Cardinal Christoph Schönbor

Cardinal Schönborn Adds His Voice to the Criticisms against the German Synodal Way: “It’s An Instrumentalization of Abuse”

At the same time, it’s “very questionable that this really does justice to the subject of abuses and those affected,” he stressed.

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(ZENIT News / Vienna, 16.06.2022).- Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has expressed serious doubts on the reform process or Synodal Way of the German Church. Despite the importance of investigating the scandal of abuses, of shedding light on it and listening to the victims, he considers problematic the far-reaching demands of the German Synodal Way. “It seems to me that this expression ‘an instrumentalization of abuse’ is, perhaps, too strong. At least the danger exists,” said Cardinal Schönborn in an interview with the latest issue of the Communio Review. At the same time, it’s “very questionable that this really does justice to the subject of abuses and those affected,” he added. 

The Cardinal is disconcerted by the “very speedy move from the subject of abuses to questions of the Church’s constitution. Moreover, “the proofs of this connection “ are far from being reflected and proven. “Is there really a direct connection that abuse has happened in the Church because there isn’t a separation of powers in the sense of constitutional democratic States? I doubt it,” said Cardinal Schönborn in an interview with the editor of “Communio,” Viennese Professor of Dogmatics Jan-Heiner Tuck. The fact of abuses “isn’t an argument against the leadership,” the fact of the coverup on the part of Bishops and priests isn’t in itself “an argument against the episcopal constitution of the Church.” Undoubtedly, abuse by priests is “certainly the worst form of abuse,” but to use this as an argument “that Jesus’ foundation must be changed or corrected  seems mistaken to me.” 

Cardinal Schönborn contrasted this with the Austrian way of addressing abuses. The Groer case not only led to the resignation of Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer in 1995, but also to the establishment of the first office of a Defender of the People in all German-speaking areas, an institution that, since then, is taken for granted and proven. Moreover, in 2010, the reaction was quick with the creation of the Office of the Independent Defender for the Protection of Victims, under the direction of Waltraud Klasnic, and the independent establishment  of a Foundation for the Protection of Victims. “This way was clearly oriented to the victims. Of course the question remains if this or that Bishop, this or that ecclesiastical institution, Religious Order, etc. covered it up or not. However, one thing was clear to us: it must be, first of all, about those affected.” 

Ordination Isn’t Negotiated

However, a debate on synodality has meaning only if the Bible-based foundations and the Tradition aren’t ignored. If, for example, the Synodal Way in Germany questions the ordained ministry itself, “then something has failed here, plain and simple,” said the Cardinal. This can’t be negotiated in a synodal way. After all, there are “clear magisterial statements’ of several Popes. Nor must the Tradition be rejected as source of the Church’s teaching in theological matters. “That is no longer synodality, it’s something else, but it’s certainly not synodality in the sense of the Church.” 

Cardinal Schönborn was also opposed to the “affirmation fuelled by the media that if the Church doesn’t modernize now, she will perish. Such an attitude would only produce a “disagreeable mood of fatality.” Instead, he advocated for the maintenance of an “interior space” for Tradition and “fidelity to a diachronic synodality.” Referring to the exclusion of women from the priesthood, for example, he suggested: “Perhaps there is a meaning here that’s not clear to me now, or for the majority of present-day society, but which perhaps the Church is charged with guarding.” 

“Make Me to Know Thy Ways, O Lord” 

Moreover, synodality, in Pope Francis’ sense and the Synodal Way initiated by him, means a “spiritual path of searching, prayer and petition,” said the Cardinal – “And together.” This theological understanding of synodality is founded ultimately in the Trinity, that is, in the holy order of origin” of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Hence synodality and hierarchy must not be understood as “opposed.” Cardinal Schönborn added: “I think it would be an important topic to reflect more widely on this Trinitarian origin of synodality.” 

What synodality means in essence is expressed clearly in the biblical Psalm “Make me know thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths” (Psalm 25:4), continued the Archbishop of Vienna. The “I” of this petition could be related with the Church, the People of God, and she would say then: “Show us your way, teach us your paths.” This summarizes several elements that are  essential for synodality “In the first place, direction to the Lord. It’s a petition addressed to the Lord.” This “eccentric orientation to the Lord” is important and helps to “break the self-referential speeches on the reform.” To address the Lord also clarifies that: “We don’t know it all. We are searching. We are searching for ways and we ask the Lord: “Show us –not only me but us as community–, your ways. It’s not about our ways but His.” 

To be pointed out also is that the Psalm uses the plural deliberately. “It’s not a way decreed here for all in the same way, but they are ‘His ways.”’ Hence, synodality is first of all a petition to the Lord for His ways. This excludes other ways; it’s about processes of discernment,” said the Cardinal. Therefore, discernment must be done jointly and with the Lord in mind, not to end in mistaken ways or dead ends. Cardinal Schönborn summarized his thought: a “synod is a common path. And this means that it is both a spiritual path as well as one of action. 

With information of KathPress

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