As noted below, yesterday Cardinal Schoenborn of Vienna met with Pope Benedict at the Vatican. Rocco called the meeting "Vienna carpeted" indicating that Schoenborn was crawled on the Vatican carpet for remarks he made previously, directed against Cardinal Sodano’s handling of the clergy sex abuse crisis. The statement that followed the audience between the Austrian cardinal and his former professor, which was later joined by both Sodano and Cardinal Bertone, was unprecedented. It was also unfortunate. While it is good to see Pope Benedict taking a hands-on approach to the crisis, it appears he got the right carpet but the wrong cardinal.
In an interview a few months back, Schoenborn said that Sodano’s remarks before the Easter Mass, dismissing the renewed focus on the clergy sex abuse crisis as "petty gossip" had caused more harm to the victims of that abuse. He also said that in the 1990s, then-Cardinal Ratzinger had supported the effort to investigate the allegations of pedophilia against Schoenborn’s predecessor, Cardinal Hans Groer, but that Sodano had successfully nixed the investigation.
The Vatican statement after the meeting yesterday explained that Schoenborn had misunderstood Sodano’s remark at Easter. Curiously, it did not mention the issue about Groer. But, the statement contained this sentence: "It is recalled that in the Church, when accusations are made against a Cardinal, the competence [of judgment] rests solely with the Pope; other instances have a function of consultation, always with the proper respect for persons." I read that and said to myself, "So, at the Vatican, it is still more important to follow proper protocol than it is to speak the truth."
Last night I re-watched Jason Berry’s fascinating documentary on the Legionaries of Christ and their serial-pedophile, drug addict founder, Father Marcial Maciel. Everything about the Legionaries creeps me out – the ties to fascists, the military metaphors, the unholy vow never to speak ill of Maciel, the targeting of the powerful, the influential and, above all, the rich for recruitment. The documentary, "Vows of Silence ," clearly established the close relationship between Sodano and Maciel and the way the Vatican refused to deal with the allegations against Maciel during John Paul’s last years. Only after John Paul II died, and Sodano lost his influence, was Maciel removed from public ministry. Since the release of the documentary, Berry has further demonstrated the relationship between Maciel and Sodano, including charges of large cash payments to the Vatican cardinal. Even if only half of the charges leveled against Sodano by his accusers are true, even if only a tenth are true, it is difficult, and painful, to believe that he still holds a position of influence within the counsels of the Holy Father.
Recently, at a social gathering, a Vatican official introduced me to someone I had not met before as "the great defender of Pope Benedict from the shoddy reporting of the New York Times." I was deeply honored by the compliment. I could scarcely admire Pope Benedict more than I do, and I think I admire him more than almost all of my acquaintances. But, I cannot defend him from his own bad judgment. Perhaps the Cardinal of Vienna spoke out of school. There are worse sins. It is clear that Cardinal Sodano was at the center of the ring of protection the Vatican threw around one of the most evil men to ever wear a Roman collar. That is a worse sin.