Rod Dreher, a normally interesting commentator and incisive thinker, is profoundly mistaken in his response to the Pope’s handling of the Schönborn-Sodano spat, and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s gone on.
In April, Cardinal Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, publicly and by name criticised Cardinal Sodano, the former Vatican Secretary of State, accusing him of having frustrated attempts to investigate abuse by clerics and further criticising his dismissal of some claims of abuse as “petty gossip”. These criticisms were largely seen as justified in their substance but were note-worthy as it is not customary for cardinals to attack one another publicly and by name.
The Pope then oversaw a meeting between Cardinal Schönborn and Cardinal Sodano (who, since 2006, is no longer Secretary of State) as an act of reconciliation. Alongside this meeting, a statement was released which included a gentle reminder that authority over the College of Cardinals is reserved to the Holy Father, and that likewise the supervision and criticism of cardinals is reserved to him, in consultation with others.
The reservation of this right to the Pope is both wise and justified. The basic idea is that cardinals are not to waste their time criticising one another, lest they, being human, be tempted into continual criticism which would interfere with and impede the work of their fellow cardinals.
The gentle reminder in this statement has, unfortunately, been blown completely out of proportion by the media. Rod Dreher has only augmented this with his commentary, but in doing so betrays a fundamental error that he made: his comments cite an Associated Press report of the supposed “unprecedented public rebuke”.
It is no surprise that Dreher found the AP report “both heartbreaking and infuriating”, as that is generally what AP reports related to the Church are designed to do. The Associated Press has fairly consistently and over a long period of time demonstrated their lack of reliability or journalistic credibility owing to their complete lack of understanding of how the Church operates and their undercurrent of antagonism to Christianity in general.
It is more “heartbreaking and infuriating” that a man as smart as Rod Dreher has had such a lapse of judgement as to allow the Associated Press to be the informer of his thoughts and guide of his heart. Dreher’s claim that Pope Benedict has “humiliated” Schönborn is complete nonsense, which is the result of Dreher’s unfortunate trust in the sham journalism of wire services. Dreher is also simplistic in his treatment of Cardinal Schönborn, who has been known to have gone a bit loopy of late, even to the extent of expressing reserved support for the ridiculous “apparitions” at Medjugorje, and even suggesting the Pope might visit the town some day.
The Archbishop of Vienna’s stringent stand against clerical abuse is nonetheless a most welcome counterpoint to the lackadaisical approach of the John Paul II-era curia. Small wonder the Pope spent the beginning of his pontificate making very wise replacements of questionable JP2 appointments, and continues to have a good eye for decent churchmen and for appropriate roles for them to exercise in the Vatican.
“This action by the pope is not a sign of strength,” writes Dreher, “but its opposite.” Does Dreher really think that allowing a cardinalatial free-for-all would be a sign of strength, while taking steps to remind cardinals of their obligations is a sign of weakness? Rather, Benedict has, as has been the mark of his pontificate, taken the route of gentleness and reconciliation while simultaneously stressing the need for order and unity.