On Monday, following a private audience between Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna Christoph Schönborn and Pope Benedict XVI, a meeting of Vatican heavyweights took place. During the course of this closed session, Cardinal Schönborn and Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, attempted to clarify comments both had made in recent months.
A statement providing details of what local Italian media has called a "summit" between Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal Sodano and Cardinal Schönborn was released by the Holy See's Press Office on Monday afternoon.
Following the one-on-one meeting between the president of the Austrian bishops and the Holy Father, Cardinals Bertone and Sodano offered statements attempting to clarify several controversial comments made this year.
The Holy See's statement recounting the meeting highlighted that, in the Church, accusations regarding cardinals are the "unique competence" of the Pope.
The first contentious issue addressed by the prelates dealt with a homily Cardinal Sodano gave at Easter Mass that the Austrian cardinal reacted to negatively.
Cardinal Schönborn was quoted by the Austrian press blasting Cardinal Sodano for his comments at Easter Mass in which he expressed the solidarity of the cardinals for the Pope and urged him to remain firm amidst the prevailing "petty gossip." According to the Vatican statement, it was discussed that Cardinal Sodano's words to the Pope were "erroneously interpreted as a lack of respect for the victims of sexual abuse."
The statement explained that Cardinal Sodano's words were taken literally from the Pope's Palm Sunday homily which made reference to "courage that does not let itself be intimidated by the gossip of prevalent opinions."
Cardinal Schönborn also expressed "his displeasure for the interpretations given" to his comments on Cardinal Sodano's homily. The Austrian cardinal was quoted as saying that Sodano had done "massive harm" with his Easter address.
The dean of the Cardinal's College, the communique said, "nurtures the same sentiments of compassion and condemnation of evil" as expressed at different times by the Holy Father.
The meeting between the four prelates took place after Cardinal Schönborn brought the Holy Father up to date on the current situation of the Austrian Church, clarified recent declarations he made about clerical celibacy and reportedly explained remarks he made about Cardinal Sodano allegedly preventing a sexual abuse investigation of his predecessor Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer in the 1990s.
The Vatican statement did not provide further details on what was said about the role of Cardinal Sodano in the Groer case or Cardinal Schönborn's explanation.
The statement concluded with a message of greeting and encouragement for the Austrian Church and its pastors, whose renewed ecclesial communion he entrusted to the protection of the Virgin.