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Cardinal Schönborn Prays with 'We Are Church,' Calls for Reforms

In the United States, Bishops and Cardinals either shun mainstream church reform organizations such as FutureChurch, Call To Action and Voice of the Faithful or publicly ban them from Church property. But in Austria, a prominent Cardinal and close ally of Pope Benedict, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, recently called for major reforms in the Curia and according to reports from The Tablet, a British Catholic weekly, publicly prayed with the well-known reform group We Are Church.

We Confess…

In the wake of the worsening sex abuse scandal, Cardinal Schönborn accepted We Are Church's invitation to jointly sponsor a public "Service of Lament and Reconciliation." Schönborn's acceptance surprised most Austrian Catholics since We are Church supports both optional celibacy and ordaining women priests. Three thousand Catholics attended the March 31 service held at St. Stephen's cathedral in Vienna. Cardinal Schönborn opened the prayer with a dramatic confession of guilt: "We confess that some of us exploited the trust of children and destroyed it"We confess that for some of us, the semblance of the Church's impeccability mattered more than anything else"" Victims of clergy sex abuse, who also cosponsored the service, courageously told their searing stories of abuse, pain and anger. Each story was interspersed with psalms and prayers of lament. After the service, Cardinal Schonborn thanked We Are Church for their initiative saying: "Even if there is controversy between us, we have our love of the Church in common."

Corruption in High Places

In an early May meeting with the Austrian press, Schönborn criticized Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals for his Easter day characterizations of clerical sex abuse as "petty gossip." He charged that Sodano prevented then-Cardinal Ratzinger from investigating allegations of abuse made against the previous Archbishop of Vienna, Canadian Hans Hermann Groer, who resigned in disgrace in 1995. According to an April 16 cover story by investigative journalist Jason Berry published in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), Sodano also opposed Ratzinger's investigation of the infamous Fr. Maciel Degollado, the disgraced founder of the Legion of Christ. Maciel, who died in 2008, was found to have been a serial pedophile who led a double life, fathering several children whom he also abused.

A gifted fundraiser, Maciel made many generous donations, in return for certain favors, to high-ranking Vatican officials including Sodano, and Pope John Paul II"s former secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz who is now the Archbishop of Krakow. Maciel was punished and forced to step down only after Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. The Wall Street Journal reported in early May that the Vatican has ruled the Legion must be restructured. A specially appointed commission will "rewrite the order's statutes and redefine the military-like culture, which led its members to maintain a code of secrecy in the face of sexual abuse committed by its late founder, Maciel Degollado." The Legion numbers 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians operating universities and schools in more than 20 countries. Its lay movement, Regnum Christi, has more than 50,000 followers around the world.

Calls for Reform

In the midst of such stunning revelations of corruption in high office, The Tablet reports that Cardinal Schonborn has publicly called for reform of the Roman Curia. He also spoke of the need for the Church to reconsider its view of remarried divorcees "as many people don't even marry at all any longer," and that lasting gay relationships deserve respect. He had earlier called for an "unflinching examination" of the role mandatory celibacy may have played in clergy sex abuse.

Power Struggle in Rome

In the May 15 issue of The Tablet, Robert Mickens speculates that Schönborn's remarks are aimed at stopping "reactionaries" from winning the next papacy. He cites veteran Vatican reporter, Marco Politi who believes Schönborn's calls for more transparency are an attempt to forestall the silencing order imposed by Cardinal Ratzinger who, as dean of the College of Cardinals (the office currently held by Cardinal Sodano), exhorted the Cardinal electors not to speak to the press before the papal election. This assured that well known tensions in the Church over issues such as collegiality, human sexuality, priestly celibacy, women's roles etc. would not be aired publicly. Technically the moratorium has not been lifted, but since Schönborn was a key force in Benedict's election, the Viennese Cardinal may believe it is time to get the discussion started, but this time well ahead of any conclave.

Unfortunately, Pope Benedict's second in command, secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is himself tainted by the Maciel affair. Bertone praised Maciel in the preface to the 2003 book My Life is Christ, which was Maciel's defense against the pending charges by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This led Jason Berry to remark in a May 20 NCR blog: "Until Benedict gets rid of Sodano and [Boston's Cardinal] Law and forces Bertone to atone for his words, the pope will be handcuffed… For his papacy to put this crisis to rest, Benedict must establish procedures to remove bishops from the hierarchy, and priesthood where warranted, and to establish uniform procedures of genuine justice."

Hope and Healing

And what of those of us committed, as FutureChurch is, to reforming this painfully sinful pilgrim church? We are angry, we lament and we mourn. But in the final analysis we hope. For just as life-threatening infection in the human body must be identified and exposed to light before it can heal, so mortal corruption in the body of the Church must be diagnosed, debrided and brought to the light that is Christ. Never has our painful, healing work been more necessary than now.

Focus on FutureChurch

Spring 2010


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