The Celestine Sign

Today is the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, apostles of the beginnings of the Church — one to the Jews, the other to the nations. But the times remind one of a man who took the name “Celestine” when he became Pope, a name never chosen again…

By Robert Moynihan

“I resign the papacy out of the desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of my own physical strength, my ignorance, the perverseness of the people, my longing for the tranquility of my former life.” –Pope St. Celestine V (1209-1296), also known as Pietro da Marrone, the only Pope in history to resign the papacy, giving the reasons for his resignation on December 13, 1294 after only five months as Pope. He lived another year and a half, kept in prison by his successor, Boniface VIII (the quote above is slightly paraphrased to put it into the first person)

“I saw and recognized the shade of him who by his cowardice made the great refusal” –Dante, Inferno, III, 59–60; many scholars believe Dante is referring to Celestine V, placing him in Hell because Dante felt Celestine had acted in a cowardly way by resigning rather than facing and fighting the forces of evil in the Church)

A Mystery in Plain Sight

Today in Rome, on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict XVI gave a remarkable homily in which he mentions the threats that will come against the Church in the “last days.”

This homily must be read in part as Benedict’s commentary on the sexual abuse crisis and the increasing pressure being placed on the Church by secular judicial and law enforcement authorities. (see below)

The homily thus provides a deep insight into Benedict’s mind at this troubled moment in his pontificate.

The feast in Rome on June 29 each year is the feast in which the Pope places the “pallium,” a cloth made of wool, upon the shoulders of archbishops from around the world chosen during the past year as a sign that they are “linked” or “yoked” to the universal Church, to Rome, and to the person of the Pope.

In his homily, the Pope speaks of the “liberty of the Church” and says this liberty is protected by the strength of the union between the bishops around the world and the bishop of Rome, the Pope.

A little more than a year ago, on April 29, 2009, Benedict did something unusual. He left his own “pallium,” the sign of his episcopal authority and his connection to Christ, on a tomb in Aquila, Italy. The tomb held the remains of a relatively obscure medieval Pope named was Celestine V (1209-1296).


(Picture left: The Pope at the tomb of Pope Celestine V in April, 2009. The Pope now wears a pallium designed by Monsignor Guido Marini, a cross between the short pallium with black crosses worn by Metropolitan Archbishops and the longer ones with red crosses. This resembles the pallium worn by the the figure of Celestine in his shrine which is a short pallium with black crosses over an elaborate Roman chasuble.)

Celestine was a holy monk. His model was John the Baptist. His wore hair-cloth and a chain of iron. He fasted every day except Sunday and each year he kept four Lents on bread and water alone. Many kindred spirits gathered about him eager to imitate his rule of life, and before his death there were 36 monasteries, numbering 600 religious, bearing his papal name (Celestini).

But he was not just a monk.

He was elected Pope in 1294, a time of great corruption and contention in the Church, after a conclave deadlocked for more than two years. He was elected at about the age of 80 (Benedict was 78 when he was elected Pope in 2005).

At Celestine’s election, some of the Spiritual Franciscans, who opposed the worldliness of the Church hierarchy, proclaimed that he was the first legitimate Pope in nearly 1,000 years, since Constantine had granted the Church huge territorial possessions in the 300s.

So the Church had a holy leader, and many devout Catholics at that time thought the Church would be reformed by this good man.

But the holy Celestine — who pleaded with the cardinals not to choose him as the Pope — could not manage to rule the powerful cardinals around him.

The cardinals of 700 years ago seem to have chosen Celestine almost humorously, as it were, not seriously, as if to say, “We can’t agree on a serious ‘Prince-Cardinal’ for Pope, so we will choose this holy, quiet, learned monk to be Pope, and watch with a certain amusement as he struggles mightily but in vain to guide the ungovernable bark of Peter.”

After five months, Celestine gave up, and resigned — the only Pope who has ever done so.

He thought he would end his life in peace, but his successor, Boniface VIII, fearing his opponents might use Celestine as a rallying point, ordered him confined, and some allege (probably wrongly, since he was already approaching 90), executed.

All of Celestine’s official acts were annulled by Boniface.

Now, Benedict is scheduled to travel this Sunday, on July 4, to Sulmona, not far from Rome. There, in the crypt of the cathedral, as the last act of his visit, he is scheduled to venerate relics of this same holy Pope, Celestine V. (See bottom for a news report on this upcoming trip.)

So Sunday, the Pope will pray before Celestine’s relics for the second time in 15 months.

I am not suggesting Pope Benedict XVI is thinking of following in the footsteps of the saintly Pope Celestine and resigning.

I am suggesting that the studious Pope Benedict and the studious monk-Pope are “connected” in a mysterious way.

I believe Benedict’s decisions to leave his pallium in Aquila, where Celestine’s tomb is located, and to schedule a prayer before his relics this coming Sunday, are not haphazard.

These decisions are indicators, ways of communicating truths through gestures. They contain a message the Pope cannot deliver any other way.

The Grave Crisis

Three events in the past few days have taken the crisis now shaking the Church to a new level:

(1) Belgium: police raids of Church offices and even Church tombs in Belgium, against all traditional practice of respect for Church property; the Vatican has protested this action. (See bottom for a copy of the letter the Pope sent after the police actions. See the following link for an article on the case:

(2) United States: a US Supreme Court decision to allow an Oregon sex abuse case against the Vatican proceed, despite traditional jurisprudence exempting the Holy See, as a sovereign state, from such lawsuits (see:

(3) Austria: the public rebuke of an Austrian cardinal who had been critical of the way the Vatican has handled the sex abuse scandal. (see below)

All this means, in essence, that the Church is increasingly being treated, not as a privileged “society” or “institution” or sovereign “state” or beneficial “religion” doing charitable work in this world in God’s name, and so to be treated with profound and special respect, but as a society which has covered up the sexual abuse of children.

The danger is no longer that the “image” of the Church will suffer when people learn that a priest has committed the unspeakable crime of abuse, but that the Church as a whole may be subjected to legal and judicial investigations which will limit her freedom.

The threat is to the freedom of the Church.

It is a threat which began in crimes by individuals, grew with inadequate action by superiors, and is now “morphing” into a nightmare of police raids and legal attacks on the Holy See. It looks like the slow emergence of a legal and social climate which might eventually permit the persecution of the Church as an institution.

This intensification of the crisis occurs precisely as the danger of a further downturn in the world economy intensifies — the problems in Greece, the huge and opaque derivatives markets, growing unemployment, unpayable levels of debt piled even higher over the past 18 months since the banking collapse in the fall of 2008. Ever-increasing calls for austerity as the only possible solution to this unfolding economic crisis means a growing likelihood of widespread economic pain with accompanying social injustice and possibly social unrest (think of the riots in Greece this spring).

If injustices increase as the economic collapse we now face intensifies, the world will need a moral authority to denounce injustices and call for calm and wisdom as the crisis deepens.

Benedict is intent on purifying the Church, at “cleaning house,” both because it is the right thing to do, and so that the moral authority of the Church not be invalidated in the world’s eyes by the sins of some of her members, and leaders.

Benedict is striving to do what Celestine was unable to do: govern the Church. Reform the Church.

The Rebuke of the Austrian Cardinal

Yesterday in Rome, a very unusual public rebuke of an important cardinal occurred.

Because of his learning and his close friendship with Pope Benedict, the cardinal in question, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, Austria, has been considered “papabile,” that is, a possible candidate for the papacy himself.

Schoenborn, generally considered quite traditional in his doctrinal stances, has raised eyebrows in recent months, making problematic statements to journalists suggesting the Church could consider changing its discipline regarding priestly celibacy, and that committed homosexual relationships might be preferable to promiscuous ones.

But he also raised eyebrows after he publicly criticized “elements” inside the Vatican which he said needed “reform.”

In particular, he has suggested that those elements did not work effectively to resolve the scandal of sexual abuse by clergymen, like his predecessor in Vienna, the Cardinal Archbishop Hans Hermann Groer, and that the former Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, had been in part responsible for this lack of oversight.

How often do important cardinals like Schoenborn, close to the Pope, cardinals considered possible papal candidates themselves, make public criticisms of the Vatican, and, by implication, of the Pope himself, since the Pope is notionally in charge of the Vatican?

Rarely, to put it mildly.

And how often does the Pope then call in such a cardinal, a former pupil and friend, and subject him to a public reprimand?

It is unprecedented.

But it happened yesterday.

Here is the Vatican communique after the event:

Vatican Information Service:

The Holy See Press Office released the following communique early this afternoon:

“(1) The Holy Father today received in audience Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, O.P., archbishop of Vienna and president of the Austrian Episcopal Conference. The cardinal had asked to meet the Supreme Pontiff personally in order to report on the current situation of the Church in Austria. In particular, Cardinal Schonborn wished to clarify the exact meaning of his recent declarations concerning some aspects of current ecclesiastical discipline, and certain of his judgements regarding positions adopted by the Secretariat of State — and in particular by the then Secretary of State of Pope John Paul II — concerning the late Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, archbishop of Vienna from 1986 to 1995.

“(2) Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, and Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. were subsequently invited to join the meeting.

“In the second part of the audience certain widespread misunderstandings were clarified and resolved, misunderstandings deriving partly from certain statements of Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, who expressed his displeasure at the interpretations given to his words.

“In particular:

“(a) It must be reiterated that, in the Church, when accusations are made against a cardinal, competency falls exclusively to the Pope; other parties may have a consultative function, while always maintaining due respect for persons.

“(b) The word ‘chiacchiericcio‘ (gossip) was erroneously interpreted as disrespectful to the victims of sexual abuse, towards whom Cardinal Angelo Sodano nourishes the same feelings of compassion, and of condemnation of evil, as expressed on various occasions by the Holy Father. That word, pronounced during his Easter address to Pope Benedict XVI, was taken literally from the pontifical homily of Palm Sunday and referred to the “courage that does not let itself be intimidated by the gossip of prevalent opinions”.

“(3) The Holy Father, recalling with great affection his own pastoral trip to Austria, via Cardinal Christoph Schonborn sends his greetings and encouragement to the Church in Austria, and to her pastors, entrusting the journey to renewed ecclesial communion to the celestial protection of the Blessed Virgin, so venerated at Mariazell”.

(See bottom for the report published by Associated Press about what happened.)

The Puzzle

What is really happening here? It isn’t entirely clear.

Certainly Schoenborn (whom I have known for more than 20 years) has been close to Pope Benedict; there is no doubt of that.

But friends can fall out — especially if their views diverge.

It could be that the Pope regards Schoenborn’s comments as so destabilizing for the overall operations and mission of the Church that, despite a personal closeness to Schoenborn, he decided he had to be “reined in.”

But Schoenborn, through this rebuke, could, paradoxically become more acceptable to “progressives” as a possible “reformer,” and so this rebuke, instead of “weakening” him, could actually make his position stronger in an eventual future conclave.

“The Freedom of the Church”

Early this morning, the Pope conferred the pallium on the 38 metropolitan archbishops named around the world over the last year.

Here in its Vatican translation, the Pope’s homily from this morning’s Pallium Mass on this feast of Saints Peter and Paul. I note certain passages in the text for special attention:

Dear brothers and sisters!

The biblical texts of this Eucharistic Liturgy of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, in their great wealth, highlight a theme that could be summarized thus: God is close to his faithful servants and frees them from all evil, and frees the Church from negative powers. [**The Pope’s words, “frees the Church from negative powers” can mean the sins of Church members, but also can mean the Church’s enemies, internal and external.**]

It is the theme of the freedom of the Church, which has a historical aspect and another more deeply spiritual one.

This theme runs through today’s Liturgy of the Word. The first and second readings speak, respectively, of St Peter and St Paul, emphasizing precisely the liberating action of God in them. Especially the text from the Acts of the Apostles describes in abundant detail the intervention of the Angel of the Lord, who releases Peter from the chains and leads him outside the prison in Jerusalem, where he had been locked up, under close supervision, by King Herod (cf. at 12.1 to 11). [**This image of the angel releasing Peter from his chains, in connection with our reflection above on the imprisonment of Pope Celestine at the end of his life, and in connection with the “chains” which bind Benedict, whatever they may be, including the many attacks on Benedict from within and without the Church, seems significant. Benedict is saying the safety and freedom of the Pope, even if he is in prison, comes through God and his agents.**]

Paul, however, writing to Timothy when he feels close to the end of his earthly life, takes stock which shows that the Lord was always near him and freed him from many dangers and frees him still by introducing him into His eternal Kingdom ( see 2 Tim 4, 6-8.17-18). The theme is reinforced by the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 33), and also finds a particular development in the Gospel of Peter’s confession, where Christ promises that the powers of hell shall not prevail against his Church (cf. Mt 16:18). [**The Pope says clearly here that “the powers of hell will not prevail.”**]

Observing closely we note a certain progression regarding this issue. In the first reading a specific episode is narrated that shows the Lord’s intervention to free Peter from prison. In the second Paul, on the basis of his extraordinary apostolic experience, is convinced that the Lord, who already freed him “from the mouth of the lion” delivers him “from all evil”, by opening the doors of Heaven to him.

In the Gospel we no longer speak of the individual Apostles, but the Church as a whole and its safekeeping from the forces of evil, in the widest and most profound sense. Thus we see that the promise of Jesus – “the powers of hell shall not prevail” on the Church – yes, includes the historical experience of persecution suffered by Peter and Paul and other witnesses of the Gospel, but it goes further, wanting to protect especially against threats of a spiritual order, as Paul himself writes in his Letter to the Ephesians: “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph 6:12). [**It seems that Benedict, moving from Peter’s experience of imprisonment, to Paul’s experience of being protected by the Lord, to the promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, may also have in mind our present crisis. In fact, he goes immediately to the suffering of the Church in history.**]

Indeed, if we think of the two millennia of Church history, we can see that — as the Lord Jesus had announced (cf. Mt 10.16-33) – Christians have never been lacking in trials, which in some periods and places have assumed the character of real persecution. [**He speaks of “real persecution.”**]

These, however, despite the suffering they cause, are not the greatest danger for the Church. In fact it suffers greatest damage from what pollutes the Christian faith and life of its members and its communities, eroding the integrity of the Mystical Body, weakening its ability to prophesy and witness, tarnishing the beauty of its face. [**The greatest danger to the Church is not her external enemies, her persecutors, but the sin of her own members, her self-pollution, which destroys her credibility. These are powerful words relating to our present crisis.**]

This reality is already attested in the Pauline Epistle. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, for example, responds to some problems of divisions, inconsistencies, of infidelity to the Gospel which seriously threaten the Church. But the Second Letter to Timothy – of which we heard an excerpt – speaks about the dangers of the “last days”, identifying them with negative attitudes that belong to the world and can infect the Christian community: selfishness, vanity, pride, love of money, etc. (cf. 3.1 to 5). [**This reference to the “last days” gives an apocalyptic tone to the entire homily.**]

The Apostle’s conclusion is reassuring: men who do wrong — he writes — “will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be plain to all” (3.9).

There is therefore a guarantee of freedom promised by God to the Church, it is freedom from the material bonds that seek to prevent or coerce mission, both through spiritual and moral evils, which may affect its authenticity and credibility. [**He is really hammering this point home.**]

The theme of the freedom of the Church, guaranteed by Christ to Peter, also has a specific relevance to the rite of the imposition of the pallium, which we renew today for 38 metropolitan archbishops, to whom I address my most cordial greeting, extending with it affection to all who have wanted to accompany them on this pilgrimage. Communion with Peter and his successors, in fact, is the guarantee of freedom for the Church’s Pastors and the Communities entrusted to them. It is highlighted on both levels in the aforementioned reflections. Historically, union with the Apostolic See, ensures the particular Churches and Episcopal Conferences freedom with respect to local, national or supranational powers, that can sometimes hinder the mission of the ecclesial Church. [**Benedict is stressing here that if the Church is divided, if bishops end their communion with him, and their obedience to him, the freedom of the Church will be lost. He hammers this point home in the next lines.**]

Furthermore, and most essentially, the Petrine ministry is a guarantee of freedom in the sense of full adherence to truth and authentic tradition, so that the People of God may be preserved from mistakes concerning faith and morals.[**A powerful defense of doctrinal tradition as freedom-giving.**]

Hence the fact that each year the new Metropolitans come to Rome to receive the pallium from the hands of the Pope, must be understood in its proper meaning, as a gesture of communion, and the issue of freedom of the Church gives us a particularly important key for interpretation. This is evident in the case of churches marked by persecution, or subject to political interference or other hardships. But this is no less relevant in the case of communities that suffer the influence of misleading doctrines or ideological tendencies and practices contrary to the Gospel.

Thus the pallium becomes, in this sense, a pledge of freedom, similar to the “yoke” of Jesus, that He invites us to take up, each on their shoulders (Mt 11:29-30). While demanding, the commandment of Christ is “sweet and light” and instead of weighing down on the bearer, it lifts him up, thus the bond with the Apostolic See – while challenging – sustains the Pastor and the portion of the Church entrusted to his care, making them freer and stronger.

I would like to draw a final point from the Word of God, in particular from Christ’s promise that the powers of hell shall not prevail against his Church. These words may also have a significant ecumenical value, since, as I mentioned earlier, one of the typical effects of the Devil is division within the Church community.

The divisions are in fact symptoms of the power of sin, which continues to act in members of the Church even after redemption. But the word of Christ is clear: “Non praevalebunt – it will not prevail” (Matt. 16:18).

The unity of the Church is rooted in its union with Christ, and the cause of full Christian unity — always to be sought and renewed from generation to generation — is well supported by his prayer and his promise. In the fight against the spirit of evil, God has given us in Jesus the ‘Advocate’, defender, and after his Easter, “another Paraclete” (Jn 14:16), the Holy Spirit, which remains with us always and leads the Church into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 14:16; 16:13), which is also the fullness of charity and unity. With these feelings of confident hope, I am pleased to greet the delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which, in the beautiful custom of reciprocal visits, participates in the celebrations of the patron saints of Rome. Together we thank God for progress in ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox, and we renew our commitment to generously reciprocate to God’s grace, which leads us to full communion.

Dear friends, I cordially greet all of you: Cardinals, Brother Bishops, Ambassadors and civil authorities, in particular the Mayor of Rome, priests, religious and lay faithful. Thank you for your presence. May the Saints Peter and Paul help you to grow in love for the holy Church, the Mystical Body of Christ the Lord and messenger of unity and peace for all men. May they also help you to offer the hardships and sufferings endured for fidelity to the Gospel with joy for her holiness and her mission. May the Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles and Mother of the Church, always watch over you and especially over the Ministry of metropolitan archbishops. With her heavenly help may you always live and act in that freedom that Christ has won for us. Amen.


More on Celestine

A persistent tradition identifies Celestine V as the nameless figure Dante sees among those in the antechamber of Hell, in the enigmatic verses: “I saw and recognized the shade of him, who by his cowardice made the great refusal” (Inferno, III, 59–60)

The first commentators to make this identification included Dante’s son Jacopo Alighieri, [Jacopo Alighieri, Chiose all’«Inferno», 1990, p. 100] followed by Graziolo Bambaglioli in 1324. The identification is also considered probable by recent scholars.

Petrarch was moved to defend Celestine vigorously against the accusation of cowardice and some modern scholars (e.g. Mark Musa) have suggested Dante may have meant someone else (Esau, Diocletian and Pontius Pilate have been variously suggested).

Pope Celestine V is referenced in Chapter 88 of Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons. He is referenced as an example of a murdered Pope.

Upcoming Papal Trip to Sulmona

Here is a Zenit news account about this next planned papal trip:


Former Pontiff Abdicated After 5 Months

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 16, 2010 ( Benedict XVI will visit the earthquake-scourged Abruzzi region of Italy on July 4 and venerate the relics of St. Celestine V, the 13th-century Pope who abdicated the papacy after only five months.

The Vatican press office published the official program for the one-day trip to the city of Sulmona, located about an hour southwest of the epicenter of the April 2009 quake that left more than 300 dead and more than 65,000 homeless in and around the city of L’Aquila.

Benedict XVI visited the region that same month, at which time he made a stop at the Collemaggio Basilica in L’Aquila to pray in front of the casket with the remains of Celestine V. To emphasize his spiritual solidarity, the Pontiff left there the pallium that he received at the beginning of his pontificate.

The Pontiff then convoked a Celestine Year — from Aug. 28, 2009, to Aug. 29, 2010 — that celebrates the 800th birthday of the Pope. The saint’s remains have been on pilgrimage during this year throughout the dioceses of the region.

Born as Pietro Angeleri in 1209, the future Pope and saint became a monk and hermit who founded the Celestines. He was elected Pontiff in 1294, at the age of 80 and after a two-year deliberation by the College of Cardinals.

He resigned after five months in order to return to the life of a hermit, naming as his motivations: “the desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquillity of his former life.”

Celestine V was imprisoned by his successor, Pope Boniface VIII, and he died 10 months later.


Benedict XVI will leave the Vatican at 8:30 a.m. (Rome time) and fly by helicopter to Sulmona, where he will arrive at the Serafini Sports Field of the Coronada Sport Complex at 9:20 a.m.

The Pontiff will be welcomed in Garibaldi Square by the Mayor Fabio Federico of Sulmona and by Bishop Angelo Spina of Sulmona-Valva, where the Holy Father will preside at Mass.

Benedict XVI will lunch with the bishops of Abruzzo at 1:15 pm in the priests’ house of the diocesan pastoral center of Sulmona.

While there, at 4:30 p.m. he will greet the members of the visit’s organizing committee and will meet with a delegation of the penitentiary center (Casa Circondariale) of Sulmona.

At 5 p.m., the Pope will meet with young people, whom he will address in the Cathedral of Sulmona.

Afterward, the Pontiff will pray before the relics of St. Celestine V in the cathedral’s crypt.

The Pope will leave by helicopter at 5:45 pm and will arrive in the Vatican at 6:35 pm.

The visit to Sulmona is one of the Pope’s four pastoral visits within Italy this year: Turin (May), Sulmona (July), Carpineto Romano (September), and Palermo (October).

The Pope’s Letter

Message of the Holy Father
To the dear Brother,

Abp. André Joseph Léonard,

Archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels,

President of the Belgian Episcopal Conference

I wish to express to you, dear Brother in the Episcopate, as well as to all Bishops of Belgium, my closeness and my solidarity in this moment of sadness, in which, with certain surprising and deplorable methods, searches were carried out in Mechlin Cathedral and in places where the Belgian Episcopate were assembled in plenary session. During that meeting, aspects related to the abuse of minors by members of the clergy were to have been treated, among other things. I have myself repeated numerous times that these grave facts should be treated by the civil order and by the canonical order in reciprocal respect for the specificity and autonomy of each one. In this sense, I wish that justice will follow its course, ensuring the rights of persons and institutions, in respect for victims, with the recognition, without prejudices, of those who wish to collaborate with it and with the refusal of everything that could darken the noble duties that are ascribed to it.

Assuring you that I daily accompany you in prayer for the path of the Church in Belgium, I gladly send you an affectuous Apostolic Benediction.

Vatican City, June 27, 2010.


[Original language: French]

June 28, 2010

Vatican Rebukes Austrian Cardinal

Filed at 4:17 p.m. ET

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican on Monday issued an unprecedented rebuke of a top cardinal who had accused the retired Vatican No. 2 of blocking clerical sex abuse investigations, publicly dressing down a man who had been praised for his criticism of church abuse cover-ups.

The silencing of Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna and long considered a papal contender, drew heated criticism from clerical abuse victims. They said the Vatican should be honoring Schoenborn, not publicly humiliating him, for his calls for greater transparency and demands for a crackdown on priests who rape and sodomize children.

Schoenborn has also called for an open discussion of priestly celibacy; views that the Vatican said he ”clarified” on Monday during an audience with the pope.

As it admonished Schoenborn, the Vatican appeared caught on the defensive on two other fronts in the ongoing sex abuse scandal: it remained locked in a diplomatic tiff with Belgium over the brazen raid on church offices last week, during which police detained bishops and even opened a crypt in search of church abuse documents. And it bristled at the U.S. Supreme Court decision to let a sex abuse lawsuit in Oregon naming the Holy See go ahead.

Schoenborn had accused the former Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, in April of blocking a church investigation into the late Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who was accused by victims in 1995 of abusing boys at a seminary — a scandal that rocked the Austrian church and cost Groer his job.

Schoenborn also accused Sodano of causing ”massive harm” to victims when he dismissed claims of clerical abuse as ”petty gossip” on Easter Sunday.

The Vatican said Monday that only the pope can level such accusations against a cardinal, not another fellow prince of the church. And it sought to clarify the ”petty gossip” comment, noting that the pope himself had used the same phrase a week earlier, referring to the need to have ”courage to not be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinions.”

The phrase, and Sodano’s repetition of it, had sparked widespread criticism that the Vatican simply didn’t appreciate the significance of the clerical abuse scandal. It suggested the pope himself and his collaborators believed the hundreds of reports that were flooding in of children being molested by priests, and the ensuing questions about the Vatican’s handling of such cases, were mere gossip, not serious crimes.

The Vatican said that interpretation was ”erroneous,” although it didn’t explain what the pontiff or Sodano meant by the phrase. The Vatican said both men felt compassion for victims and condemnation for those behind the abuse.

Victims groups said the Vatican should have praised Schoenborn for his honesty in taking Sodano to task, not humiliate him and stifle other potential whistle-blowers within the church.

”By choosing instead to publicly embarrass Cardinal Schoenborn, the pope is sending an unmistakable message to his bishops that in his administration, avoiding scandal still trumps truth,” said Terence McKiernan, president of, which compiles information and documents on clerical abuse.

The main U.S. victims’ group, SNAP, said the dressing down of Schoenborn, coupled with the pope’s harsh denunciation of the Belgian raid over the weekend, showed that the pope’s professed claim to do everything possible to stop priestly abuse was little more than lip service.

”With his words, Benedict professes concern for victims. But by his actions, Benedict shows concern for his colleagues,” said David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

The Holy See issued the statement after Schoenborn met with the pontiff in a private audience Monday. The audience was then broadened to include Sodano and the current Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The Vatican communique said Schoenborn had wanted to ”clarify the exact sense of his recent comments” concerning celibacy and Sodano. It said Schoenborn ”expressed his displeasure for the interpretations.”

When asked by The Associated Press for further comment, Schoenborn’s spokesman said the cardinal would not be available for an interview.

Schoenborn has been a leading figure in the abuse crisis, forcefully denouncing abuse, presiding over service of reparations for victims and openly calling for an honest examination of issues like priestly celibacy.

Just last week, he unveiled measures designed to prevent clerical abuse and help victims in Austria, including the creation of a foundation for victims to cover their therapy costs and possible compensation demands.

Schoenborn’s comments about Sodano were remarkable in that they were directed at Pope John Paul II’s No. 2, who is also under fire for his alleged stonewalling of a Vatican investigation into the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who was found to have abused seminarians and fathered at least three children.

Though retired as secretary of state, Sodano still wields enormous influence in Vatican circles as the dean of the College of Cardinals.

The Vatican’s public and formal reprimand of such a highly regarded cardinal is extremely rare. Previously, cardinals who have stepped out of line questioning church policy or doctrine have quietly issued their own mea culpas.

Schoenborn made the comments April 28 to a select group of Austrian journalists. He made them in a bid to defend Pope Benedict XVI, who was coming under fire himself for his handling of abuse cases both during his time as archbishop of Munich and as the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office.

In the discussion, Schoenborn said then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had immediately pushed for an investigative commission to look into the allegations against Groer. The cardinal stepped down shortly after the first allegations surfaced — officially due to old age. He died in 2003 but never admitted any guilt.

But Schoenborn said Ratzinger was thwarted by others in the Vatican — described by Schoenborn as the ”diplomatic track,” meaning the secretariat of state, a clear reference to Sodano.

The Vatican statement Monday recalled that ”in the church, only the pope has the competence to deal with accusations against a cardinal; other instances can have a consultation function, but always with the necessary respect for the people involved.”

In other comments on April 28, Schoenborn was quoted as saying the quality of a gay relationship should be taken into greater consideration, the church needed a new perspective on the remarriage of divorcees, and it was no secret the Vatican government was ”in urgent need of reform.”

[End of AP story]

“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.” —Blaise Pascal (French mathematician, philosopher, physicist and writer, 1623-1662)

Note: Pilgrimage with special meetings inside the Vatican. We are now beginning to take preliminary requests for our Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 pilgrimages, which will include visits to Assisi, Norcia, Rome and the Vatican. If you would like information about these trips, please email us at:
Best-Seller: A Talk by Dr. Robert Moynihan about the “Old Mass” on CD

Unexpectedly, this little talk has become a minor “best-seller.”

We have now produced more than 2,000 of these CDs, and they are still running out every few days. Why?
Evidently, people really like this talk!
It is called: “The Motu Proprio: Why the Latin Mass? Why Now?”

In this talk, Dr. Moynihan gives a 2,000-year history of the Mass in 60 minutes which is clear and easy to understand. The talk covers questions like:

— Does the motu proprio overcome some of the liturgical confusion since Vatican II?
— Who was Annibale Bugnini?

— The mind of Pope Benedict: How can the Church restore the sense of the presence of God in the liturgy?

Special note: Three years ago, we participated in a concert in Rome (on March 29, 2007) in which a Russian choir and orchestra, flying in from Moscow, performed a new version of The Passion According to St. Matthew composed a few months before by the young Russian Orthodox bishop (now Metropolitan and “foreign minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hilarion Alfeyev).
That moving concert, in which one or two of the exhausted women singers fainted on stage and had to be carried off, was broadcast live worldwide via a Vatican Television Center feed by EWTN.
No DVD or CD was ever made of that concert — until a few days ago. After nearly three years, we have finally produced the DVD and CD of that historic concert, and they are now available for sale.
I believe the sound of this music, and the sight of the performance, especially during Holy Week, when we recall Christ’s Passion, will bring tears to your eyes.
The DVD and CD of this historic concert are now available on at website at the following link:
Other Gift Ideas:

Christmas Oratorio (Russian Concert) on DVD 

On December 17, 2007, a leading Russian orchestra performed an exceptional “world premiere” concert of Russian Christmas music at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Now you can order your copy of the concert on DVD, which includes English sub-titles.

The music is a completely new composition by a young Russian Orthodox Archbishop, Hilarion Alfeyev, 43. At the time, he was the Russian Orthodox bishop for all of central Europe, based in Vienna, Austria. He is now a Metropolitan and the head of the External Relations Department of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Makes a wonderful gift. Order one for yourself, one for a loved one and one for a friend… at three copies, the price is less! Click here to order
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