Holy See tries to end damaging squabble between two cardinals


THE HOLY See yesterday issued an explanatory communique with the intention of putting the record straight on public tensions between the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, and former Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

Early last month, Cardinal Schönborn prompted international headlines when he criticised Cardinal Sodano, claiming that he had been the person who in 1995 had persuaded the pope, then prefect for the congregation of the doctrine of the faith, not to inquire into sex abuse allegations against the late, disgraced cardinal of Vienna, Hans Hermann Groer.

Cardinal Schönborn, in an interview with Austrian news agency Kathpress, claimed that Cardinal Sodano had done “massive harm” to victims of sex abuse when, during Easter Sunday mass in St Peter’s, he dismissed international criticism of the church in relation to the sex abuse crisis as “idle gossip”.

Yesterday’s Vatican statement records that Cardinals Schönborn and Sodano met both Pope Benedict XVI and current secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone in an effort to clear the air.

Essentially, Cardinal Schönborn asked for the meeting so that he could explain the “exact sense” of remarks he had made about “ecclesiastical discipline” (priestly celibacy) and about Cardinal Sodano.

The Austrian cardinal, considered to be both close to the pope and a heavyweight in the college of cardinals, is widely believed to have been one of the key “electors” of Pope Benedict at the 2005 conclave.

Yesterday, he explained to both Pope Benedict and Cardinal Sodano that “equivocations” created by his words were due to mistaken (media) interpretations.

For his part, Cardinal Sodano emphatically dismissed any suggestion that his Easter Sunday words in any way expressed a “lack of respect for the victims of sexual abuse”. Remarkably, though, the communique does appear to gently rap Cardinal Schönborn over the knuckles when it states: “Let it be pointed out that, in the church, when accusations are made against a Cardinal, competence on the matter lies exclusively with the pope; others may have an advisory role, always with proper respect for the person.”

All of which led one Vatican observer to describe yesterday’s communique as a “public relations disaster”, two months after the event. Just when the Vatican firemen think they have put out all the fires around them, he commented, senior cardinals manage to start one up right inside the pontifical palace.

Reuters adds: A Belgian Catholic Church commission monitoring complaints over sexual abuse of children by priests disbanded yesterday after police seized all its files and a computer in raids denounced by the Vatican.

The unprecedented raids last week on the commission’s office in Leuven and a church centre and former archbishop’s home in Mechelen prompted a sharp reaction from Pope Benedict, who called them “shocking and deplorable”.

Government officials have defended the raids, however, saying the church had been too slow to investigate sexual abuse in its ranks.