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Vatican Rebukes Cardinal for Criticizing Colleague on Sex Abuse Comments

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The Vatican issued on Monday an extraordinary public rebuke of an Austrian cardinal and former student of Pope Benedict XVI for comments last April in which he criticized a fellow cardinal who seemed to dismiss sex abuse revelations as "petty gossip" aimed at hurting the pope.

The Austrian cardinal, Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, who helped elect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict in the conclave of 2005, had also made subsequent comments in the press raising questions about mandatory celibacy for priests, and Schönborn was also forced to explain those remarks in his meeting with the pope on Monday.

At the start of Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square in April, as Benedict was being buffeted by increasing reports of clergy abuse of children and institutional malfeasance, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a former Vatican secretary of state who still wields great influence in Rome, defended the pope against what he called "petty gossip."

Most observers saw the words as a knock at the reports about clergy sexual abuse and the pope's own ambiguous role in some cases. One of those observers was Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, who told Austrian newspaper editors on April 28 that Sodano's remarks had "deeply wronged" the victims of clergy abuse.

"The days of coverup are over," Schönborn added, according to an account of the interview in The Tablet of London, a leading Catholic weekly. Schönborn also noted that it was Sodano who had thwarted Vatican investigations of high-level abusers, such as Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, the previous Archbishop of Vienna, and Father Marcel Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legion of Christ, a cult-like Catholic order now under Vatican censure.

Schönborn's comments were a highly unusual public critique of a fellow cardinal and indicated how much the abuse scandal has pressured and divided the Catholic hierarchy.

On Monday, however, it became clear that Schönborn had become something like the Gen. Stanley McChrystal of the Catholic command structure. He was called to the papal woodshed for his comments about Sodano and was subjected to a remarkable public admonition in a Vatican press office statement that detailed first his meeting on Monday with Pope Benedict, then the meeting when the men were joined by Cardinal Sodano and the current secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Both Bertone and Sodano have been among the strongest defenders of Benedict against any accusations that he has been anything but exemplary as regards dealing with abuse cases, and the Vatican statement made it clear that any prelate who departs from that line will face the music.

The Vatican statement said that Schönborn "expresses his regret over the interpretations given" to his remarks about Cardinal Sodano, and it went on to note, in frank language for the Vatican, that it is the pope's job alone to deal with any "accusations against a Cardinal," and that any other complaints should be communicated privately to the Vatican.

The statement also noted that Sodano's use of the phrase "petty gossip" was in no way meant to convey "a lack of respect for the victims of sexual abuse" but was simply recalling the same phrase Benedict XVI had used in his papal homily a week earlier on Palm Sunday. In that sermon, Benedict, apparently referring to reports about himself and other prelates, spoke of the "courage not to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinions." But Monday's statement still did not calrify what the pope or Sodano meant.

The upshot was that Benedict was standing by Sodano, who for years shielded the scandal-plagued Legionaries of Christ from inquiries.

That alliance surprised some papal observers, who saw the alliance between Benedict and Sodano -- who under the late Pope John Paul II had been antagonists in the Roman Curia, the papal bureacracy -- as perhaps undermining Benedict's efforts to show himself as a champion of reform in the wake of the sex abuse crisis.

It also left advocates for abuse victims angry.

"With his words, Benedict professes concern for victims. But by his actions, Benedict shows concern for his colleagues," said David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Prelates who conceal the horrific and devastating rape of children need to be ousted. If Pope Benedict has his way, however, such prelates won't even face discussion, much less discipline. This is a recipe for continued disaster."

The Schönborn-Sodano showdown wasn't the only fire Benedict had to put out this week.

On Sunday, Pope Benedict issued an unusually direct and blunt complaint about a raid by Belgian police on the offices of top Catholic churchmen in Belgium as part of the authorities' investigation of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Belgian agents detained the country's bishops for nine hours, prompting Vatican Secretary of State Bertone to compare the tactics to those of a communist regime. The pope called the raids -- which included drilling into the tomb of a former Belgian cardinal on a suspicion that church records had been hidden there -- "surprising and deplorable."

Results of the raid have not been made public.

In another development on Monday that could further pressure the pope, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lawsuit that accuses the Vatican of transferring a priest from city to city despite repeated accusations of sexual abuse.

The Vatican wants the federal courts to throw out the lawsuit that seeks to hold the Roman Catholic Church responsible for moving the Rev. Andrew Ronan from Ireland to Chicago to Portland, Oregon, despite the sex abuse accusations.

The Vatican is generally exempt from such lawsuits under sovereign immunity laws because the Holy See -- the formal name for the Vatican city state -- is an internationally recognized country.

But lower federal courts have ruled in this case that there could be an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act that could affect the Vatican. Monday's ruling is limited in scope but it could signal trouble for the Vatican in a more important case in which victims are trying to show that the Vatican -- and the pope -- can be held liable in a broader conspiracy to cover up the sexual abuse of children by clergy.

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7 Comments

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befilga

all this convoluted rhetoric coming from the Vatican and Wwashington is only a predecessor to what is happening. The balance of powers have temporarily shifted - come Fall - these powers will rule for about 3 more years. Counting 2010.

2010, 2011 then 2012. Day of Decadence

July 14 2010 at 4:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cyril J. Carroll

It seems that the Pope is again objecting to transparency by his rebuke of Cardinal Schonborn comments about Cardinal Sodano and about celibacy. Unfortunately, the policy of keeping things secret because the Vatican did not want to cause scandal is what has made the sexual abuse situation a greater scandal. The Pope must begin to realize his actions speak louder than his words.

July 05 2010 at 6:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Marj

Good for Schornborn and shame on the Pope and Sodano. The Vatican should be policing themselves from within, and if they can't do it, then it's up to the legal systems in the countries where these abuses took place to do it. As for the issue of diplomatic immunity for The Holy See, rubbish! The city-state of Vatican City isn't being sued here - the individuals responsible for the complicity and cover-ups are, and I say let them have it!

June 28 2010 at 6:00 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
gwmnnova

Three cheers for the Austrian Cardinal. He told the truth., Now the Pope didn't like that...too bad. Luther told the truth and look where the church ended after it censored him! The present Pope needs to wake up, smell the coffee and act before the whole pack of cards falls on his head like the Queen of Hearts in Alice.
Signed---17 years RC education

June 28 2010 at 3:54 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
and6754

As a Catholic I protest the fact that the clergy (with the Pope in the lead) is willfully aiding and abetting as well as carrying out the sexual abuse of children. The Church is the people, the faithful. The clergy are shepards, but they have betrayed that role and have become sodomizers of the sheep. I for one will not let such false shepards intimidate me or tell me they hold the keys to the kingdom. They do even have the doormats anymore.

June 28 2010 at 3:13 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
glers

So if I'm right the Vatican is upset with this guy for being upset that Cardinals were covering up sex abuse crime

June 28 2010 at 1:49 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to glers's comment
rlaitres

The poster's analysis is correct.

June 28 2010 at 4:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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