The Pope Keeps Quiet and Schönborn Speaks for Him. With Arguments Criticized Here One by One

The Pope Keeps Quiet and Schönborn Speaks for Him. With Arguments Criticized Here One by One

Sandro Magister

I have received this from an authoritative churchman and have agreed to publish it without revealing his name.



by ***

On July 13, 2017 Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, spoke for four hours in two conferences and a question-and-answer session at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland.

The Austrian cardinal spoke in the context of the event “Let’s Talk Family: Let’s Be Family,” which is part of a series of assemblies organized in preparation for the world meeting of families (1), under the direction of the dicastery for the laity, family, and life, which will be held in Dublin from August 21 to 28, 2018.

After reading the reporting on the event offered by the main specialized media outlets (2), I cannot help but note that when it comes to the “dubia” submitted to the pope by four cardinals, everyone is answering them except for him; and that in this way to the chaotic chorus of the most disparate comments and interpretations of “Amoris Laetitia” – which do anything but clarify for the faithful and confessors the problems raised by the document – there has been added a new voice, or better, a new fog.

This because the arguments offered by the archbishop of Vienna – at least according to how they have been reported by the most reliable media – are anything but convincing. Let’s take a look at the main ones.

1. An inopportune reprimand

In the first place, Schönborn reprimands the cardinals of the “dubia.” Because they asked respectfully for an audience, he accuses them of having pressured the pope. They could have asked for an audience, but without saying so publicly. Here are the exact words of the Austrian archbishop:

“That cardinals, who should be the closest collaborators of the pope, try to force him, to put pressure on him to give a public response to their publicized, personal letter to the pope – this is absolutely inconvenient behavior, I’m sorry to say. If they want to have an audience with the pope, they ask for an audience; but they do not publish that they asked for an audience.”

I wonder if Cardinal Schönborn has read and/or believes in these words of the pope, in regard to the discussions that had already arisen over the course of the latest synods of bishops and then continued after the publication of “Amoris Laetitia.” I present just a few passages:

“One general and basic condition is this: speaking honestly. Let no one say: ‘I cannot say this, they will think this or this of me….’ It is necessary to say with parrhesia all that one feels. After the last Consistory (February 2014), in which the family was discussed, a Cardinal wrote to me, saying: what a shame that several Cardinals did not have the courage to say certain things out of respect for the Pope, perhaps believing that the Pope might think something else. This is not good, this is not synodality, because it is necessary to say all that, in the Lord, one feels the need to say: without polite deference, without hesitation. And, at the same time, one must listen with humility and welcome, with an open heart, what your brothers say. Synodality is exercised with these two approaches.” (3)

“Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace.” (4)

“The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions.” (5)

“Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than to raise walls!” (6)

Pope Francis does nothing other than speak of parrhesia, of synodality, of making not walls but bridges. He has said that he would have been concerned and saddened if there had not been animated discussions during the synod. He has written in the very document that is the object of these animated discussions, meaning in “Amoris Laetitia,” that there is a “need for continued open
discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions.”

And now this same pontiff, in spite of the aforementioned words, decides not to receive four cardinals who have humbly and legitimately asked for an audience. . . And these were supposed to have said nothing? Cardinal Schönborn really has a strange concept of parrhesia!

2. Doctrinal confusion

But after this baseless complaint on the part of the archbishop of Vienna, we come to the more doctrinal questions.

– “Moral theology stands on two feet: Principles and then the prudential steps to apply them to reality.”

– In ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Francis “often comes back to what he said in ‘Evangelii Gaudium’, that a little step towards the good done under difficult circumstances can be more valuable than a moral solid life under comfortable circumstances.”

– “The ‘bonum possibile’ in moral theology is an important concept that has been so often neglected. […] What is the possible good that a person or a couple can achieve in difficult circumstances?”

Let’s begin to analyze the first statement. What are the prudential steps for applying the principles of morality to reality?

Prudence, “recta ratio agibilium,” selects the means in view of the end; it does not select them arbitrarily, but is bound to the truth. As a result, prudence, in order to be such, cannot choose evil means, or intrinsically evil acts, that are necessarily always imprudent. In fact, a prudent act must be good in itself; if it is not good, it is not prudent. And to make an act good – and therefore potentially also prudent – intentions or circumstances are not always sufficient.

This is what the Church infallibly proposes for belief. Saint John Paul II taught this in the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor”:

“Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this Encyclical and which is today being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuals but also for the whole of society, with the reaffirmation of the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception intrinsically evil acts.” (7)

The end never justifies the means, therefore the end never makes an evil action prudent or proportionate to the ultimate end. Therefore, if it is true that “moral theology stands on two feet: Principles and then the prudential steps to apply them to reality,” the cohabitation “more uxorio” of two persons who are not man and wife will never be a prudent application of the principles to the objective reality. (8)

The second statement praises small steps toward the good, above all those that are taken in a state of difficulty. But those actions which are always evil, regardless of the circumstances, are never a small step toward the good, but a step – more or less grave – toward the bad. Many small steps toward the good can be taken by persons living in a state of sin (charity, prayer, participation in the life of the Church, etc.), but what brings them closer are certainly not the acts that constitute their state of sin: these are inevitably opposed to the journey toward the good, to the movement of the rational creature toward God, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would say (9).

The third statement affirms the category of the possible good. This is a wonderful category if it is interpreted correctly (we think of the saying “Be good if you can” of Saint Philip Neri). But it is misguided if one forgets the words of Saint Paul: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (10). It is misguided if one goes against what has been infallibly defined by the Council of Trent: “But no one, however much justified, should consider himself exempt from the observance of the commandments; no one should use that rash statement, once forbidden by the Fathers under anathema, that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified.” (11) It is misguided if, against the Catholic doctrine of justification, the doors should be opened – albeit in other terms – for invincible concupiscence of a Jansenist flavor, or to making social factors more influential than grace, or even than free will itself.

3. “Amoris Laetitia” is Catholic: Schönborn guarantees it

The website “Crux” also reports one episode that the cardinal himself recounted:

“Schönborn revealed that when he met the Pope shortly after the presentation of Amoris, Francis thanked him, and asked him if the document was orthodox. ‘I said, Holy Father, it is fully orthodox,’ Schönborn told us he told the pope, adding that a few days later he received from Francis a little note that said: ‘Thank you for that word. That gave me comfort’.”

This account, if on the one hand it reveals the humility of Francis in asking for a judgment from his trusted theologians, does not change the fact that it should be the pope who gives responses to the theologians, to the bishops, to the cardinals who with the required parrhesia and the encouragement of the pontiff himself express to him their grave preoccupations over the state of the Church. This, in fact, is truly divided and wounded by the contrasting interpretations with which “Amoris Laetitia” has been proposed by various episcopates.

4. Conclusion

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, in a speech before the scholarly committee of the “Veritatis Splendor” Institute of Bologna (12), identified some of the current challenges to which Christians have to respond: relativism, amoralism, and individualism.

About amoralism, the then-archbishop of Bologna said:

“I have spoken of amorality in a precise sense. In the sense that the statement according to which ‘there exist acts which, per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong’ (Ap. ex. ‘Reconciliatio et Penitentia’ 17; EV 9/1123], has no foundation, [according to the present-day mentality].”

Cardinal Caffarra then warned against some pseudo-solutions to the aforementioned problems:

“One first pseudo-solution is the evasion of the true and serious confrontation with these challenges. An evasion that generically assumes the face of fideism, of the rejection of the truthful dimension of the Christian faith. It is a real and proper lack of engagement, not necessarily intentional, in the serious and rigorous confrontation on the properly cultural level. It is evasion in a faith that is solely articulated and not examined, solely affirmed and not considered.”

Evasion “in a faith that is solely articulated and not examined!” How many times do we hear the articulation of the words mercy, conscience, maturity, responsibility, etc., but with the rejection of a true search for the “intellectus fidei,” of the profound understanding of the reasons for faith.

Schömborn’s argumentations have been situated “ante litteram” precisely by these considerations of Cardinal Caffarra concerning the substantial rejection (not necessarily intentional) of the “truthful dimension of the Christian faith”:

– “etsi veritas non daretur,” as if the immutable truth about man and the sacraments did not exist;

– “etsi bonum non daretur,” as if there there were not an objective good to be done and an equally objective evil to be avoided, both of which are not determined but are discovered and chosen freely by man in conscience;

– “etsi gratia non daretur,” as if man were forgotten by God in a situation-trap, where there is no other choice but to sin.



(1) For more information see:

(2) Because Cardinal Schönborn’s statements have not been published in their entirety, I refer to what was reported on the website “Crux”, which among the websites consulted was the one that seemed most complete to us. The editors themselves define Crux as “an independent Catholic news site, operated in partnership with the Knights of Columbus.” All of the texts English are taken from this site. Another fairly exhaustive report can be found on “Catholic Ireland.”

(3) First general congregation of the 3rd Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, words of the Holy Father Francis to the Synod Fathers, October 6, 2014

(4) Speech of the Holy Father Francis for the conclusion of the 3rd Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, October 18, 2014.

(5) Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” 2.

(6) In the course of the prayer vigil with young people at the Campus Misericordiae, during the 31st World Youth Day in Krakow.

(7) Encyclical letter “Veritatis Splendor” 115, August 6, 1993, emphasis added.

(8) It is enough to present, by way of example, what is stated in the Declaration from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith on certain questions concerning sexual ethics “Persona Humana” of December 29, 1975: “According to Christian tradition and the Church’s teaching, and as right reason also recognizes, the moral order of sexuality involves such high values of human life that every direct violation of this order is objectively serious.”

(9) “De motu rationalis creaturae in Deum”: Summa theologiae, Iª q. 2 pr.

(10) 1 Cor 10:13.

(11) Decree on justification of January 13, 1547, Sessio VI, cap. 11 (DS/36 1536).

(12) “Il cristiano e le sfide attuali”, Meeting of the Scholarly Committe of the “Veritatis Splendor” Institute, June 3 2005.

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One comment on “The Pope Keeps Quiet and Schönborn Speaks for Him. With Arguments Criticized Here One by One

  1. A Diptych for a Cardinal

    Differing interpretations of Catholic morality with regard to Communion for those divorced and remarried without annulment; two popes’ views contrasted

    Fr. Timothy V. Vaverek
    TUESDAY, JULY 25, 2017

    During a talk in Ireland, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn revealed that he had suggested to Benedict XVI that St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio (FC) and Francis’ Amoris Laetitia (AL) can be viewed as a sort of “diptych,” a pairing of artistic works that illuminates and transcends the meaning of each element. Benedict – he says – concurred, but did not accept the further assertion that FC is Platonic and AL is Aristotelean. The Cardinal’s anecdote and subsequent discussion of morality suggest it might be good to consider his remarks in light of another diptych: Raphael’s Vatican frescos of The School of Athens and Disputation of the Holy Sacrament.

    The Cardinal’s claim implies that John Paul’s theology of marriage and the family expresses idealistic principles, whereas Francis’ realism allows us to apply those principles to the nitty-gritty of daily life. Raphael famously depicted these contrasting philosophical approaches in the two central figures of the School of Athens: Plato, the idealist, whose raised hand points to the heavens, and Aristotle, the realist, whose outstretched hand is turned to the earth.

    That the Cardinal wants to read AL as a realist interpretation of the alleged idealism of FC is evident from his description of the moral life. He maintains that “Moral Theology stands on two feet: Principles, and then the prudential steps to apply them to reality.” For him, this is carried out through a discernment of conscience, which interprets the ideals within the context of human limitations. This produces a “right relation between principles and concrete application.”

    The Cardinal praises AL for encouraging “a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of all particular [marriage] cases.” Once complete, this discernment can then address the question of reception of Holy Communion.

    The difficulty with approaches like this is that they are founded on an inadequate premise. Christian morality does not stand on two feet; it stands on the person of Jesus who is the principle – the source – of our moral life. Morality is nothing other than living united to Christ. In turn, Moral Theology is fundamentally the study of Jesus and our life in Him, not of abstract principles and their application.

    The School of Athens, 1509

    The teachings and commands of the Gospel are not philosophical expressions needing rational analysis to be validated and, then, implemented in daily life. They are the words and deeds of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, which reveal to us in a humanly understandable way who God is and who we are. Jesus expresses the truth, which, as such, is already attuned to the realities of life.

    When Jesus says, “you shall not commit adultery” or “whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery,” He is not presenting an ideal or something that cannot be adequately put into words. He is announcing the concrete truth about Himself and is assuring us that, as the faithful God who has become the Bridegroom, He will never abandon us. He is also describing in unequivocal terms the reality of marriage, fidelity, and indissolubility.

    Were these divine prohibitions merely abstract principles, then conscience would doubtless still find reasons for permitting remarriage after divorce. This would happen, not because such reasons are realistic or legitimate, but because without grace fallen human judgment and concupiscence have rarely led to the discernment that marriage is, by nature, indissoluble. Jesus revealed this truth as a remedy for our weakness and to foster our well-being. Consciences that erroneously “discern” otherwise, therefore, cause suffering and need healing.

    This brings us to Raphael’s diptych. The philosophers of Athens discuss wisdom in an entirely earthly setting surrounded by statues of mythical gods; the participants in the Disputation are united to each other and to the saints in heaven in giving worship to the living God who, in the person of the Word, has taken flesh as Jesus, who is in glory, and is present as the Eucharistic Host on the altar. The earthly “disputants” are not engaged in partisan disagreement about who is adored in the Sacrament, but are instead discussing the wonder of that reality as members of the body of Christ, the Church.

    The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, 1508

    Raphael’s frescos remind us that fallen human reason can discern much, but does not entirely free itself from error (note the idols) or reach agreement regarding ultimate truths (Plato and Aristotle point in contrary directions), while God’s self-revelation in Christ gathers us in the Church to know, love, and praise him even as we seek to penetrate more deeply the mysterious reality of God and His works.

    Christ’s nuptial union with the Church is, like the Eucharist, a reality rather than an ideal. And it reveals the reality of human marriage. (Eph. 5:31-32) The Gospel teaching appears “idealistic” only because the Fall has clouded reason and weakened the will as regards the reality of marriage in the face of life’s difficulties. Through Faith, the reality of marriage – and the impossibility of a second union after divorce – stands out as clearly as the Eucharist.

    Contrary beliefs and practices do not help anyone but keep them from knowing Christ more deeply and leave them suffering needlessly from the unrealities of their lives.

    Methods of discernment like the one proposed by the Cardinal cannot assist those in need or their priests. Without precise Christological criteria, fallen human reason and concupiscence cannot be expected to arrive at an accurate assessment of a first marriage, a second union, or the reception of Communion. All the more so when our Lord’s explicit prohibitions are treated as mere ideals. Such approaches are manifestly inadequate and unrealistic.

    As long as Christian morality and doctrine are viewed as idealistic principles, their concrete meaning in life will be held hostage to the endless debates of diverse schools of philosophy and theology. Only when they are viewed within the Church as realities rooted in Christ and embraced in daily life will we be able to discover in them the true meaning of marriage, family, and all our joys and sorrows.

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