.

The Vatican said only the pope could level such accusations against a cardinal. And it sought to clarify the ‘petty gossip’ comment, noting that the pope himself had used the phrase a week earlier, referring to the need to have ‘courage to not be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinions’.

The phrase, and Sodano’s repetition of it, had sparked widespread criticism that the Vatican didn’t appreciate the significance of the clerical abuse scandal.

Victims groups said the Vatican should have praised Schoenborn for his honesty in taking Sodano to task, rather than humiliating him and stifling other potential whistle-blowers within the church.

‘By choosing instead to publicly embarrass Cardinal Schoenborn, the Pope is sending an unmistakable message to his bishops that in his administration, avoiding scandal still trumps truth,’ said Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, which compiles information and documents on clerical abuse.

The main U.S. victims’ group, SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), said the dressing down of Schoenborn, coupled with the pope’s harsh denunciation of the Belgian raid over the weekend, showed that the pope’s professed claim to do everything possible to stop priestly abuse was little more than lip service.

‘With his words, Benedict professes concern for victims. But by his actions, Benedict shows concern for his colleagues,’ SNAP’s David Clohessy said.

The Vatican’s public and formal reprimand of such a highly regarded cardinal is extremely rare. Previously, cardinals who have stepped out of line questioning church policy or doctrine have quietly issued their own mea culpas.

Criticism: Cardinal Schoenborn detailed his grievances during a press conference last weekCriticism: Cardinal Schoenborn detailed his grievances during a press conference last week

Schoenborn has been a leading figure in the abuse crisis, forcefully denouncing abuse, presiding over service of reparations for victims and openly calling for an honest examination of issues like priestly celibacy.

Just last week, he unveiled measures designed to prevent clerical abuse and help victims in Austria, including the creation of a foundation for victims to cover their therapy costs and possible compensation demands.

Schoenborn made the comments April 28 to a select group of Austrian journalists. He made them in a bid to defend Pope Benedict XVI, who was coming under fire himself for his handling of abuse cases both during his time as archbishop of Munich and as the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office.

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