Many observers were troubled by the news that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, Austria, was chosen by Pope Francis to be one of the main speakers at the press conference on 8 April in order to present the Apostolic Exhortation on the Family. He had caused a controversy shortly after the last October 2015 Synod on the Family when he proposed to see the “positive elements” of homosexual union. The Austrian Cardinal said: “We can and we must respect the decision to form a union with a person of the same sex, [and] to seek means under civil law to protect their living together with laws to ensure such protection.”
In spite of this concern, many German-speaking media outlets are reading Cardinal Schönborn’s prominent role at the upcoming 8 April press conference as a reward for his crucial role during the 2015 Synod whose final report abstained generally from condemning sin and opened up to further discussion the idea that “remarried” divorcees might be able after all – with the help of a priest in the “internal forum” – to discern their future “integration” into the life of the Church. While the admittance to the Sacraments was not explicitly mentioned in the Synod’s final report, many participants – such as Cardinal Walter Kasper – saw it as an opening of the door for a more liberalized receiving of Holy Communion. Kasper even said so on 26 October 2015:
I am very pleased. The door was opened in order to grant remarried divorcees access to Communion with the help of a case-by-case examination. There is a certain opening, but one does not yet talk about the consequences. Now it all lies in Pope Francis’ hands, who is the one who decides.
Cardinal Schönborn is said to have had the most influential role in forging such a quiet compromise at the Synod – that is to say, in the German-speaking language group, and with Cardinal Gerhard Müller as a defender of orthodoxy also present in it. As the Austrian website, kath.net, reported at the time, it was due to the persuasive influence of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn that a compromise position was found. The website said:
“Without the diplomatic and linguistic capabilities of the Viennese Archbishop an agreement between the positions of Cardinals Walter Kasper and Gerhard Ludwig Müller would probably not have taken place.” Kath.net received this clarifying insight from one participant of the German-language group – “who prefers not to be mentioned by name” – and who also privately commented that, at times, the discussions in the German group were “controversial, but to the point.”
We had mentioned earlier at OnePeterFive that Cardinal Schönborn might even have somehow privately involved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI himself during the Synod, and acquired his insights, in order to come to an acceptable compromise between Cardinals Kasper and Müller. However, as we also reported, Cardinal Müller himself only recently made clear that he is not in favor of any liberalization with regard to the question of the “remarried” divorcees and their possible admittance to Holy Communion. In spite of this new statement, the problematic compromise position has found its way into the Synod’s final document and could potentially be used by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation to open up a more liberalizing path for the “remarried” divorcees.
In this context, then, it is easily to be understood that this Cardinal would now receive a special trust and honor for being selected to present the pope’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Family. The news agency of the Austrian Bishops, kathpress.at, accordingly praised Cardinal Schönborn on 1 April for his special role. It reports that Schönborn was “surprised” at the news that he was to present the pope’s exhortation. “I only learned a few days ago about this honorable task,” the cardinal said. He will now use every free minute in order to study the 200-page long document of the pope. “I will be silent concerning the content – until the date of its presentation.” The Austrian Bishops’ website continues:
The decision of the pope to give Cardinal Schönborn the task to present the document might be connected with his theological and communicative merits in the context of the two Family Synods. Especially toward the end of the synodal discussion, the Viennese Cardinal was among the most demanded interview partners of international media outlets, to include La Stampa, Le Figaro, or Paris Match.
The Austrian Bishops’ news agency kathpress.at continues its explanation of Schönborn’s role during the 2015 Synod on the Family, as follows:
But Cardinal Schönborn also played a decisive role in the success of the Synod itself which was seriously in danger of not finding the necessary majorities for the topic. In the end, everything was clear after all: with a clear two-thirds majority, the Synod fathers approved the final document of the Synod containing 94 points.
At the end of the commentary, Cardinal Schönborn is quoted as saying: “It was the best synod which I up to now was allowed to experience.”
Dr. Maike Hickson, born and raised in Germany, studied History and French Literature at the University of Hannover and lived for several years in Switzerland where she wrote her doctoral dissertation. She is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.
Her articles have appeared in American and European journals such as Catholicism.org, LifeSiteNews, The Wanderer, Culture Wars, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Apropos, and Zeit-Fragen.