Red hats sent to naughty step

It’s that time of year when popes head for the hills. Usually this means two weeks in the Alps followed by two weeks at the Castel Gandolfo villa, where the current incumbent likes to spend some quality time reading, writing and playing the piano. Unusually, this year B16 is skipping the Alpine break and heading straight for Castel Gandolfo, raising the possibility that the great man has something up his sleeve that needs working on. We will find that out in due course.

In the meantime, we’re in the usual pre-holiday wash-up of unfinished business, which means a lot of tricky personnel issues.

Part the first:
One of the key skills for any Vatican-watcher is to check the daily VIS press releases for who’s been popping into the Holy See for an audience, and then think about why. Yesterday Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels was in to discuss how the Belgian police – yes, the same Belgian police who performed so well against the Dutroux paedophile ring – are now in the tomb-violating business. Unofficially, this ties together with a broader issue of cleaning up the mess left behind by Cardinal Danneels and his mates in the Belgian Magic Circle. And today it’s been the living disaster area that is Bishop Walter Mixa, late of Augsburg, who has been directed to a quiet, prayerful – and hopefully sober – retirement.

Those VIS press releases are often pretty anodyne and require one to read between the lines, but I honestly can’t remember one as pointed as this, from Monday:

VATICAN CITY, 28 JUN 2010 (VIS) – The Holy See Press Office released the following communique early this afternoon:

“(1) The Holy Father today received in audience Cardinal Christoph Schonborn O.P., archbishop of Vienna and president of the Austrian Episcopal Conference. The cardinal had asked to meet the Supreme Pontiff personally in order to report on the current situation of the Church in Austria. In particular, Cardinal Schonborn wished to clarify the exact meaning of his recent declarations concerning some aspects of current ecclesiastical discipline, and certain of his judgements regarding positions adopted by the Secretariat of State – and in particular by the then Secretary of State of Pope John Paul II – concerning the late Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, archbishop of Vienna from 1986 to 1995.

“(2) Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, and Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. were subsequently invited to join the meeting.

“In the second part of the audience 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.

“In particular:

“(a) 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.

“(b) The word ‘chiacchiericcio’ (gossip) was erroneously interpreted as disrespectful to the victims of sexual abuse, towards whom Cardinal Angelo Sodano nourishes the same feelings of compassion, and of condemnation of evil, as expressed on various occasions by the Holy Father. That word, pronounced during his Easter address to Pope Benedict XVI, 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”.

“(3) The Holy Father, recalling with great affection his own pastoral trip to Austria, via Cardinal Christoph Schonborn sends his greetings and encouragement to the Church in Austria, and to her pastors, entrusting the journey to renewed ecclesial communion to the celestial protection of the Blessed Virgin, so venerated at Mariazell”.
OP/ VIS 20100628 (370)

Ouch! I don’t want to say it’s unprecedented for a pope to publicly rebuke two senior cardinals – few things in the Catholic Church are truly unprecedented – but it is, I would guess, the first time in living memory. This reads very much like Professor Ratzinger giving a couple of unruly students a rap over the knuckles – literally in the case of Schönborn, an old pupil of the professor’s.

Some background is required here. The first thing to bear in mind is that Archduke Christoph, that holdover from the Holy Roman Empire, is the original loose canon, with a propensity for running his yap in front of any journalist he can find. Some Vatican-watchers, easily impressed by a high profile, like to tout Schönborn as papabile, which heaven forbid – it would be like handing the papacy to Groucho Marx. Anyway, this is the second time in six months that Christoph has exited the Vatican with his ears burning. The first was in connection with his ostentatious New Year pilgrimage to Medjugorje, much to the displeasure of Bishop Ratko Perić of Mostar-Duvno and indeed the Bosnian hierarchy as a whole. The Croats evidently bent some ears, for shortly afterwards Schönborn was in Rome for an audience, and immediately after the audience he sent a conciliatory fax to Perić, which the Mostar-Duvno diocese thoughtfully made public.

Currently, Schönborn is in hot water for a number of reasons. Partly this has to do with his public musings on celibacy. Now, to simplify matters greatly, you have to consider the difference between Tradition – fundamental aspects of the faith that can’t be modified – and traditions that have grown up over the centuries but aren’t fundamental and could theoretically be modified. Compulsory celibacy (which is a mediaeval innovation in the Latin Rite, and one that Eastern Churches like the Uniates or Maronites happily do without) is in the latter category, and could theoretically go, but you’d probably need an ecumenical council to do that rather than some media interviews from an individual cardinal. Furthermore, there are good reasons that can be advanced for either keeping or scrapping compulsory celibacy, but going along with the zeitgeist is not a very good reason. This coincides with an opinion poll amongst Austrian priests indicating strong support for scrapping celibacy, which is not surprising in a country where it’s an open secret that the majority of priests keep mistresses; nor is it surprising that the strongest support was in the ultra-liberal Linz diocese. What was more surprising was that poll showing 51% support for ordaining women, something even a semi-literate seminarian should know is theologically impossible.

For a man who presides over what is evidently a den of heresy, it never ceases to amaze me that Schönborn is a member of the CDF. Unless, of course, it’s to keep an eye on him.

But there’s also an element here related to the sex abuse scandal. You may recall that, after Benedict’s letter to Ireland, when there was clearly a strong message that needed to be communicated, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, former Secretary of State and current Dean of the Italian Magic Circle College of Cardinals, chose Easter to make a speech about how the Pope shouldn’t allow himself to be distracted by the petty gossip of the moment, a statement that was flashed around the world and was so profoundly unhelpful that you would almost think Sodano was deliberately trying to balls things up.

And this is where Schönborn came out batting strongly, flagging up the forced removal from office of his predecessor, the notorious pervert Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër, an operation spearheaded by the then Cardinal Ratzinger and which, it was reliably reported, Sodano had opposed. This is basically correct, and Schönborn would have been no less correct had he added that Sodano’s close relationship with the creepy Legionaries of Christ should disqualify him from pontificating on such subjects.

Anyway, and I know this is getting convoluted, you really can’t have two cardinals involved in a public spat of this nature, which is why Cardinal Wingnut and Cardinal Deadbeat were called in to meet B16 and his enforcer Bertone, and for the ruler to be firmly applied to the knuckles.

There is also, as usual in these situations, a game within the game, and I think Fr Ray is on the money here. Sodano is effectively retired from any real position of power, but retains a lot of influence with those bishops and cardinals, of whom there are about a zillion in Italy, who spend most of their time hatching plots over their espressos, and who would dearly love to go back to the old backscratching ways. Schönborn, on the other hand, is burnishing his credentials with the progressive faction. What they’ve both been told, in effect, is to stop plotting the next conclave and go find something better to do.

In Schönborn’s case, this observer wouldn’t mind him being allowed to spend more time with portraits of his ancestors, but there is probably nobody better in Austria, and at a relatively young 65, he’ll likely be in situ for another decade. As for Sodano, he already has too much time on his hands – a job that’s time-consuming but not important enough for him to cause damage would be just the ticket.

Part the second:
Some important Curia appointments this week, on the heels of the long-expected retirements of Cardinals Giovanni Battista Re and Walter Kasper. (I have a good story about Walter Kasper, but that can wait for another time.) And so we see a reinforcement of B16’s policy of putting his own men into key positions as the old guard retire. Bishop Kurt Koch of Basel replaces Kasper as the Christian Unity czar – he’s not very well known yet, but he does get on well with the Eastern Orthodox, and that’s where the big ecumenical business is these days. Archbishop Rino Fisichella is tapped for the brand spanking new Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, for which his strong performances on Italian TV can’t have hurt. And, in the biggest news, Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Québec replaces Re at the head of the hugely powerful Congregation for Bishops.

And that’s a story in itself. Ouellet is a good candidate, multilingual, an impeccably orthodox theologian of the Communio school, and what folks in Canadaland describe as a stand-up kinda guy. Yet for quite a while, rumours had been circulating that Australian strongman Cardinal George Pell was in line for the CfB job, a prospect that caused something like gibbering panic in some corners of the College of Bishops. This was apparently scuppered by Pell’s health (he has a pacemaker, though it doesn’t seem to slow him down much) and the re-emergence of abuse allegations from the early 1960s that were investigated years ago and found to be groundless. Nonetheless, that knocked out the first choice and led to the the substitute. And yet… I wonder.

If I wanted to appoint Marc Ouellet to the Congregation for Bishops, it occurs to me that the best way to head off potential opposition is to scare the bejesus out of the various episcopal conferences with the prospect of George Pell, so then Ouellet would be greeted with a sigh of relief. The advantage is that while Pell revels in his image as a stentorian ideologue, Ouellet is much more Canadian about such matters – politely firm. Pell would announce that he was going to screw over Eccleston Square and dare them to do something about it; Ouellet could screw them over so politely they wouldn’t realise until six months later. An intriguing choice.

E finalmente:
Couple more short snippets on the vaguely religious theme. The increasingly weird L’Osservatore Romano has a theory as to why Latin Americans are so good at football; and the wrath of the Almighty strikes the Lord Mayor of Leicester in a most excruciating way.


  1. July 2, 2010 at 9:56 am

    […] Sunrise considers the meaning of the meeting between Pope Benedict, Cardinal Schönborn and Cardinal […]

  2. Garibaldy said,

    July 2, 2010 at 11:35 am

    “The increasingly weird L’Osservatore Romano”.

    I imagine some of the people attracted here initially by your insights into SWP bunfights are probably thinking something not dissimilar. The heathen.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      July 2, 2010 at 6:48 pm

      I would be disappointed if they weren’t.

      • Garibaldy said,

        July 2, 2010 at 7:09 pm

        Nothing being used to serious and rigorous intellectual discussion, they won’t understand Benedict’s attractions to the likes of yourself.

      • July 5, 2010 at 11:10 pm

        As a Marxist myself, I consider the anguished groans of regular commenters who have realised that their host’s reality-tunnel is a little bit, er, catholic (small c) than theirs to be, as the young people say, lolarious.

  3. ejh said,

    July 2, 2010 at 11:38 am

    yes, the same Belgian police who performed so well against the Dutroux paedophile ring

    What’s your point here? How do you think Pope Rat has actually performed on this issue? Do you think that the demand to allow the Church a role in the investigation is a reasonable one, or is that another misinterpretation by underinformed and unsympathetic liberal journalists?

  4. robm said,

    July 2, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Anyone else struck by how much the Lord Mayor of Leicester looks like Andy Newman (with or without trousers)?

  5. Res Miranda said,

    July 2, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    And while we’re on the lookey-likey theme:

  6. ejh said,

    July 2, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    That is John Howard in the photo, isn’t it?

  7. Phil said,

    July 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    It’s that time of year when popes head for the hills.

    Oh blimey.

    Can you recommend a blogger with your wit, intelligence and sense of style, but who writes about Ireland and socialism?

    • ejh said,

      July 2, 2010 at 5:17 pm

      I reckon it’s some kind of annual gag. Last year was SWP infighting, this year is Roman Catholic Church infighting and next year will be whatever comes up.

  8. Pastor in Valle said,

    July 2, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    One other Cardinal in for a bo•••••ing in living memory (well, my mother’s)
    Cardinal Billot and Pius XI in about 1926.

  9. Pastor in Valle said,

    July 2, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I should have added, he emerged from the meeting as Fr Billot.

  10. shane said,

    July 2, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    I am rather disappointed Cardinal Pell didn’t get the job but I didn’t think it a serious possibility in the first place. He has a very direct way of speaking in the public square and has made a lot of enemies, including within the Australian episcopacy. CWN actually reported Vatican insiders as saying he was the Pope’s first choice but that he relented in the face of huge opposition. It is a tragedy that Cardinal Pell wasn’t appointed to Westminster over Archbishop Nichols; he has long criticized the bishops of England and Wales for failing to deal with the Tablet. Closer to home, he celebrated the usus antiquior at Cobh Cathedral at last year’s Foto Island Liturgical Conference. Cardinal Pell has long favoured liturgical reform and wants the ad orientem position to be made mandatory. It would be class (albeit unlikely) if he were appointed to take over Armagh.

    Cardinal Oullet is quintessential Communio. With almost half of Quebec’s bishops ready for retirement, he now has an opporunity to reshape the Quebec church for ever. Among the Quebec bishops he was the only one to oppose the government’s nationalization/secularization of Catholic parochial schools and to oppose the compulsory state religious curriculum. He’s no Pell but at least the awful Cardinal Re is gone.

    Cardinal Schoenborn actually won a lot of respect among Communio types for his role in the new Catechism but has progressively become more liberal as the years go by. He is not papabile (one hopes), he only received one vote in the last conclave (he voted for Cardinal Ratzginer, his former tutor). As you say his recent comments (not just on celibacy but also his pronounced hostility to the reconciliation with the SSPX) may be a conscious attempt to appeal to progressives in the next conclave, especially given that the once favoured extreme-liberal Cardinal Danneels is now too old and tainted by recent events.

    Brussels-based Chris Gillibrand has an extensive archive on both Cardinals on his excellent blog :

  11. Chris Williams said,

    July 2, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    1) Re the Lord Mayor of Leicester … While the Mayor’s trousers falling down is in fact inherently funny (I laughed), he’s actually getting rather a lot of undeserved stick for exercising his preference to opt out of some deeply unrepresentative C of E nonsense.

    2) Re the Belgian police. Let’s assume that you joined the Belgian police as a trainee patrolman the day after Dutroux escaped. You’d now be about half way to your pension. Meanwhile, the Belgian police forces have undergone some serious reform in response to the Dutroux scandal. I know that Johnny Foreigner never really learns anything, but why not hold out the possibility that once in a while he might?

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      July 2, 2010 at 10:26 pm

      1) As far as I’m concerned the whole issue of council prayers is a matter for the council, who can always take a vote as to whether or not to have them. There’s no compulsion on any council to have them, and I have little patience for this NSS court case to compel councils not to have them. Not for the first time, I wish Terry would take up hill walking or origami as an alternative hobby.

      2) We could make exactly the same point about the Catholic sex abuse scandal, where most of the crimes lie over thirty years in the past and the institutions have been seriously reformed over the past fifteen years or so in response to that, to the point where the US church’s independent auditors last year reported six contemporary allegations in a community of 65 million. Which runs up against the convenient assumption that Johnny Papist never learns anything…

      • ejh said,

        July 3, 2010 at 8:57 am

        Which is a rather convenient sidestep of the question, isn’t it? Try the one put to you at #3, perhaps.

      • Chris Williams said,

        July 6, 2010 at 4:14 pm

        Don’t worry bout the prayers, SS – as it stands they are in the Mayor’s discretion, as is the position of Chaplain. I don’t think anywhere should have them, but for now there are more important things to worry about. Civic services are mandated by standing orders, so these can be voted against by the council as a whole. Democracy will out, I imagine.

        As for the Belgian police (who never sleep, said the man once) the point I was trying to make was not that the RCC has been slack on this, but that your throwaway against the cops was not deserved: as you point out, a similar throwaway against the RCC (which I didn’t make…) would be equally unjustified.

  12. robert said,

    July 3, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    The Titus Oates tendency is never going to let the church live this scandal down, whatever they do to put matters right.

  13. GOR said,

    July 3, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Mark P. Not at all and ‘mass rape’ is the type of incendiary comment found among those who have an agenda against the Catholic Church (cfr. The New York Times inter alia…).

    But it would be nice if the media – and the public at large – addressed child abuse in general and not just as if it were a Catholic Church problem (which it is definitely not!). More abuse occurs in the home than anywhere else – as studies have shown. This is closely followed by “in the schools” (in the US particularly). But the Andersons of the world are not going to go after the Education System because there’s no money in it (awards against schools and teachers are capped in the US).

    Yes, we have had abuse by clerics and even one case is one too many, but the Catholic Church in recent years has done more to forestall this than any other organization that I know of. Yet, it is still being pilloried in the media. It is a convenient target and is used to distract from the bigger problem.

    Motes and beams…

    • WorldbyStorm said,

      July 4, 2010 at 12:43 am

      Really, GOR, it’s done more than any other organization to forestall it? I am hugely sympathetic to the Church, but my God, the Irish experience would tell one otherwise where the papal nuncio would not engage with the commission of inquiry set up by the state on the issue.

      A little overly sanguine of you I fear. And unfortunately that too, in tandem with other evidence, points up some slight flaws in the idea that the Church either in Ireland or elsewhere has filled in the gap in its understanding, or lack of same on sex abuse. We’re nowhere near out of the woods on this one.

      • shane said,

        July 4, 2010 at 1:12 am

        Basic courtesy would have demanded the nuncio reply to Justice Murphy’s letter. Unfortunately Vatican officials can make a right mess of things, like the titular archbishop who didn’t send the Pope information about Bishop Williamson’s holocaust denial, because he didn’t think it important.

    • Una Walsh said,

      July 4, 2010 at 3:45 pm

      GOR Its The Cover-up Stupid

      • GOR said,

        July 5, 2010 at 1:52 pm

        Yes Una, it’s that too and I would like to have seen more bishops taken to the woodshed or summarily dismissed. At least in Ireland there were some resignations for failure to act. Here in the US the only resignations came when the personal depredations of the individual bishops and archbishops became public knowledge.

        You are at the ‘beginning of the cycle’ in Europe as these things come out. We have had it here in the US for the past 10+ years. Much has been done and progress made – which was the basis for my comment that the Church is the only organization – as such – addressing the problem systematically. It’s not perfect and it is not finished – but it is being addressed.

        Abuse is everywhere – in homes, schools, sports and other religions. It is not confined to the Catholic Church. So when other organizations and public bodies begin addressing it as the Church is doing I’ll take the criticism of the media. Until then “look to your own house” people – and look in the mirror!

  14. Gabriel Austin said,

    July 4, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Before mindlessly repeating the error that clerical celibacy first began in the Middle Ages,
    you might have a glance at Fr. Cochini’s THE APOSTOLIC ORIGINS OF PRIESTLY CELIBACY

  15. Warren said,

    July 4, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    I’m glad Gabriel Austin challenged that old canard, i.e., the faux origins of clerical celibacy. More Catholics would do well to get acquainted with the foundations of the discipline, e.g., evidenced in Matthew 19:12, and avoid giving ammo to those who denigrate the gift of celibacy.

  16. shane said,

    July 4, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    Celibacy does has very antique, if patchy, origins in Latin Christendom even though it was not universally ‘mandated’ until the Gregorian reforms. Which is why we have surnames like McAnespie and McTaggart.

    The Orthodox (and most Uniates indirectly) still adhere to the Council of Trullo canon on this – married men may be ordained priests but bishops must be celibate. Though as SS said, even in the Latin rite, this is a matter of discipline, not doctrine, and hence totally reformable. As has been done with the very unfortunate restoration of the diaconate.

  17. Francesca said,

    July 5, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    Why would that result in names like McTaggart?

    • shane said,

      July 6, 2010 at 12:24 am

      McTaggart comes from Mac an tSagairt (son of the priest)

  18. PamDirac said,

    July 6, 2010 at 5:59 am

    Mixa, who is apparently indispensable, will return to unspecified “pastoral duties” after his time of retirement and reflection. No doubt it beats jail time.

  19. shane said,

    July 6, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    RE: the Dutroux scandal, Gillibrand (based in Brussels) has an amazing scoop….

  20. Nathaniel said,

    July 8, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    I’ll bump in here to note once again that I think ordination of women is currently magisterially impossible, not theologically impossible. That is to say, it’s an authority issue (along with a tradition issue) as opposed to an issue that dumbfounds all theological arguments for it within Roman Catholic beliefs.

  21. robert said,

    July 9, 2010 at 12:28 am

    Allowing priests to marry and accepting condoms would be nice. But a Catholic Vicar of Dibley is not going to happen.

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