Cardinal Christoph Shönborn, Archbishop of Vienna Photo: Communio

Cardinal Christoph Shönborn: I Am Impressed by the Pope’s Patience with the German Bishops

Cardinal Christoph Shönborn: I Am Impressed by the Pope’s Patience with the German Bishops

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(ZENIT News / Viena, 02.03.2024).- Cardinal Christoph Shönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, granted an interview to the Communio Review. In it he addressed current ecclesial issues.

Responding to a question about the Vatican’s letter that halted the establishment of a Synodal Committee in Germany, Cardinal Shönborn said that “The growing tensions are not an expression of a conflict ‘Rome against Germany,’ instead it’s about a basic understanding of the Church. The Pope’s first task is to teach and protect the faith of the Church. The concern that the Pope and his colleagues of the Roman Dicasteries have expressed repeatedly is, first of all, concern for a correct understanding of the Church. And it’s not about the power of the Roman See against the power of the local Churches, but of the unity of the faith, which is the main service that Peter’s ministry must maintain.”

Further on in the interview, the Archbishop of Vienna noted that “The total absence of the subject of evangelization in the German Synodal Way makes me question the image of the Church expressed here. The impression is that the Pope’s concerns are simply not being attended. It seems to me simply that the important impulses of the Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ of 2013 are lacking. Never in the long history of the Church has the Church spoken about herself in such a broad and clear way as in Vatican Council II. Here, too, it’s about the renewal of the Church at the service of the world. Rome’s criticisms refer ultimately to the deficits in the reception of Vatican Council II’s ecclesiology.”

And when it is pointed out to the Cardinal that there are people who see in the German Synodal Way a continuation of Vatican Council II’s ecclesiology, he answered: “The Council developed an understanding of the Bishop that is based, ultimately, on the foundation of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, chapter 3), whose norm is not the skilful balance of relations of power. The office of the Bishop lies in the continuity of the apostolic proclamation and is equipped with a power that is given with the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Therefore, it’s unacceptable that mixed committees and their majority votes determine the Church’s future destiny. This is the task of Bishops as witnesses of the faith sacramentally authorized. As a Bishop with many years of experience, I am conscious, of course, that the use of the sacramental service is something culturally resistant.”

Cardinal Schönborn, who is also a Count as his parents were nobles (his father a Count and his mother a Baroness), stressed the Pope’s authority vis-à-vis the Germans when he said: “the Pope’s repeated requests are not simply contributions to a debate on synodality, these statements  — and especially in the German Bishops’ letter that has now been made public — refer to all the weight of the Episcopal Ministry, cum and sub Petro. This touches a key point of the constitution of the Catholic Church. Hence, the German Bishops must ask themselves seriously if they really want to withdraw from communion with and under the Pope or, instead, accept it loyally. To refuse to yield would be an obstinacy, a clear sign of a schism that no one can want.

With a fine irony, the Archbishop of Vienna noted that the Vatican letter, with which the establishment of the Synodal Committee was forbidden, appeared at the start of Lent, time of reflection and conversion, and asked himself if the time in which it was sent  and received wasn’t also a message.

Criticizing the German Synodal Committee, a superstructure that puts in suspense a Bishop’s personal authority, the Austrian Cardinal exhorted the German Bishops and laity, saying: please, study Vatican Council II carefully!!! We have this Council — in continuity with the Church’s great teaching tradition — as a guideline on the questions debated here. Both dogmas are affected in the establishment of the Synodal Committee because the understanding of the Bishop as executive organ of the decisions of the synodal majority is not compatible with that of the Council. Rome’s statements have reminded us repeatedly and emphatically that the Synodal Committee is also incompatible with the current law. To ignore this would be negligent.”

Commenting on the anxieties of part of the laity, the one that lobbies and is known as the Central Committee of German Catholics, the Cardinal of Vienna said: “it must be remembered that the positions of the Central Committee of German Catholics are not simply the expression of the faith of the People of God. Pope Francis has reminded repeatedly the teaching of the Council on the infallibility of the People of God in the matter of faith. The question to determine what constitutes  the sensus fidei cannot be answered univocally; the sense of faith of the People of God cannot be measured demographically. The Bishop cannot delegate to committees his personal responsibility to transmit the faith. Therefore, the figure of the voluntary compromise of the Bishops with the decisions of the synodal councils is incompatible with the heart of the episcopal mission.”

Finally, the Archbishop of the Austrian capital appreciated the Pope with the following words: “I’m impressed by the patience with which the Pope and Roman Dicasteries attempt to maintain the dialogue with the German Bishops and maintain unity and communion. Not a few accuse the Pope and his collaborators  of being too patient, saying that for some time now the moment has arrived to react with drastic measures. No, including after Rome’s last letter: the window for dialogue continues open! My impression is that the Pope and the Roman Dicasteries  have done everything possible to accommodate the German Bishops. Therefore, we must also hope that the German Bishops make concessions in exchange, and the German Bishops must also hope that the Central Committee of the German Catholics does not overreach itself.”

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Joachin Meisner Hertz

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