by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt The Tablet
The cardinal was delivering a lengthy, detailed lecture on clerical sex abuse at the University of Vienna.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn at the Synod of Bishops on Young People last year.
Photo: Vandeville Eric/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images
Clerical abuse is a “massive reality” in the Church caused among other factors by “closed systems” and the overinflated authority of priests, according to Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.
In a 50-minute lecture at Vienna University, one of a weekly series the University is holding on “The Sexual Abuse of Minors: Crime and Responsibility” in the winter semester, Cardinal Schönborn described in detail how, after listening to abuse victims over the past 20 or so years, he had come to the conclusion that clerical spiritual and sexual abuse – but above all the abuse of clerical power – was a “massive reality” in the Catholic Church.
The cardinal said: “I am not speaking on this painful subject as an expert but as someone who has repeatedly been confronted with abuse and who has learnt a great deal about it – but certainly not enough. That is why, as a first step, I am going to relate – quite unsystematically – what I have learnt about abuse and then try to sum up what must be done about it.”
He had learnt that it was normal for abuse victims to take decades to talk about the abuse they had experienced as the primary concern of perpetrators was to swear them to silence “with all the means at hand”. If and when the victims finally got round to to talking about the abuse, they underwent a second “massive” trauma, which was often worse than the first, he said.
Clerical abuse victims were especially terrified of breaking their silence, as they were often told by their priest perpetrators that it would be a grave sin to disclose the abuse.
He knew of priests who had forced their victims to swear in front of the tabernacle that they would remain silent for ever. “If you ever tell anyone, you will go to hell,” is literally drummed into them, often with force, he said.
And it is the more terrible if the priest then delegates the blame onto the victim and, for example, says: “It’s your fault that I now have a stomach ulcer.”
And yet one of the most important things he had learnt was how crucial it was for victims to talk about the abuse they had experienced “as otherwise they can never be healed”, the cardinal said.
He had first come into close contact with clerical abuse victims in 1995 after his predecessor, the then Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër, was accused of sexual abuse, the cardinal recalled.
He had succeeded Groër and for the next three years had listened at length to Groër’s victims. It had been “shattering to discover how closely clerical sexual abuse is linked with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to discover that it often begins in the confessional.”
He had finally come to the conclusion that what they told him was the truth and had assured them that he believed them. In March of that year (1998), he, together with three other Austrian bishops, had publicly declared that they had reached the “moral certainty” that the allegations against Groër were “in essence” correct.
They felt obliged to declare this publicly, they said, as the Church’s pastoral work would otherwise “be burdened with the crippling suspicion that the reputation of a cardinal is more important than the well-being of young people.”
The four bishops’ declaration had led to great difficulties with Rome, Schönborn explained, “but it was necessary to speak out publicly in a situation in which churchmen were openly lying about what had happened.”
In Rome, on their ad Limina visit a few months later, (November 1998), the Austrian bishops criticised the Church’s handling of the sex-abuse allegations against Groer in their report for the Pope, but their fellow Austrian bishop, the late Kurt Krenn of Sankt Pölten, a staunch supporter of Groer, publicly contradicted his fellow bishops and told “the liars to hold their traps”, Schönborn recalled.
“I also experienced the same thing during my controversy with Cardinal (Angelo) Sodano (the former Secretary of State from 1991-2006); who literally said – to my face – ‘Victims? That is what you say!’” Two months later, he had been called to Rome and, in Sodano’s and Pope Benedict’s presence, had had to apologise to the Pope for criticising Sodano, he recalled.
“Certain people in the Vatican lied”, Schönborn said looking back at what had happened. They had vilified the victims in order to protect the Church, he said, “but the Church is best served when the truth is revealed. ‘The truth will set you free’”, he recalled.
It had been much the same earlier this year, when he told Doris Wagner-Reisinger, in a televised interview that he believed her when she said that she had been raped by a priest when she was a member of “The Work”, Schönborn said.
He had once again been widely criticised for saying he believed her. High-ranking churchmen had accused him of believing abuse victims without being able to prove whether the abuse had actually taken place, Schönborn said. He was fully aware that fabrication on the part of victims was possible.
“When I insist that I believe a victim, however, I am speaking diagnostically as it were. A conversation with an abuse victim is not a legal proceeding.” The cardinal then went on to trace how, in his opinion, clerical sexual abuse came about.
“Benedict XVI attempted a diagnosis which I do not wish to criticise but merely want to correct by citing a few figures. Benedict is of the opinion that clerical sexual abuse has its origins in 1968 Movement. The figures for Austria show a totally different picture”, said Schönborn.
In Austria, 60 per cent of the clerical sexual abuse cases had been committed between 1940 and 1969. The number had then fallen to 27 per cent between 1970-79 and since the year 2000 was just 0.9 per cent.
That the majority of cases had occurred before the council was certainly “food for thought”, he said. One reason for this had been that the pre-conciliar Church had been a closed system. “In closed systems abuse occurs far more frequently than in open ones.”
With its full churches and intensive religious life, the pre-conciliar Church had been fascinating, the cardinal recalled, “but the authority priests had had then was over-inflated to an unhealthy extent” and so it was “obviously” a lot easier for abuse of power and sexual abuse to spread.
It had now been statistically proved that boarding schools facilitated the abuse of minors. “Abuse has occurred far less frequently now that we no longer have boarding schools in Austria,” said Schönborn.
It was “both shattering and confusing” that so many founders of the new movements had turned out to be clerical sexual abusers, he said and asked: “What are the roots of this abuse on the part of church leaders?”
Here again, many of the movements were “closed institutions”, which facilitated abuse, he pointed out. For him, his predecessor Cardinal Groër, the late Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, the late Dominican Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe, founder of the Community of St John, Gérard Criossant, founder of the Community of the Beatitudes and the Chilean priest and Fr Fernando Karadima had all been examples of “guru personalities” who had been influential in the spiritual formation and careers of dozens of priests and of several bishops.
When he first heard of Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe’s abuse he had asked himself over and over again how this was possible as he had had a room next to him at Fribourg for months, Schönborn said. He had personally experienced the Karadima case on a visit to Chile.
It had been one of the most “dramatic” abuse cases in his eyes, as it had deeply split the Chilean clergy and had plunged the Chilean Church into an abyss.
With regard to charismatic religious leaders, it was important to look out for the following four benchmarks which were alarm signals: first, founders who considered themselves flawless and behaved like gurus; secondly, exclusive allegiance to the founder or leader; thirdly, founders who threatened members with withdrawal of their affection or love; and fourthly, and “most dangerous of all” in his eyes, when the community was divided into those who were followers of the founder and those who were not.
“If you are ‘in’ you accept almost everything – even abuse, just in order to belong,” the cardinal said.
In 2010, the year in which in his own words an abuse “tsunami” had swept through the Church in the German-speaking countries, he had decided that the Austrian Church would follow the way of the truth.
A state commission completely independent of the Church had been established to investigate abuse cases and compensate victims.
Since then, the Austrian Church has received a lot of praise for the way it was coping with clerical abuse and was one of four countries that were held up as role models at the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church in the Vatican in February this year, Schönborn recalled. “Every crisis creates opportunities for purification and that can only come about through the truth”, he concluded.
Cardinal Schonborn has been one of the most honest high up people in the Vatican on this issue.
He has met victims, carefully listened to them and most importantly, believed them.
This displeased the old guard in the Vatican.
But the tide has now turned and people everywhere and law enforcement everywhere is on their track.
On the issue of abuse at least they are k own for what they are – cover up merchants.
38 replies on “CARDINAL SPEAKS ABOUT THE SCHOCKING REALITY OF CLERICAL SEXUAL ABUSE.”
Cardinal Schonborn is a light in the darkness of the Church’s crisis. He makes very valid observations about pre 1960’s abuse statistics which show that a clerical closed system of unquestioned power and authority allowed for sexual abuse to happen. No institution can ever properly govern or critique itself honestly. Political and financial institutions cannot be trusted either, thus the frequency of commissions of investigations. As the Cardinal did, so all Dioceses should be overseen by independent enquiries by state personnel. The insights given by this Cardinal are indicative of the self preservation mindset of the Catholic Church which, sadly, has caused almost irreparable damage not just to victims/survivors but to the lay faithful too.
If ever my arm were twisted (and it would have to be twisted hard) to name someone I thought might qualify as a nearly good priest, it would be Schonborn. Sadly, he confirmed himself wedded to an institution ‘corrupt, and riddled with corruption’ when he lied to that weasly German pope by apologising for his criticism of Sodano.
Taking a break at 2:34 am from your early morning Simon run to post your words of wisdom here?
Glad you appreciate them for what they are. 😀
2.34: Drink, Drink, Drink speaketh from the loud mouth night snake. Hiss…..hiss…..hsssss….hssss. Run……the snake is creeping around. Stay in your cave Mags Cartwheel. Rejects are rejects and are bad whores against the Church because the door was slammed in their face.
It’s not the historical abuse or the victims that’s the issue it’s the present day continued ignorance and lack of transparency that’s the problem which won’t go away. If Nichols resigned tomorrow who would replace him ? Only more of the same, it’s too easy to throw the blame on to a certain model of priesthood particularly one that’s not existed for fifty years
Which model of priesthood is that?
Fr Coyle: the younger model. And Fr McCamley the older model.
Sure if they don’t no what’s the point in telling them about models and ministry. Smart meters for their heads hi
9.01: Magna, a model without your contribution as anything you’ve proposed to date is hate filled, so anti clerical as to make your comments irrelevant. When you refind some level of reasonable rationality and a modicum of self respect and respect for others, your comments might makes sense.
Oh! I see now, priest. 🙃
As long as I’m willing to go along with the pro-Romanist charade of the self-mortifying, self-sacrificing, hard-working, Christo-centric model of self-effacing, others-gracing, tirelessly expending priesthood?
My mummy strictly forbade my telling lies. 😀
There’s a good boy, darling. Now pour mommy a gin.
10.45: Oh Poor Magsy, you still have nothing worthwhile, visionary, different or more discerning to say or offer than the usual mantra of your hatred. Your hatred is evil. It is disgusting but then you are too stuck up your backside to see TRUTH.
Well, bully for Schonborn ! He’s saying all the right things, and maybe has come to it a bit earlier than some of the others. But, it’s still too late ! What I don’t get is that we are still discussing these matters, when in reality they should have been recognised, dealt with and sorted, and stopped, decades ago. If this pattern of mismanagement, lack of grip, inability to deal with issues were to happen in the world in which I work and live, then people like Schonborn, Nichols, Francis, and the rest, would have long been given their marching orders. In my world, the boss never has an excuse to say he didn’t know, or did’t realise what was going on. If he didn’t know, then he’s culpable, because it’s his job to know and he should have set up systems, intelligence, communication that would have enabled him to know. If he knew and prevaricated or covered up, then he is also guilty. If they want to be boss, they take responsibility either way. I suspect that most did know that something was deeply wrong, but chose to delay, deny, coverup. Including Schonborn, until he realised that it was inevitable that this was going to grow and grow, so then he went with this instinct to speak out and do something about it. All these people know that there are serous systemic problems in the Church, both in its hierarchy, its organisation, its theology and practice, and still they delay and hold back from dealing with existential threats that are rapidly undermining the credibility and the existence of the Church. We know that clericalism is a problem, we know that the way clergy are trained is a problem, we know that it is unsustainable to have a policy of mandatory celibacy in the western Church that brings with it all sorts of other problems, we know that it is simply not theologically correct to refuse female ordination…etc…etc…etc.. Again, in any other business or organisation, these guys would be out on their necks. Shame on them. And still they prevaricate and dissimulate and waffle sweet nothings.
Since reading your post, I can’t help but think that Schonborn is to the Church how Albert Spier presented himself to Europe post WWII: as the, er, ‘good Nazi’. In Schonborn’s case, it is as the good priest, a risible oxymoron, if ever there was one.
Schonborn undoutedly knew (or could have known) years earlier what he now lectures on as if it were some recent confection of epistemological epiphany cum Damascus conversion.
These men, supposedly of razor-sharp spiritual intelligence, would have us believe that their learning curve, until recently, was a flatline. BS!
However, the experience proves valuable in so far as it exposes the lie of magisterial and papal infallibility.
The mask has slipped for the Romanist Strumpet and her priest-pimps. And boy! Is Whore ugly?😱
Boring old repetitive nun alert.
Hey Pat, what mean give to?
If CMOC had been sharper in 2001 Pell would have gained the courage to shop Mulkearns & Little. The frogmarching of Benedict and Schonborn looked like a hostage situation to me at the time. It was Sodano who proclaimed “there is no more Law” in (I think) 2014.
I remember a bloke who wanted me to join “Work”. And Lotta Continua was very good at continually inventing a string of varied “projects” all the time.
12:51, WHAT in the name of God are you on about!!!
I’m telling ya pat, half the rejects here are on cocaine!
It’s a pity the Cardinals boss Frankie prefers to cover up abuse
10 21: Everyone is arriving at moments of truth, learning and discovery. I recall awful behaviour by teachers in the late 50’s, early 60’s and the physical and mental abuse were horrendous. You just didn’t say a word: it was accepted as normal. I recall too a “bad person” who lived close to our village and we were told not to be ever in his presence. I recall too being set upon sexually by older men in the village. It was “play acting” but it involved sexual abuse. I was humiliated. I never spoke to anyone. I have always been very vigilant around people with particular tendencies and my 6th sense was always correct. Thus, I was responsible for ensuring that these individuals were removed from potential opportunities. No one, not one adult, professional or otherwise, ever referenced to any such thing as sexual abuse. Doctors, teachers, clerics – and others never intervened or seemed not to have any real awareness of the horrible reality around paedophilia or sexual abuse. In any era, abuse is abuse and is morally reprehensible. Today, we should be more aware, educated and informed about sexual abuse in any setting.
A good hiding never did anyone any harm when at school. That’s what’s wrong with schools and wider society these days.
Pat what you have done with me recently has made my whole week.
“Father Bernard Preynat, accused of sexual assault on young scouts of the Lyon region before 1991, was sentenced on Thursday to a “return of the clerical state”, the biggest penalty that the church justice can pronounce .
” in view of the facts and their return, the large number of victims, the fact that abbé bernard preynat abused the authority given to him in the scout group (…), the court decided to apply to him The maximum penalty provided for by the law of the church in such a case, the return of the state of the state “, details the church court in a press release.”
I am convinced there is more than one “Magna Carta” and some of it are priests themselves. It’s/they’re basically a wind up merchant(s), so I wouldn’t take it/them too seriously. When you see the vitriol, words like “Romanist”, “strumpet”, etc., just keep scrolling to the next comment. They/It must be “off the tablets” this weather whoever it/they are, for they’re completely barking these days.
A.@4:10, I don’t agree .
While occasionally others might try to impersonate MC, regular blog followers readily recognise the disparity of impersonators from authentic MC’s much more weighty authentic comment. Intelligent blog followers readily disregard usually banal lightweights trying to deride Magna’s acerbic skewering of the RCC institution.
Yes, Magna at times is OTT, but so often, is absolutely ‘on the ball’ in discomforting the RCC institution and its cradle catholic traditionalists by ridiculing ( very appropriately) their complacent comfort/belief zones.
Keep up the good work MC.
And +Pat too.
Not many commenting these days on the old Blogo Pat.
On the days MC takes over everyone else stops commenting.
It didn’t stop you from commenting, did it?
Your post defeats its very point.
Talk about an own-goal. 😕
When I see the word MC or a comment beginning with Romanist, Nasty, Scum or all three then I scroll through like Billie O.
Of course you do. 😅
Repetition I say repetition hi Course there is repetition. A record can only go round so many times till it has to start again. Results that’s what’s needed. Th auld record becomes an anaesthetic and supports the problem it set out to fix hi
Brilliantly simple (not simplistic) insight. 👍
The Church mantra of saying ‘sorry’, and her seemingly endless deliberations on its history of child rape and sodomy, has now long been a collective quick-fix for righteous public anger at those who pose as ‘shepherds’, or their underlings (priests). After all, doesn’t everyone just go emotionally all gooey and forgiving when listening to the mea culpas of repentant sinners? Politicians caught on to this years ago. Church so-called ‘leaders’ now have to, albeit late in the day.
Personally, I don’t give tuppence for any Romanist’s apology or ‘counsel’ on the institutional Church’s morally fetid history of sexual criminality. Which is why I look to media outlets, such as Bishop P.’s blog, to drive these men to where they should have been brought by troubled conscience alone.
The roles of shepherd and sheep are slowly being reversed…and the Romanists, by and large, do not like it at all.
Remember what I said the other day, Bp Pat, about a “Christmas Special.” I’m sure you have some amazing stories about seminarians and/or priests and their tragic secret lives, that we can sit down, relax and enjoy. Please don’t let other commentators put you off.
Kurt Krenn the former and now deceased Bishop of Sankt Polten, Austria remarks to to Cardinal Schönborn are revealing. I quote from the article;
“In Rome, on their ad Limina visit a few months later, (November 1998), the Austrian bishops criticised the Church’s handling of the sex-abuse allegations against Groer in their report for the Pope, but their fellow Austrian bishop, the late Kurt Krenn of Sankt Pölten, a staunch supporter of Groer, publicly contradicted his fellow bishops and told “the liars to hold their traps”, Schönborn recalled.”
Krenn told the “lying bishops’ to “hold their traps”
It certainly displays an arrogance borne out of the closed clerical culture that has been remarked upon as crucial to this criminality.
Of course what the article omits mention of the circumstances surrounding Krenn’s own removal from office;
Refer to the BBC News link;
Quoting from the BBC News article;
“Bishop Kurt Krenn, 68, was in overall charge of the seminary where investigators found thousands of lewd images, including child pornography.”
“Bishop Krenn had previously dismissed the scandal as “a childish prank”.
The Cardinal is to be commended for his open and very precise portrayal of the issues that have permitted this criminality to flourish
-closed clerical culture
-overinflated authority of priests
-the extraordinary link between these sex crimes and the culture of confession
-protection of ‘reputations’- as if there is any reputation left to protect
-the role of ‘guru’ type personalities who are given carte blanche opportunities to indulge in their perversions
-Bullying and intimidation tactics from the likes of Sodano the former Vatican Secretary of State
-Blaming Vatican II and Modernity- BenedictXVI
-The role of John Paul II
The list can go on and on
The very last thing that the RCC wants is for an external body to interfere in any of its internal safeguarding procedures. Unfortunately it is undeniable that the RCC has failed to safeguard children or vulnerable adults. Look at blogs on seminaries throughout the world from Maynooth, Wonersh, Newark, Costa Rica, Guam, etc. etc!
Danny Sullivan, chairman of the Catholic Safeguarding Commission in England and Wales, said the Church in Scotland would benefit from outside scrutiny and criticised those in the church who suggested their current system was “streets ahead”.
There are those who boast of things they should be ashamed of that are ensconced in the church-happy to preach from the altar about how many bottoms they have had and to feel entitled to demand money for their pretence of holiness. These vermin cannot be trusted and need to get off!!! somewhere else.
The Church would not only benefit from outside scrutiny it ABSOLUTELY needs it. Their safeguarding is not streets ahead it is in tatters.