Is Cardinal Schönborn coping? Or just backpedaling?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 01, 2012

The open rebellion among the Catholic clergy of Austria, and the fact that Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has taken no disciplinary action against the rebels, leads Christa Pongratz-Lippitt to pose a question in a National Catholic Reporter column:

Is Austria, led by Schönborn, perhaps becoming a testing ground on how to cope with some of the chief dilemmas facing Catholic priests in their pastoral work today?

That seems a reasonable question. But it assumes that Cardinal Schönborn is coping with the challenges facing the Church in a secularized European society. Is he?

When Austrian priests issued a “Call to Disobedience,” urging their colleagues to challenge Church teachings. Cardinal Schönborn chided them, saying that he was “shocked” by their open defiance, but did not envision disciplinary action. Then the dissident priests raised the stakes, saying that they had been ignoring “certain valid and strict church rulings for years.” Now the cardinal warned against “an open break.” He said: “Disobedience is a fighting word that cannot go unchallenged.” Still he did not take disciplinary action. Most recently Cardinal Schönborn has captured attention by approving the membership of a openly practicing homosexual on a parish council.

There’s no question that Catholic bishops and priests in Austria are facing the toughest challenges that the Church confronts today, from secularism without and dissent within. The question is whether Cardinal Schönborn is actually coping with those challenges, or yielding to the onslaught.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: John J Plick - May. 02, 2012 12:01 PM ET USA

    This “white flag” concept concerns me.Any man who has served in the military knows that any traitor caught and convicted during wartime is almost always executed, and that by his fellows. It is simple logic that any rebel in the ranks, whether covert or more explicit, can do much damage, with the ability to destroy the lives of others and to seriously compromise the legitimate goals of the commanders. It is one thing to “struggle with sin” It is quite another to actively cooperate with the enemy

  • Posted by: Defender - May. 01, 2012 6:51 PM ET USA

    But how different really is Schonborn from Wuerl, O'Malley, Sartain, etc? One gets rid of a priest doing his job (and ignores politicians and universities conducting themselves in contradiction to the Faith), another overturned the ruling of one his priests in dealing with a gay couple's child in school (and school indifference to the Faith), and another had priests defy his request to gather signatures in defense of marriage. What is the common thread?

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - May. 01, 2012 5:31 PM ET USA

    A more disturbing trend is for bishops to respond to criticism by suspending or reassigning priests who act without malice but in a way that explodes in the media as "insensitivity" against a favored group. Cutting priests like this off at the knees is certain to encourage any priest to say "yes" to anything a homosexual asks for, knowing that the bishop has the "back" of the homosexual.

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - May. 01, 2012 4:35 PM ET USA

    He seems to be raising the white flag. All words and no action, or worse the wrong action.