Interview with Cardinal Schönborn

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn is the archbishop of Vienna. In the past weeks his visit to Bosnian pilgrimage site Medjugorje has been the reason for criticism and, rumour has it, a private audience with the pope. On the occasion of his 65th birthday, last Friday, German Catholic news outlet Kath.net had an interview with the cardinal. He talks about his relationship with Christ, the past and future, the media and the Church, the Wagner affair, and indeed Medjugorje.

by Petra Knapp-Biermeier

Kath.net: Lord Cardinal, on 22 January you celebrate your 65th birthday, for which we heartily congratulate you. To start with a  ‘birthday question’, which takes us a bit into the realm of fantasy: it is the year 2020, you are celebrating your 75th birthday, and you are looking back on the past ten years. What is the best of these ten years? What of the things that you have achieved, experienced or overcome, pleases you?

Cardinal Schönborn: I have to be honest and say that I can’t answer that, since I can’t see into the future. Of course, I see tasks in my services to the diocese. I can only say: my wish for the coming years is simply that we will live ever more in faith, hope and love, that we will be connected to Christ, that many people will understand this faith, that many people will be open to the mercy and allow God to affect them. That is really all I can say. But I believe that that is the most important.

KATH.NET: In hard times, what has helped you to go on and look to the future without doubt?

Cardinal Schönborn: Always two things: my relationship with Christ and my friends. I believe that that is the essence. Recourse to Jesus is always truly affirming and supporting, to be  actively connected to Him, concretely in the Gospel, to His person, His words, to His life, particularly in the Eucharist, his presence in the tabernacle. The other thing is the invaluable gift of friendship that Jesus has established between Him and us, because He also wanted to be alive among us.

KATH.NET: Many people are open to God, but reject the Church as an institution. What do you say to them?

Cardinal Schönborn: I often and directly say: I was that you may have the same positive experience in the Church that I had. To that I usually add that I know that I can easily say that when you didn’t have such an experience yourself. But for me the Church has always been a home. I thank the Church for so very much and therefore I wish that others can have the same experience. I also ask them to remove preconceptions. The mistakes of the Church should admitted and be named. Jesus did the same towards His apostles, and the apostles did it in the gospels. They loyally wrote about the mistakes they made themselves. But we should also speak up when the Church has been done an injustice, when false preconceptions exist. We should know the history of the Church better. There are exceedingly false depictions of the crusades, the inquisition or the affairs around Galilei. These typical reproaches against the Church usually come from a very deep ignorance. We have the task to discredit and explain all preconceptions.

KATH.NET: Lord Cardinal, you have contributed to Church history – the Catechism of the Catholic Church. What changes or developments would you still like to see within the Church?

Cardinal Schönborn: The great new mission in Europe! That certainly is a great dream. Europe was initially evangelised in early Christian times, the apostolic times. The apostles travelled far. The Iro-Scottish monks were the second great missionary wave. The waves of evangelisation were also always waves of renewal. The great  monasticism reform of Cluny, followed by the reform of Citeaux with its enormous expansion with monasteries over all of Europe. With the growth of the cities came the mendicant orders, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, who evangelised the growing urban population. That was followed by the great renewal of the Counter-Reformation. The 19th century, during the industrialisation, was also a  source of renewal in the Church. I hope we will see something similar in our time. But we don’t really control that – they are forces that come from inside, from the power of Heaven. Renewal must truly come from the power of God. But there are many signs that the Lord is also the Lord of history: if he told Abraham that He could bring the stones to live,  he can spring a new source of fervour for the gospel in Europe, where the faith has grown weak, through special mercies.

KATH.NET: In the last few days you have visited Pope Benedict XVI. Did you tell him about your positive impression of Medjugorje? Did he say anything about that?

Cardinal Schönborn: One usually doesn’t speak about audiences. But of course I can say this much: Medjugorje is a topic in Rome now, because of the publicity surrounding my pilgrimage. I reported about my impressions in Rome. And I trust that the Committee, which the Holy Father established to research the events at Medjugorje, will do god and responsible work, and the result will certainly be very positive. I am certain that they’ll be careful and sensitive about this phenomenon, which by now has attracted 30 million pilgrims and has given much good fruits, as well as many questions.

KATH.NET: Recently, the numbers of Church leavings were presented in Austria. From 40,654 leavings in 2008 to 53,215 in 2009 was a major increase. How do you see this development, what do you think is the reason for it, and how will the Church respond?

Cardinal Schönborn: There are some precise indications: The strong increase in Church leavings in the beginning of the year seems to have to do with the response to the appointment of a bishop and the Williamson affair and the strong reactions to those. But the fact that the leavings remained high throughout the year has, in our opinion, to do with the economic crisis. Many people have worries about their jobs. They simply save money were possible, and that directly affects the Church contributions. Sadly we have not succeeded to explain to contributing Catholics that, when they have financial problems, there are reductions possible. Many people pay their contribution without requesting a reduction or a partial payback – and that;s the end of the story.

KATH.NET: The Church has been confronted with the involvement of the media and lobbyists at the appointment of bishops. What do you think of this development? Should the Church respond to this pressure from outside, and how?

Cardinal Schönborn: That has always been the case. Even when I look at my own family history – I am the eighth bishop in my family -, what manner of tensions and conflict there were, for example on the baroque period. it’s a sign of life, that there is an interest in the bishop. If no one cared who would become a bishop, that would be a bad sign. The fact that many people were concerned about who became bishop is a sign that many people feel that the office of bishop is important in the Church. And of course there are ideological conflict surrounding the appointment of bishops.

If someone is said to be conservative, you may be sure that there will be protests from the media. But the person in question also has some influence. One can’t and shouldn’t avoid all conflicts, but many don’t exists until we cause them ourselves. But here we should look at the individual case. One thing is clear: the Church has long fought for the freedom to appoint her own bishops. She can’t and won’t renounce this freedom. The pope is free to appoint bishops. Of course it’s important that he receives good information so that the institutes that prepare they can work well and thoroughly. And I’m certain that they do this. But the local churches themselves also have responsibility, because Church law dictates that every bishops’ conference must forward a list of possible bishop candidates to Rome every three years. And every single bishop is similarly charged to send well-founded reports for the appointment of bishops to Rome. We have often neglected to do that in Austria.

KATH.NET: Thank you very much for this interview and good wishes and God’s blessing on your birthday!

Source

A cat and her people

The sad story of the last days of Zoe, the little blind cat that lives with author Neil Gaiman, is one I’ve been following these past days. No idea why – I don’t know the cat or her people (apart from Mr. Gaiman’s books, which are highly recommended) – except that it’s both a heartbreaking and heartwarming story. Pets really can have an immeasurable influence on us and when they die, we really mourn. Start with the post dated 21 January on Neil Gaimain’s blog, which also links to the writing of some of Zoe’s other people.

Critical blogging – some thoughts

Knowledgeable laity

In the process of becoming an active Catholic blogger, I have been introduced to a fair number of colleagues, so to speak: people who are Catholic and blog about their faith and the Church. Sometimes they are diarists writing about their personal experiences, sometimes professional theologians or priests and sometimes knowledgeable lay people. Any combination of the above is also possible of course, but I want to focus specifically on the latter group: the knowledgeable laity.

These are often devoted Catholics who know their way around theology and liturgy, the world Church and their local parish. As such they can, and often will, connect what happens on the local level to the greater theological trends and events in Rome, as well as Church history and dogma. And that is good. The individual parishes and dioceses aren’t separate but, to paraphrase yesterday’s second reading, members of one body, and the body as a whole is the deciding factor of the actions of the members, even if sometimes unconsciously.

These knowledgeable lay bloggers have an acute awareness of the connection between members and body, and vice versa. And that is perhaps especially so when something disturbs that connection, when a member does not fit in well, or does something that is harmful to other members or the body as a whole. In the Netherlands there are many instances, past and present, of such a disruption, and these pop up in the media every now and then. Parishes coming up with homemade liturgies, priests or pastoral workers spouting non-Catholic theology, and they often do it without knowing it.

Bishops

In a diocese the bishop is ultimately responsible for making sure the members – faithful, priests, parishes – under his jurisdiction are healthy and function well. The bishops of a Church province are gathered in a bishops’ conference and this conference is called to Rome regularly – theoretically every five years – in a so-called ad limina visit. In Rome, they meet with curia officials and the pope to discuss the specific events, positive and negative, in their Church province. Often, the conclusions of an ad limina visit are collected in a document, and the bishops return home with, literally, a mission. It is but one of the means through which the body of the Church makes sure its members are healthy and function properly. It may sound horribly clinical, but in a gathering as large as the Catholic Church, clear regulations are a boon.

The Dutch bishops last visited Rome in 2004, so the next visit should have taken place last year. However, the five-year minimum is somewhat flexible due to time constraints of pope, curia and local bishops. The next ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops will, however, not be far off.

Detecting problems

There are also other ways for members and body to function properly. The members themselves may detect a disturbance and alert other members and the body. They are often closer to the action, after all. But what is the best way to follow this route?

There are members of the group of knowledgeable lay bloggers who take it upon themselves to alert other members, specifically other faithful, the bishops and the rest of the magisterium. They do so through blogging about illegal developments in parishes and dioceses, collecting reports of individual infractions or dubious developments, and sometimes hinting at plans to send it to Rome on the occasion of a future ad limina visit.

The question is: does this work?

On one level it does. It makes people aware of what goes on, and why certain developments are not good. Awareness of the problem is essential when you want to find a solution.

On another level it does not work; the bloggers’ tone and emphasis on the negative will put people off from either the blog, its author or, worse, the bishops responsible and the Church. Then you end up with members operating outside the body. Too often, the blogs in question paint pictures of faithful, priests, pastoral workers and bishops that are not favourable, to put it mildly. They say the responsible parties do nothing, keep their eyes closed. Sometimes such criticism is justified, but not when the goal is finding a remedy to the problem.

In the Church we have bishops and priests to act as shepherds of their flock, to lead them and do what is necessary to keep the flock together and on track. The flock does not decide what, when and how a shepherd will act, although a good shepherd looks at his flock’s signs and bases his actions on that. The approach I outlined above is basically a case of sheep trying to taking over from the shepherd. An oft-heard complaint is that a bishop does not act, or not soon enough. I would say that not all actions of a shepherd are, or should be, public knowledge. Deducing that something goes wrong in a parish does not mean that the bishop sits back and condones it. Maybe he is working on finding a solution, or perhaps he is waiting for an official report which takes time. Outside the diocesan offices there will be little indication of that. But the fact that we can’t see through walls does not mean that nothing happens behind those walls. We will see and hear once a door or window opens.

The approach of documenting the abuses and disturbances online and suggesting a lack of action from the parties responsible is ultimately incomplete  and wrong. It creates a certain measure of critical questioning, to be sure, but also frustration, antagonism, polarisation and a misguided sense of influence (a few hundred page views per day and a hundred followers of Twitter do not mean you have the ear of Rome), but does not lead to concrete solutions.

In my opinion any lasting solutions can only be achieved through and by the body of the Church as a whole, so through the hierarchy as it exists. Bishops and other responsible persons must be made aware of abuses, but can’t be left out of any debate or discussion. It is the duty of the reporting party to ask directly for answers from the responsible party. Simply throwing it online and expecting a bishop to read it and come running with a solution does not cut it. Neither does ignoring said bishop and hurry to tell his superiors, or paint a  picture of him.

I often get the impression that people see priests and bishops as mere appointed officials in the bureaucratic system, and not as the ordained members of the Church of Christ. Through their ordination they have the obligation and ability to teach and shepherded, but also the right to our obedience.

I’ll end with some words from Father Martin Kromann Knudsen, FSSP, found here:

The pope, the bishops and the priests have the power to lead and manage us in the name of Christ. Through them we received the merciful life through baptism, they give us the bread of heaven and raise us to be children of God. In Christ’s place they are our spiritual fathers. We must honour them, love them and obey them. If we do not agree with them we must keep that to ourselves. It is not honourable for a Catholic to openly protest the authority of the Church. An obedient child of the Church ideally offers his displeasure in prayer, and returns to his religious duties, which is to sanctify his soul.