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June 28th, 2010
04:30 PM ET

Pope reprimands cardinal over sex abuse criticism

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.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pope Benedict XVI • Traditions

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soundoff (147 Responses)
  1. alina

    Make Schonborn the Pope!

    June 29, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  2. Kat

    Stand fast Cardinal Schonborn. Do not silence your voice, you have every right to use it in this way for the good.

    June 29, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  3. Tommy Watson

    The fact that this out-dated, corrupt, and out-of-touch religion still has such an affect on the world is troubling. The Pope and all Cardinals, Arch Bishops, Bishops, and others involved should be charged with conspiracy by all countries where such abuse has taken place. Someone should lobby for these charges to be brought forth. If this were the LDS, some Pagan group, or Branch Davidians we would be storming in to make arrests.

    June 29, 2010 at 10:12 am |
    • W0lfman

      Your judgment means nothing to 8 billion Roman Catholics worldwide.

      June 29, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
    • W0lfman

      I meant 1 billion.

      June 29, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
    • Paul

      8 billion Roman Catholics worldwide?

      There's not even 8 billion people in the world! Failure.

      June 29, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
  4. McCluck

    I would like to propose an alternative to Catholicism. Pink unicorns arguably are a much better deity. Here is why.

    -They have just as much proof for their existence.
    -The leaders of their church are not affiliated with the protection of pedophiles.
    -There have been few deaths and wars in the name of the pink unicorns
    -They didn’t kill Galileo and various people who didn’t agree with them.
    -They don’t have a hoard of bigots following them who have found a way to justify their hatred by cherry picking and quoting scripture out of context.

    most important: They are much prettier and smell like cotton candy.

    This is not directed at the message, only the organization created by man. Satan dwells within your walls. (you know, that made up guy who makes you touch yourself and wear those evil condoms)

    June 29, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  5. boydanb203

    The Almighty Church, it will end, and to the pope GOD IS WATCHING what you are doing, if I were you, I would be very scare to meet GOD, very!! Hypocrite!!!

    June 29, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  6. Sy

    Now that he has shown once more where his loyalty lies, The Pope, and Church can look forward to more police raids.
    I think the Pope should publically chastise more people. So that every government take action. Obviously the Church has no intention of protecting children.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  7. SHOLOM L

    The current pope, and most of the others who filled his position, have always obstructed legal investigation of alleged wrongdoing. This fellow says it's akin to anti-Semitism. Ludicrous! Is the pope at all Semitic?

    It reminds me of former Georgia Governor Lester Maddox, who actually said the investigation of him was 'sacrilegious'.
    What the pope and Maddox BOTH really complain of is bringing the criminal behavior out into the light of investigation.

    June 29, 2010 at 4:57 am |
  8. Vince

    Sounds more like insinuations than facts...for a change!

    June 29, 2010 at 3:12 am |
  9. dmac

    I am not Catholic but I do believe in a Higher Power wither it is Nature or Peace or Love it really does not matter. One thing that I do see happening here with the Catholic church is a breakdown of its foundations as rouge priests used their positions of leadership and trust to use the little children entrusted to them. I also see this Pope as diminishing the position he holds criticizing police for doing their jobs in Belgium last week and this week calling out a truth seeking Cardinal. IMO the Pope is demeaning the papacy by such behaviour.

    June 29, 2010 at 3:09 am |
  10. Peter the rock

    There are two kinds of people who had done mistakes: the first kind is – accept wrongdoings, confess these, repent, discipline for the rest of the life; the second kind is – never accept wrong doings, criticize others' wrong doings, promote others to do wrong, and live like never been sinned and die like never be risen again.

    Wrongdoers do see other wrongdoers (especially towards people who are disciplining themselves to clean heart), but never see the most righteous person, Jesus Christ.

    Just my thought.

    June 29, 2010 at 2:15 am |
  11. jeff

    Lock up the pope.

    June 29, 2010 at 1:48 am |
  12. Big Daddy Rat

    Ya really wanna be a priest...prove your sincerity. Get yourself castrated.
    My god,these people run orphanage's all over the world.
    The way priests are constantly shuffled around,the tacit approval of the churches leadership coupled with the fact that thousands of cases have been reported across at least 2 continent's over a period of decades paints a pretty filthy picture.
    A good shepperd does not sodomize his flock.
    In what manner could you possible offend God more than by raping his children.
    You would think that just one case of pedophelia would be viewed by the church as a most disgustingly evil act,reviled and rooted out,instead it has the appearance of being codgelled and nurtured...(and with monies collected from little old ladies).
    And I'M the sinner...you see,I don't attend Church,therefore I'm not a paying customer..."salvation"has it's price.

    June 29, 2010 at 1:43 am |
    • W0lfman

      So, therefore, you support a witch hunt, followed by a lynching?

      June 29, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
  13. Sofrito

    This Pope is a vile piece of work. Every catholic that sits in church and puts money in the plate is complicit with this. Shame!

    June 29, 2010 at 1:40 am |
    • W0lfman

      I think you are being a bit self righteous.

      June 29, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  14. Rich

    The inquisition, The crusades ("murderers bearing crosses" as Peter Beagle puts it), the enslavery of millions of indigenous people, the widespread teaching in parochial schools everywhere of the "perfidy" of the Jews, and uncounted other affronts to human civilization.And a billion people, many starving while the church enjoys incredible wealth, froth at the mouth and bleed from the eyeballs with maniacal love for the pope. This "true faith" is a blight on humanity.

    June 29, 2010 at 1:20 am |
    • W0lfman

      I am afraid you are only displaying your ignorance in your post.

      June 29, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
  15. rmsbl4

    It sounds as if the Pope and Obama are having the same problems with subordinates.

    June 29, 2010 at 12:58 am |
  16. Andy

    It is time for an exorcism, the papacy and the church are rotten to the core!

    June 29, 2010 at 12:02 am |
  17. Dan

    People, leave Pope Benedict alone. You cannot hold him personally responsible for the sex abuse scandals. He did not commit them. He has worked very hard to make things better. He has addressed the entire body of bishops in the US calling the sex abuse scandals a "deep shame." What else do you want from him? Sins of specific individual priests are their responsibility alone; not the Church's, and not the pope's. It's reasonable to say that he could defrock and excommunicate these priests instead of allowing them to be reassigned, but the difficulty is in determining whether every priest in all these cases are actually guilty. He simply cannot be expected to judge all the cases that are so hard to prove, even in the criminal justice system. If guilt cannot be proven, what else can bishops do but reassign them? Stop trying to crucify the pope and use your brains people.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
    • Steve

      This is the crux that has generated so much hatred. There are priests who cannot be prosecuted in a court of law because of insufficient evidence. There are priests who have confessed to another of their sins. Now I understand the sacrocant nature of confession. However, the requirement of penance should be for the given offender to confess to the lawful authorities and turn themselves in. Instead, the bad priests are allowed to move on and sin again. In summary, the Catholic Church has put their law above the law of the state.

      I guarantee you this, if my father, brother, wife, friend or son confessed to me that they had abused a minor and they told me upon my swearing that I would tell no one else, I would turn them in, in a heartbeat. I want that person off the street. I'll take my beatdown in the afterlife then risk another child being hurt.

      June 29, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  18. Phil

    These people will never change – for his part in covering up and enabling the criminal behavior of his subordinates, I'd like to see nothing less that the Pope in a perpwalk.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  19. That oneguy

    Is CNN out of their mind at this point or what? Their anti-Catholic trash reads like something from North Korean news.
    "Slapped down" "Put him in his place" What is wrong with you, CNN?
    Can you stop foaming at the mouth long enough to write a reputable and professional article? This whole thing was absolute trash without a shred of actual information or journalistic integrity.

    June 28, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
  20. Freethinker

    The Vatican is clueless when it comes to public perception. Criticizing someone how is standing up against someone trying to hide the abuse. Unbelievable!!!! And the people here defending them are just as bad. Sexually abusing a child is repugnant. Doing anything to obstruct justice is just as bad if not worse.

    June 28, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
    • W0lfman

      And exactly what are you doing about it? Nothing, I'll bet.

      June 29, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.