Vatican consultant defends Cardinal Schönborn in parish council flap

Cardinal Christoph Schnborn Credit Piotr Drabik CC BY 20 CNA World Catholic News 4 12 12 Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. | Piotr Drabik (CC BY 2.0)

An Italian politician and papal consultant has defended Viennese Cardinal Christoph Schönborn's choice to reinstate an Austrian parish council member living in a homosexual partnership.

“I defend the cardinal’s decision and I say that it seems to me that it is an intelligent pastoral reading of the Church's position toward homosexuals and homosexuality,” wrote Professor Rocco Buttiglione, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, in the Italian daily Il Foglio.

“If the cardinal would say that homosexuality is not a serious moral disorder, he would be mistaken. But he doesn’t say that,” Buttiglione noted in the April 6 column. “According to the Catholic doctrine, homosexuality is a serious moral disorder … I don’t think Cardinal Schönborn denies this truth.”

“He just says that the homosexual is a faithful sinner, one who struggles for the faith and who needs support, with friendly and discrete dialogue, in this fight. He can’t be admitted to the sacraments, but he needs to be invited to participate in the religious functions and in the parish life.”

While the Church must maintain its teaching on homosexuality, Buttiglione stressed that the doctrine must not “be accompanied by an attitude of human closure or hostility towards homosexuals. This, I think, it is the lesson that we have these days from Vienna.”

Buttiglione, a personal friend of Blessed John Paul II, has been an outspoken proponent of Catholic teachings on sexuality. His comments came in response to Cardinal Schönborn's choice to uphold the election of Florian Stangl – a 26 year old man who lives in a registered same-sex partnership – to a parish council position.

Stangl's election to the position was initially overruled by parish priest Father Gerhard Swierzek. But after a meeting with the man and his partner over the weekend of March 31, Cardinal Schönborn decided to uphold the 26-year-old's membership on the parish council.

The Austrian Independent reported on April 10 that Fr. Swierzek was seeking a new pastoral assignment. A spokesman for Cardinal Schönborn told the Independent that the cardinal was traveling and would not be commenting further on the situation until his return to Austria.

In his April 2 Chrism Mass homily, however, the cardinal spoke about the pastoral challenge of lifestyles at odds with Church teaching, including “increasingly, people living in same-sex partnerships.”

During the homily, Cardinal Schönborn noted that the Church's teachings on sexuality are part of “the Creator's master plan,” in which “sexual union only corresponds to the order of creation when it is embedded in a marriage between a man and a woman.”

But he acknowledged that many people “don't live according to the master plan” – possibly because “it was not presented or taught to them as a genuine possibility,” or because they “honestly believed that they were simply unable to follow God’s master plan.”

The cardinal urged priests to rededicate themselves to communicating the Church's vision of sexuality, through an approach that is “neither rigorist nor lax, but in which the law is completed by love.”

“In order to understand and live the Creator’s ‘master plan,’ it’s important to recall the norm again and again—but it’s not enough,” he observed.

“There is only one way to do this, a way that Jesus’ disciples had the chance to learn: by coming to know Jesus better, by growing into his friendship. Only a lived friendship with Jesus can foster in us an inner understanding of the heart for the Creator’s master plan.”

A priest seeking to be a “good shepherd,” he said, “holds fast to both these things: to the conviction that God’s master plan is right …  and to the loving, patient path along which Jesus draws us into his friendship.”

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