Cardinal Schonborn chastised

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VATICAN CITY - In an unusual public chastisement, the Vatican said a series of statements by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn have contributed to widespread misunderstandings on issues related to clerical sexual abuse.

In particular, the Vatican took issue with Cardinal Schonborn's statement that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, former secretary of state, had blocked an investigation of sexual abuse and offended victims by calling their complaints "petty gossip."

"It should be remembered that in the church, when there are accusations against a cardinal, the competence rests solely with the pope; others may have an advisory role, always with the proper respect for the person," a Vatican statement said.

The statement was issued after Pope Benedict XVI met June 28 with Cardinal Schonborn, the archbishop of Vienna. The meeting was requested by Cardinal Schonborn to "clarify the exact meaning of his recent statements" on a number of topics, the Vatican said.

In a closed-door session with Austrian news editors in May, Cardinal Schonborn reportedly said that Cardinal Sodano, the longtime secretary of state under Pope John Paul II and now the dean of the College of Cardinals, had hindered the investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of minors by the late Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who was forced to step down as archbishop of Vienna in 1995.

Cardinal Schonborn said that at that time, Pope Benedict, then head of the Vatican office in charge of investigating accusations of clerical sex abuse, had been thwarted by Cardinal Sodano in his efforts to take more direct action on the accusations against Cardinal Groer, Austrian news media said.

Cardinal Schonborn also was quoted in the reports as saying Cardinal Sodano had offended victims of sexual abuse in the church when, at the pope's Easter Mass in April, he used the term "petty gossip" in referring to the current controversy surrounding the church.

In addition, Cardinal Schonborn was said to have suggested that the church reconsider its position toward remarried divorced Catholics, who are not allowed to take Communion, and toward homosexuals in stable relationships. He also has made statements that appear to support reconsideration of the mandatory celibacy rule in the Western church.

The Vatican said that in their private meeting, Pope Benedict and Cardinal Schonborn had discussed his comments about Cardinal Sodano as well as "some aspects of current church discipline."

Afterward, Cardinal Sodano and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the current secretary of state, were called in for a continuation of the encounter.

The pope and the cardinals were able to "clarify and resolve some misunderstandings that were widespread and in part deriving from some expressions used by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, who expresses his displeasure at the interpretations that were given," the Vatican statement said.

After underlining disapproval of public criticism of a fellow cardinal, the statement said Cardinal Sodano's use of the term "petty gossip" was "erroneously interpreted as a lack of respect for the victims of sexual abuse." In fact, it said, Cardinal Sodano has compassion for the victims and condemns the evil of abuse.

It said that in using the term, he was quoting from a papal homily the week before about the need for Christians to have "the courage not to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant public opinion."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010