What on earth has happened to Cardinal Schönborn?

Cardinal Schönborn: there is 'an inconsistency between what he thinks and what he says' (CNS photo)

What has happened to Cardinal Schönborn – bulwark of orthodoxy against the alternative Magisterium and the loonies of “We are Church”, chief creator of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, disciple and former student of Professor Ratzinger? Now he is being respectfully quoted by the Tablet: in a meeting with editors of the main Austrian newspapers the cardinal, reported the awestruck Pill recently, “declared that … lasting gay relationships deserved respect. He reiterated his view that the Church needs to reconsider its position on remarried divorcees.”

There has also been a call for “re-examination of the requirement for priestly celibacy in the light of the child abuse scandals”; and then there is his support for Medjugorje. His latest headline-catching initiative, of course, was to have a go at Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the former Vatican Secretary of State, saying that he had offended victims of child abuse by calling their complaints “petty gossip”. All this led to the public rebuke by the Pope recently reported in The Catholic Herald.

So what is Cardinal Schönborn playing at? The trouble, says one Vatican observer, is “the inconsistency between what he thinks – completely in line with the Pope – and what he says and does for attention and applause”. Well, maybe. But the cardinal has a defender who deserves respect – Fr Joseph Fessio, founder of the Ignatius Press, and like the cardinal a former student of Professor Ratzinger (I have an interest to declare, since he has published two books of mine). The Tablet, he says, distorted the whole thing (that, of course, is always plausible): Cardinal Schönborn “is not calling for any change in the Church’s teaching or discipline. He is calling for a deeper understanding of the struggle to live the high demands of the moral law… And he is trying to be transparent and responsive to the press.”

All the same, maybe Cardinal Schönborn needs to ponder the fate of General Stanley McChrystal: for, those who think they can handle the media not infrequently find themselves wishing they had just kept quiet.