An editorial was published in Italy's Repubblica newspaper last week in which the Pope was accused of humiliating Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the "only" cardinal with the "courage and honesty to point a finger against the 'top of the nomenclature'." But Cardinal Schönborn's spokesman refuted this claim, saying that the recent meeting served to clear the air after a misunderstanding.
A meeting took place in the Vatican last Monday that included Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and Dean of the College of Cardinals Cardinal Angelo Sodano. The audience, at which Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone were present, was preceded by a private audience between the Pope and Cardinal Schönborn.
According to a statement from the Holy See's Press Office following the closed door sessions, the Holy Father had said in the discussions that it is the sole competency of the Successor of Peter to correct cardinals.
The clarification was made in sure reference to words attributed to Cardinal Schönborn in recent months that set him against Cardinal Sodano for having opposed the investigation of former Vienna archbishop Cardinal Hermann Groer in the 1990s for alleged abuses. He had also blasted Cardinal Sodano for the "massive harm" done by his Easter Mass homily in which Cardinal Schönborn thought he referred to talk about sexual abuse of minors in the Church as "petty gossip."
The Vatican communique explained the Easter misunderstanding, saying that Cardinal Sodano's words were "erroneously interpreted" and referred merely to Pope Benedict XVI's Palm Sunday homily in which he called for courage that isn't intimidated by the "petty gossip of dominant opinions."
Reflecting on last Monday's audience, lay theologian Vito Mancuso said in an editorial printed in La Repubblica that among the "cardinals of the Church only one had the courage and honesty to point a finger against the 'top of the nomenclature'" and during the meeting "the Pope made (Cardinal Schönborn) shut up, he put him back in line, imposing on him a beautiful declaration in facade."
"For years and years. For entire decades the 'honorability' of the political structure of the Church was preferred to justice for victims, and thus for God. Cardinal Sodano's declarations which reduced the accusations to 'petty gossip' were exactly in line with this policy of 'covering up,' and the inferred humiliation from the Pope to Cardinal Schönborn for having criticized him is a confirmation that this policy is not finished. The devious peculiarity of this worldwide scandal is unfortunately still alive."
Amidst these claims, the Italian paper Il Foglio spoke with the Austrian cardinal's spokesman, Erich Leitenberger, to clarify his take on the audience with Pope Benedict.
He told the newspaper, "there has been much said of the audiences conceded by the Pope to Schönborn on Monday ... Attentively reading the communique from the Holy See it is understood that obviously Schönborn was not invited to retract anything regarding the sad events of the 1990s in Austria."
Everyone, added Leitenberger, is "thankful" for the explanation given for Cardinal Sodano's use of the term "petty gossip" during this year's Easter celebration as a reference to the Holy Father's words from the Palm Sunday homily and in no way intended to demean victims of sexual abuse.
With the explanation, "a 'cloud of suspicion' disappeared," he said.
The spokesman cited the "key word" taken from the Gospel of John and employed by Cardinal Schönborn himself to summarize the conclusions of the audience, "The truth will set you free."