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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, Austria.Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews

ROME, September 14, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — “The Church should not look in the bedroom first, but in the dining room!” explained Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in a lengthy interview last week with the Italian Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, using a mantra sure to be repeated at the upcoming October Synod on the Family.

In the interview, Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, identifies himself as the intellectual architect of so-called “lifestyle ecumenism,” described in the controversial interim report at last year’s Synod on the Family with the approval of Pope Francis, which calls for the Church to change its pastoral approach to first find the “positives elements” in sexual relationships that violate the natural law and Church teaching, and consider admitting divorced Catholics in a state of adultery to Communion.  

Re-affirming that position on homosexual unions, Schönborn says in the interview, “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.” By contrast, Cardinal Burke declared in the recent video released last week: “It is heresy to teach that homosexual relations…are not disordered, to teach that they have positive elements.”

Schönborn, once a favorite of conservatives, was originally a student of Joseph Ratzinger at the University of Regensberg and later became the co-editor with the future Pope Benedict XVI of the landmark Catechism of the Catholic Church commissioned by Pope St. John Paul II. Schönborn has now thrown the weight of his ecclesiastical gravitas, and that of the Austrian bishops’ conference that he chairs, behind some of the most controversial proposals made in last year’s synod.

In his new interview, Schönborn criticizes “intransigent moralists” among his fellow bishops, whom he accuses of having an “obsession with intrinsece malum [intrinsic evils].” According to the Church’s moral teaching, certain actions are intrinsically evil— considered always and everywhere wrong, regardless of circumstance or intention– including mortal sins related to family life such as abortion, divorce, adultery, contraception, fornication, and homosexual sodomy. According to Schönborn, however, the doctrine of intrinsic evils has been “misunderstood” by the defenders of Church teaching at the synod, such that it now “suppresses discussion of – by definition complex – circumstances of and situations in life… cut off from a comprehensive perspective on the dramatic consequences of divorce: economic, educational, psychological, etc.”

Schönborn’s criticism of “intrinsic evils” and his understanding of Church teaching as “an ideal,” provides context for his advocacy of so-called “lifestyle ecumenism” at the last synod. There, Schönborn “proposed an interpretative key” to revolutionize the Church’s approach to family life and sexual ethics by looking at Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, which states: “Although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.” “Because marriage is a Church in miniature,” Schönborn argues, and just as the Church seeks to find elements of truth in different religions, it follows that “who are we to judge and say that there are no elements of truth and sanctification in them [non-marital sexual lifestyles]?” Schönborn highlights the need for “accompaniment” and “being on a journey” as a metaphor for his understanding of the pastoral strategy frequently called the “law of gradualness”—that people come to follow the moral law gradually over time.

After witnessing abuses in pastors’ use of the law of gradualness to counsel couples to continue practicing the sin of contraception rather than be converted from it, Pope St. John Paul II cautioned in Familiaris Consortio, “And so what is known as 'the law of gradualness' or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with 'gradualness of the law,' as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God's law for different individuals and situations.”

In the theme of graduality, and in an apparent endorsement of the Kasper proposal to give Communion to the civilly-divorced and remarried Catholics in a state of adultery, Schönborn says, “There are also situations where the priest, the accompanying person, who knows the people well, may arrive at saying: ‘Your situation is such that, in conscience, in your and in my consciousness as a pastor, I see your place in the sacramental life of the Church. … We must break free from this narrow perspective on the access to the sacraments in irregular situations.”

On the issue of homosexuality, while Schönborn concedes that the Church's definition of marriage and “the judgment on homosexual acts as such is necessary,” he argues, nevertheless, that “under civil law” “we can and we must respect the decision to form a union with a person of the same sex, [and] to seek means to protect their living together.”

Schönborn’s position in favor of homosexual unions marks a striking contrast with that of the Church as penned by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who wrote as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2003, that “In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.”

To substantiate his views on homosexual unions, Schönborn describes a homosexual friend who changed from having “frequent experiences with different people [to the point where] now he has found a stable relationship.” Schönborn argues the Church should praise homosexual monogamy as “an improvement, if nothing else than on a human level, this not jumping from one relationship to another, but being in a stable relationship that is not based only on sexuality.” Schönborn finds positive elements in such homosexual unions because “one shares one's life, one shares the joys and sufferings, one helps one another. We must recognize that this person has made an important step for his own good and for the good of others, even though, of course, this is not a situation that the Church can consider regular.” Finally, Schönborn concludes, “The judgment on homosexual acts as such is necessary, but The Church should not look in the bedroom first, but in the dining room! We must accompany.”

Schönborn’s progressive views on human sexuality are the latest in a long list of statements and controversies.

In 2010, Schönborn said to the Tablet: “We should give more consideration to the quality of homosexual relationships… [since] a stable relationship is certainly better than if someone chooses to be promiscuous.” 

And again in 2013, Schönborn endorsed homosexual civil unions in Austria in another interview with the Tablet: “There can be same-sex partnerships and they need respect, and even civil law protection. … The new Austrian law on same-sex partnership is very respectful but clearly distinguishes this situation from marriage.”

Most recently, in January 2014 after a meeting between the Austrian bishops and Pope Francis, Schönborn criticized the Church’s approach to cohabitation and fornication: “For the most part, the church approaches the [family] issue unhistorically. … People have always lived together in various ways. And today, we in the church tacitly live with the fact that the majority of our young people, including those with close ties to the Catholic church, quite naturally live together. The simple fact is that the environment has changed….The decisive point is not to condemn the way most people actually live together, but to ask, 'How do we cope with failure?' 

In his own diocese, Cardinal Schönborn’s history towards homosexuals offers perhaps some idea of what the Austrian, Swiss, and German prelates mean by a “welcoming” pastoral approach to homosexuals.

In 2006, Schönborn’s Cathedral in Vienna offered a blessing for unmarried couples on Valentine’s Day that included homosexual partners. Fr. Faber, the rector of St. Stephan’s Cathedral, told the press of his disappointment that “today there is no possibility in the Church to bless a union of people with homosexual feelings.” The priest explicitly welcomed “people with homosexual inclinations to receive a blessing for their longing for love.”

In 2008, LifeSiteNews reported that the art gallery of the Cardinal’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral held an exhibit of paintings and sculptures featuring the Last Supper of Christ as a homosexual orgy.  When the artist, Alfred Hrdlicka, a self-described atheistic Stalinist-Marxist died in 2009, he was buried in St. Stephen’s with Catholic rites and with some of his sculptures retained on display in a side chapel.

In 2012,  Schönborn overruled a priest who prohibited a young man in a same-sex union, Florian Stangl, from being elected to the parish council. The homosexual man Stangl complained to Schönborn, “I am committed to the teaching of the Church, but to make demands to live chastely seems unrealistic to me. How many people live chastely?” In a subsequent press release, Schönborn declared that different sexual lifestyles “witness the vitality of the Church. In their diversity, they reflect the diversity of today's way of life and faith. … Thus there are many parish councilors whose lifestyle does not fully conform to the ideals of the Church. In view of the life-witness that each of them gives taken as a whole, and their commitment to the attempt to live a life of faith, the Church rejoices in their efforts.”