Cardinal Schonborn’s Errors
In my last article, I spoke about a senior cardinal who recently visited Ireland and who erroneously, and contrary to Catholic Church teaching said, that it is possible to answer ‘Yes’ to the first of the five dubia that were submitted to Pope Francis by four other cardinals, one of whom, Cardinal Raymond Burke, is well known to Catholic Voice readers. Normally I do not name the personages concerned in these cases because I want to focus on the words of these men and not on the men of the words. However, because this is a current issue which is capable of leading Catholics astray, I feel that it is important for ordinary Catholics to know who these people are. The Cardinal in question is Cardinal Christoph Schonborn the Archbishop of Vienna.
I now want to return to Cardinal Schonborn and to show just how dangerous these times are for those of us who wish to remain loyal to Catholic Church teaching. Cardinal Schonborn gave a talk at the ‘Let’s Talk Family, Let’s Be Family’ conference at the Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, on 13th July. The advertisement for the conference described it as “a key moment in the build up to the World Meeting of Families 2018”. At the end of his talk, this cardinal presented a ‘case study’ or example of a difficult situation which, as we will see, he used to justify actions which are contrary to Catholic doctrine.
The Hard Case Used to Justify Sin
The case study was delivered slowly and with pathos and its primary appeal was to the emotions. I have spoken here before as to how Catholicism is lived primarily through the intellect and the will, and of how the emotions and imagination must be subject to the rational intellect because they are sub-rational faculties of the human mind. The case study was delivered without interruption. This is important in the delivery of such cases because it then effectively draws out the emotional response leaving the intellect somewhat disengaged. But in this analysis, we will dissect it as we go along. Here’s how the cardinal began.
Invoking the Papal Office
“I give you one example to conclude, an example that Pope Francis has given himself. The case, he brought it from Argentina, from his diocese.”
The cardinal lets us know from the very start that this is a case from Pope Francis’ former diocese in Argentina and he seeks to use this fact, to claim papal authority for how this case will be dealt with. Well-formed Catholics realise that this is not how the magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church are delivered. The case continues.
The Tragic Woman
“A woman got married early, young years, in the church, sacramental marriage. Her husband chose to be very brutal, violent. She gets pregnant and she is afraid to have a child with him and she does abortion”.
Here, we are told that we are dealing with a sacramental marriage, that is, a valid marriage in the eyes of the Church and that the husband is brutal and violent. We then learn that the wife kills her unborn child because she is afraid of her husband. The scene has been set and our sympathy is drawn to this poor unfortunate woman. This is the hard case with the strong emotional appeal. Who would not feel sorry for this woman and for her predicament?
The Cardinal Introduces Falsehood
“They separate, they divorce, after some time she meets another man, they get married, they have four children, it becomes a solid marriage, but a civil marriage and of course they cannot practice the sacraments.”
Sadly, what the cardinal says here is not true. The cardinal fails to say that this woman cannot get married, because she is already married. This new union is not a marriage as the cardinal describes it, but rather, it is an adulterous relationship which is forbidden by God and it is gravely sinful. The cardinal does a disservice to true marriages when he puts adultery on the same level as sacramental marriage even though he admits that it is a civil marriage. But civil marriages, where one or other of the couple are already in a valid marriage, are not marriages, they are in fact legalised adultery. The Catholic Church does not recognise these unions as marriages, so why does the cardinal insist on calling it marriage and a ‘solid marriage’ at that? The implication that is being given here, is that a long term stable adulterous relationship with children is somehow a less sinful form of adultery than shorter term adulterous relationships.
Adultery is not the only sin the prevents a person from receiving Holy Communion
The cardinal also fails to point out that this woman cannot receive the sacraments because she has had an abortion for which she has not repented. This abortion pre-dates her adulterous relationship. In her case, she was forbidden from receiving the sacraments before she entered into the adulterous relationship and not because of it. The adulterous relationship has further compounded her separation from God.
The Case Continues.
“But after some years suddenly comes up in her memory, the abortion, which she had tried to forget, and she wants to go to confession. And Pope Francis asks the question, ‘what does the confessor’? She comes to the priest, she’s in an irregular situation, and is not able to receive the sacraments. What does the confessor? And Pope Francis, when I spoke with him about this case, he had published in an interview where he said only ‘what does the confessor?’ And I ask him ‘what does the confessor’? And he said, I have submitted this case to our seminarians in Buenos Aires, and I was so glad that they said the priest must give absolution.”
One Must Confess all Mortal Sins
So, we now learn that the woman becomes sorry for her abortion and that she wants to confess this grave sin of hers on account of that sorrow. As the case is presented, she does not want to confess the sin of adultery, just the sin of abortion, and we are asked about what the priest must do in the confessional. Once again, Cardinal Schonborn brings in Pope Francis, this time a private conversation he had with him. The pope’s views, spoken in a reported private conversation, carry no magisterial authority even though it is obvious that the cardinal uses this ‘technique’ in an effort to give moral weight to what he is about to say. He also fails to tell us that, as we shall see later, these seminarians are speaking contrary to Catholic Church teaching on the sacrament of penance as defined at the Council of Trent. This was a dogmatic council and its teachings are infallible.
Cardinal Schonborn now pushes home the point of his case.
“Now, what does that mean. Of course, he cannot say your marital situation is in order. It’s OK. But he cannot let this woman go away from the confessional with the burden of her grave sin. He must exercise the mercy of the keys. He has the power of the keys. He must give her absolution.”
Cardinal Schonborn Contradicts Catholic Church Teaching
The cardinal himself is now directly contradicting dogmatic Catholic Church teaching on the sacrament of penance when he says “But he (the priest) cannot let this woman go away from the confessional with the burden of her grave sin. He must exercise the mercy of the keys. He has the power of the keys. He must give her absolution.”
Cardinal Schonborn implies that Adultery is no longer a Grave Sin
Here the cardinal implies that this woman has only one grave sin, that of the abortion. He does not seem to regard her adultery as a grave and a mortal sin and, because the woman is apparently not burdened by it, he does not require her to confess the grave sin of adultery in order for her to receive absolution. The cardinal wants to permit absolution for a single mortal sin knowing there are other mortal sins present. This is the justice of the secular court. It is a ‘plea bargain’, whereby guilt is admitted to one or more crimes and other crimes are disregarded.
False Compassion Leads to Death
This is not the way of the sacrament of confession. This is false compassion. It is like a doctor being presented with a patient who has two mortal wounds, and because it is painful to treat both of them, the doctor, out of a false sense of compassion, decides that he will only treat one of the mortal wounds. The end result is that the patient will die of the untreated wound. But in the case of the doctor, we are only talking about physical death whereas mortal sin brings about spiritual death which is far more serious. If the person, God forbid, were to die with unconfessed mortal sin on their soul, they would remain in hell for all eternity. This is infallible Catholic Church teaching which emphasises the true danger and nature of the Cardinal Schonborn’s false compassion and erroneous teachings.
The Council of Trent on the Sacrament of Penance
The Council of Trent, in its fourteenth session speaking about mortal sins in the context of the sacrament of penance, teaches us infallibly that “whereas all mortal sins, even those of thought, render men children of wrath, and enemies of God, it is necessary to seek also for the pardon of them all from God, with an open and modest confession.” Here the Catholic Church teaches us that we must confess all mortal sins in order to receive absolution.
The council continues “Wherefore, while the faithful of Christ are careful to confess all the sins which occur to their memory, they without doubt lay them all bare before the mercy of God to be pardoned: whereas they who act otherwise, and knowingly keep back certain sins, such set nothing before the divine bounty to be forgiven through the priest: for if the sick be ashamed to show his wound to the physician, his medical art cures not that which it knows not of.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church repeats Trent
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, of which Cardinal Schonborn was the general editor, quotes this passage from the Council of Trent in No 1456 reminding the faithful that all mortal sins must be confessed and that those who hold back a mortal sin are not forgiven anything but in fact grievously sin in doing so.
Cardinal Schonborn, in insisting above, that the priest must grant the woman absolution after she confesses her abortion but without repentance for her adultery, is contradicting the Council of Trent and contradicting the catechism which he himself edited. But the cardinal goes further than this, and reveals the real and grave dangers that faithful Catholics are now faced with, even from senior cardinals of the Church. He continues.
Cardinal Schonborn starts Name Calling
“I know, for strict, rigid, rigorist attitude, this would not be permitted.”
Here the cardinal starts name calling. He calls those of us who wish to see the dogmatic teachings of the Catholic Church on confession being upheld, ‘strict’, ‘rigid’, and ‘rigorist’. That this behaviour comes from a senior prince of the Catholic Church, shows all too clearly the depths to which we have sunk in our times. When senior cardinals freely insult faithful Catholics simply for abiding by Church teaching as defined at the Council of Trent and as given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we have reached a new low. But Cardinal Schonborn is not finished, he really wants to push this error onto his listeners for he goes on.
The Falsely Accused Priest
“I gave this example in a talk, in a similar talk in Ars, in France. There were four hundred people, and after my talk a lady came to see me and said, ‘father, my daughter had exactly this case, the priest has sent her out of the confessional, she does not any longer believe in God, she doesn’t want to know anything of the Church, and she feels herself condemned by God’”
Notice once again the appeal to the emotions and the insult to the priest who is faithful to Church teaching. It is apparently the priest’s fault that this woman no longer believes in God, or the Church, although it is almost comical that he says she feels condemned by a God she no longer believes in. According to this Cardinal Schonborn, it is not her mortal sins, which separate her from God, and are making her life miserable, but the actions of the priest. This faithful priest, who cannot offer any defence on account of the seal of the confessional, is painted as the bad guy here. He is seen to be uncaring for denying absolution in a case, where the woman has not repented for the mortal sin of adultery because she is not sorry for this sin, and in a case where church teaching forbids the priest from giving absolution.
The Teaching of Jesus Christ
This teaching is based on the words of Christ “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” (John 20:23) Saint Padre Pio famously denied absolution to certain penitents. The result was that it made them truly sorry for their sins coming back to him humble, repentant and because of this humility and contrition, they were reconciled to God. “A contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 50:19)
When the cardinal mentions ‘the power of the keys’ in regard to confession, he implies that the power of the keys is only about mercy and forgiveness. St Peter is typically represented holding two keys which symbolise the primary powers of each of the keys. That of binding and that of loosing. With regard to the sacrament of confession, the two keys represent the forgiveness of sin on the one hand, and the retention of sin on the other hand in accord with Christ’s words quoted in John 20:23 above, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”
Cardinal Schonborn finishes his talk as follows.
“What Pope Francis invites us to do is, to look carefully at the situation, and not to build obstacles to His mercy, where they are not necessary where Jesus invites us to practice what was His main goal in His mission. The Father has not sent him to judge but to save, and I think Pope Francis encourages very much for that.”
Invoking Christ to justify false mercy
Again, we have the appeal to papal authority. The implication is that the priest in the confessional story above, did not look carefully at the woman’s situation and that he put obstacles in the way of God’s mercy. Notice too the implication that it is the actions of the priest or other confessors that are shown as putting obstacles in the way of God’s mercy and not the unrepented mortal sins of the person in question. The cardinal then invokes Jesus Himself for this false path of mercy saying that the Father did not send Him to judge but to save.
The Example of how Christ deals with Adultery
But how does Jesus intend man to be saved? By remaining in sin, or by turning away from sin? Let us look at how Jesus himself dealt with a similar case to the cardinal’s, the woman caught in adultery. He restores her dignity, and He does not condemn her. But did Jesus tell her to go away and sin less? Did he tell her that she could go back to the man she was having an adulterous relationship with and simply carry on as before?
Jesus told this woman to “go and now sin no more” (John 8:11). In other words, ‘stop committing adultery’. Would this woman get to heaven if she ignored Jesus’ command and returned to adulterous living? The answer is obvious. Of course, any man or woman in these situations must be treated with compassion, but that compassion must be true compassion, which seeks to help the person to repent of all mortal sin and to turn away from sin in the future. This will not be achieved by permitting them to carry on the sin of adultery if they repent of a graver sin as this Cardinal Schonborn has falsely suggested.
© John Lacken 2017
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Author: John Lacken
Founder: Legio Sanctae Familiae – The Holy Family Legion
Secretary: The Lumen Fidei Institute