June 28th, 2010
04:30 PM ET
Pope Benedict XVI slapped down Cardinal Christoph Schonborn on Monday over comments earlier this year in which he was seen as criticizing a fellow cardinal.
Schonborn – the archbishop of Vienna, Austria, and a former student of the pope – had said that Cardinal Angelo Sodano had blocked an investigation of sexual abuse charges against a former archbishop of Vienna, according to the Catholic News Service. Sodano was the Vatican's secretary of state at the time.
The pope firmly put Schonborn in his place Monday, according to a Vatican statement.
"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," the statement said.
Such public chastisements are highly unusual for the Vatican. Schonborn also had objected to a statement Sodano had made in April.
Speaking prior to the pope's Easter Mass address, Sodano - who is now the dean of the College of Cardinals - had said the pontiff maintained the support of Catholics around the world "who do not let themselves be influenced by petty gossip."
Sodano did not specifically mention the sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church, but his remarks clearly referred to those who had criticized Catholic leadership, including Pope Benedict himself for not having done more during his years as a top church official.
Schonborn said Sodano had offended victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests by using the term "petty gossip."
The Vatican, in its statement Monday, said, "The word 'chiacchiericcio' (gossip) was erroneously interpreted as disrespectful to the victims of sexual abuse."
It noted the word "was taken literally from the pontifical homily of Palm Sunday and referred to the 'courage that does not let itself be intimidated by the gossip of prevalent opinions.'"
At another time this year, as accusations of child abuse by priests swept Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland, Schonborn had said, "It's crucial that we ask about the causes of sexual abuse.
"That includes the question of priest's training as much as it does questions as to what happened with the generation of 1968 with the 'sexual revolution.' It includes the issue of celibacy as much as it does the issue of personal development. And also it includes a large dose of honesty in the church, as well as in society."
His words were interpreted as questioning priestly celibacy, although he said through a spokesman that he had not meant to do so.
He also has suggested the church reconsider policies relating to remarried divorced Catholics and homosexuals in stable relationships, according to news reports.
In Monday's meeting - which included the pope, Schonborn, Sodana and another Vatican official - "certain widespread misunderstandings were clarified and resolved, misunderstandings deriving partly from certain statements of Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, who expressed his displeasure at the interpretations given to his words," the Vatican statement said.
The Vatican's statement drew criticism from David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests "The pope should be encouraging, not forbidding, more open conversation about cover ups of clergy sex crimes by bishops," he said in a written statement. "Frankly, the church desperately needs it. Kids are safer when honest dialogue about misdeeds is encouraged, not forbidden."
He added, "With his words, Benedict professes concern for victims. But by his actions, Benedict shows concern for his colleagues."
Schonborn and the pope have known each other for decades, since the Austrian studied under then-Joseph Ratzinger at the University of Regensburg. Sodano was the Vatican secretary of state from 1994 to 2006. He has been dean of the College of Cardinals since 2002, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the previous dean, became Pope Benedict XVI.
The Vatican's statement said Schonborn had asked for Monday's meeting "to clarify the exact meaning of his recent declarations concerning some aspects of current ecclesiastical discipline, and certain of his judgments regarding positions adopted by (Soldano) concerning the late Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, archbishop of Vienna from 1986 to 1995.
Groer stepped down after allegations that he had sexually abused a schoolboy 20 years earlier. Other allegations followed. He died in 2003.
The Catholic Church has been rocked by allegations that clergy abused children sexually and physically for decades across Europe and the United States. The pope has repeatedly said he is seeking justice for the victims.
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