Vatican rebukes archbishop for abuse remarks
He had rapped prelate’s stance against inquiry
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican issued an unprecedented rebuke yesterday of a top cardinal who had accused the retired Vatican secretary of state of blocking clerical sex abuse investigations, publicly dressing down a man who had been praised for his criticism of church abuse coverups.
The silencing of Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna and a man long considered a papal contender, drew heated criticism from clerical abuse victims. They said the Vatican should be honoring Schoenborn, not publicly humiliating him, for his calls for greater transparency and demands for a crackdown on priests who rape and sodomize children.
Schoenborn has also called for an open discussion of priestly celibacy, a stance that the Vatican said he clarified yesterday during an audience with the pope.
As it admonished Schoenborn, the Vatican appeared caught on the defensive on two other fronts in the ongoing sex abuse scandal: It remained locked in a diplomatic tiff with Belgium over the brazen raid on church offices last week, during which police detained bishops and even opened a crypt in search of church abuse documents. And it bristled at the US Supreme Court decision to let a sex abuse lawsuit in Oregon naming the Holy See go ahead.
Schoenborn had accused the Vatican’s former secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, in April of blocking a church investigation into the late Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who was accused by victims in 1995 of abusing boys at a seminary — a scandal that rocked the Austrian church and cost Groer his job.
Schoenborn also accused Sodano of causing “massive harm’’ to victims when he dismissed claims of clerical abuse as “petty gossip’’ on Easter Sunday.
The Vatican said yesterday that only the pope can level such accusations against a cardinal, not another fellow prince of the church. And it sought to clarify the “petty gossip’’ comment, noting that the pope himself had used the same phrase a week earlier, referring to the need to have “courage to not be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinions.’’
The phrase suggested the pope and his collaborators believed that hundreds of reports flooding in of children being molested by priests, and ensuing questions about the Vatican’s handling of such cases, were mere gossip, not serious crimes.
The Vatican said that interpretation was “erroneous,’’ although it did not explain what the pontiff or Sodano meant by the phrase.
The main US victims’ group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the criticism of Schoenborn, coupled with the pope’s harsh denunciation of the Belgian raid over the weekend, showed that the pope’s professed claim to do everything possible to stop priestly abuse was little more than lip service.
“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.
In a separate development, a panel appointed by the Catholic church to investigate clerical sex abuse in Belgium said yesterday that it is shutting down after police seized all its files during a raid last week.
Peter Adriaenssens, a child psychiatrist who chaired the panel, said authorities betrayed the trust of nearly 500 victims who had made complaints over the past two months to the church panel. He blamed state prosecutors for pursuing victims too traumatized to speak to police. “We were bait,’’ he said.