The head of the Austrian Church has launched an attack of one of the most senior cardinals in the Vatican, saying that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, “deeply wronged” the victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy when he dismissed media reports of the scandal. In a meeting with editors of the main Austrian daily newspapers last week, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, also said the Roman Curia was “urgently in need of reform”, and that lasting gay relationships deserved respect. He reiterated his view that the Church needs to reconsider its position on re-married divorcees.
On Easter Day, Cardinal Sodano called the mounting reports of clerical sex abuse “petty gossip”. This had “deeply wronged the victims”, Cardinal Schönborn said, and he recalled that it was Cardinal Sodano who had prevented Joseph Ratzinger, then a cardinal, from investigating allegations of abuse made against Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, the previous Archbishop of Vienna, who resigned in disgrace in 1995.
Cardinal Schönborn said that Pope Benedict was “gently” working on reforming the Curia but he had the whole world on his desk, as the cardinal put it, and his way of working and his style of communication did not make it easy to advise him quickly from outside.
Cardinal Schönborn studied under Joseph Ratzinger at Regensburg University and is known to be close to him.
Questioned on the Church’s attitude to homosexuals, the cardinal said: “We should give more consideration to the quality of homosexual relationships,” adding: “A stable relationship is certainly better than if someone chooses to be promiscuous.”
The cardinal also said the Church needed to reconsider its view of re-married divorcees “as many people don’t even marry at all any longer”.
The primary thing to consider should not be the sin, but people’s striving to live according to the commandments, he said. Instead of a morality based on duty, we should work towards a morality based on happiness, he continued.
Cardinal Schönborn said clergy had often primarily protected perpetrators of abuse instead of the victims. “It was said in the Church that we must be able to forgive, but that was a false understanding of compassion,” the cardinal insisted. Since the Groer affair 15 years ago, however, the Austrian Church had appointed an ever-increasing number of lay people, especially women, to investigate abuse cases. However this new openness on the part of the Church was not shared by everyone in the Vatican, he said.
Asked if he thought celibacy was one of the causes of clerical sex abuse, Cardinal Schönborn said he had no answer and psychotherapists were divided on the issue.
Asked how he would rate the Church’s loss of credibility due to the abuse “tsunami” on a scale of 1 to 5, the cardinal said, “In Ireland the situation is catastrophic – almost a 5. In Austria it is dramatic – I’d say a 3.”
The Vatican press spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, praised the Austrian Church for its openness in dealing with the clerical abuse crisis and told the Austrian daily Kurier on Monday that Cardinal Sodano’s words at Easter were “certainly not the wisest”.