Maike Hickson

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Cardinal Schönborn: Pope Francis’ handling of abuse crisis is ‘so convincing’

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

September 10, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Austrian Cardinal and papal advisor Christoph Schönborn is defending Pope Francis against calls for the pontiff to resign in light of allegations that he covered up for a sexual abuser, according to a report from Katholisch.de, the German bishops' news website. 

Schönborn has also said in a September 7 column in the newspaper Heute (Today) that the Pope has become the target of various “circles” who “wish to get rid of him.”

The Cardinal praised the Pope for being “so convincing” in the way he has so far handled the abuse crisis. In the meantime, only a few German bishops have come to the Pope's defense. 

Francis “has difficult days now because his open way of calling a spade a spade is not always met with sympathy,” according to the prelate. Such opposition is found also in the Vatican itself. Schönborn continued: “I thank God for this shepherd who is so convincing. Thank you, Papa Francesco!”

Some critics now ask: “Did he not uncover things too little? Even covered up some things?” Yet Francis has himself admitted to his having made mistakes, said Schönborn with an indirect reference to the papal trip to Chile, after which the Pope personally apologized to the abuse victims for the words he had previously used. The cardinal stressed that it is decisive to learn from one's mistakes: “That's what Pope Francis has shown.”

When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope five years ago, he brought a “fresh wind into the Church,” according to Schönborn. For him, the Pope is “a fighter against injustice and exploitation, and for the protection of the environment” and he has a “heart for the poor and the people who are at the margins of society, such as refugees and migrants.” 

“And he moves with much decisiveness against sexual abuse in the Church,” adds Schönborn.

Katholisch.de points out that these comments in defense of Pope Francis are coming in the wake of a August 30 statement made by the theologian Professor Paul Zulehner of Vienna, Austria who had lamented the lack of support for the Pope on the side of the European bishops: “The bishops in Austria, Germany, in Switzerland – that is to say: all our European Bishops' Conferences are silent,” he said by way of rebuke. This is not the first time Zulehner has acted in defense of the Pope. He himself organized, in 2017, a Pro Pope Francis Initiative.

However, numerous bishops – a few also from Germany – have subsequently, after Zulehner's new interventions, backed Francis publicly. Among them are Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz and Stefan Oster, the bishop of Passau. Oster – who was among the bishops who resisted the recent intercommunion initiative of the German bishops – has recently come out in public with a strong defense of the Pope, saying: “No, I do not see a pope who wishes to topple the teaching, I also do not see one who himself wishes to cover up or who has his own agenda or who wishes to establish his own networks.” “I believe Pope Francis,” adds Oster. “I believe his sincere attempts at a deepening faith, more hope, and a greater charity – and his tireless attempts at helping peace, justice and the preservation of the creation in the world.” 

Bishop Felix Genn of Münster has also made some comments on these issues without explicitly defending Pope Francis. He has mostly said that he agreed with the papal claim that clericalism is the root problem of abuse. He also unspecifically indicated that the Church needed “changes,” and that bishops and priests now have to give up “power and influence.”

As to the general silence of the 27 dioceses in Germany regarding the current sex-abuse crisis, one German observer and expert, who wishes to remain anonymous, has commented: "The German bishops are afraid of what might soon be revealed about the abuse cases in Germany." For, at the end of September, there will be published a detailed report on the history of clerical abuse in Germany since 1945, a study which has been commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference itself and which is now being organized by the Central Institute for Mental Health (in Mannheim). 

This fact might explain why Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the head of the German Bishops' Conference, has so far remained silent.

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and 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.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.