How To Spread A Heresy: Cardinal Schoenborn Writes To The Rebels.

Fifth Column on the march: Cardinal Schoenborn

From, excerpts from a kind of “open letter” addressed from Cardinal Schoenborn to the Austrian rebels, headed by the heretical Helmut Schueller. I couldn’t find (yet) the letter online, so I’ll have to rely on the article. says that this is the first time that Cardinal Schoenborn takes a position about the “Priester-Initiative”. The open invitation to revolt is dated 19th June. I wouldn’t call this a prompt reaction, but at least he has acted.

The letter says that Cardinal Schoenborn was “appalled” or “devastated” (“erschuettert”) about the initiative; that it filled him with “anger and sorrow” (“Zorn und Trauer”), and that with this revolt “a new level” (of disobedience) has been reached. This means that the Cardinal admits that disobedience was, under his watch, happily going on; only not at this level.

Here it starts to get a bit strange:

“„Wie würden in unserem Land die Familien aussehen, wenn Ungehorsam zur Tugend erhoben würde?“
“How would families in our country look like, if disobedience were to be elevated to the rank of a virtue?”.

This strikes me as very odd, because there is no reference whatsoever to the position of the heretics being…. heretical. He doesn’t say “you are totally wrong in the matter”. He says “you are wrong in inciting to disobedience”.

It goes on.

Jeder müsse für sich entscheiden, ob er „den Weg mit dem Papst, dem Bischof und der Weltkirche“ gehen wolle oder nicht. Wer jedoch „das Prinzip des Gehorsams aufgibt, löst die Einheit auf“, so Schoenborn.

Everyone must decide, whether he goes “the way of the Pope, the Bishops and the Church” or not. Still, he who “gives away the principle of obedience, destroys the unity”, Schoenborn said.

Once again: no word about the theology. That male priesthood is matter of Ordinary and universal Magisterium which must not be put into question is simply ignored. This is a call to obedience, not to theological soundness. That so many priests seem to think that a woman can be priest is not recognised as a problem, at all; that they by so doing go against the union within the Church, is.

Als Priester habe man bei der Weihe „aus freien Stücken, von niemandem dazu gezwungen, dem Bischof ‚Ehrfurcht und Gehorsam‘ in die Hand versprochen“, erinnerte Schönborn weiter, um schließlich die Priester der Erzdiözese wie auch die Unterzeichner des Aufrufs zum Ungehorsam zu fragen: „Steht ihr dazu?“

As a priest, one has on occasion of his ordination “voluntarily, forced by no one, promised to the bishop ‘reverence and obedience’ “, remembered Schoenborn, in the end openly asking his own priests and the underwriters of the appeal: ‘Do you stand by your promise?’ “

This is eerie. He asks all of his priests, and the heretical priests with them, whether they stand by their promise. Again, there is no threat, no reference to their theological confusion. He never says that they are wrong in the matter. On the contrary, the point is always the same: obedience. You have promised obedience, are you still obedient? If you ask me, this isn’t the most intelligent question to pose to people who have openly called to disobedience.

It goes on, and here it gets really disquieting:

“Er selbst habe dem Papst ebenfalls Gehorsam versprochen – und er wolle „dazu stehen, auch wenn es Momente gegeben hat, wo das nicht leicht war“.

“He himself has in turn promised obedience to the Pope – and he wants ‘to stand by it, even if there have been moments, when it wasn’t easy’ “.

What we learn from this is that he was tempted to rebel to the Pope ( we are talking doctrinal matters here, remember! You don’t break any unity if you disagree with the Pope on some opinion of his), but he has decided not to do so, because of his promise of obedience. Here, the heroic self-portrait of a closeted heretical Cardinal is painted; one that at times would have so much liked to break the unity with the bishops and the church; but then decided not to, because of his promise of obedience. His every word seems to say to the rebels “I feel with you, bro”.

Even at this point, there is no word – at least in the article – about the matter in itself, that is: that these people are theologically wrong, big time, and in frontal rebellion to the Ordinary and universal Magisterium. It’s always, and exclusively, about obedience. You start to think that this Cardinal still has some huge problem with the Magisterium but hey, he is an obedient closet heretic.

It goes on:

Man müsse „nicht jeder kirchlichen Entscheidung“ eine „Herzenszustimmung“ erteilen, räumt Schönborn auch ein. Wenn der Papst jedoch – etwa in der Ämterfrage – klare Vorgaben mache, so stelle eine Aufforderung zum Ungehorsam letztlich „die kirchliche Gemeinschaft in Frage“

One doesn’t have to “agree with his own heart with every decision of the Church”, admits Schoenborn. But when the Pope – say: in the question of the offices – gives clear instructions, then an appeal to disobedience ‘puts the union of the church into question'”

This here is positively creepy. Among the requests of the rebels there are some which are clearly heretical and in obvious conflict with the Magisterium. The idea that a priest may feel authorised to disagree with those is appalling and gives all the measure of Schoenborn’s weakness or, worse, closet heresy. At the same time, it is the clearest explanation of how it could come to this in the first place: a Cardinal who thinks his own priests authorised to not accept Catholic doctrine in their heart can really not be surprised when they refuse to accept it openly.

Once again, please notice: not one word about the theological matter. Not one word saying that they are just plain wrong. His only, and constantly repeated, argument is that they should be good boys, swallow their disagreement and not revolt for the sake of the unity.

He even goes so far as to say that they must shut up merely because the Pope says so, and here the reference to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is very clear. Once again, that male priesthood is matter of infallible Sacred Magisterium is not mentioned, at all. He fully ignores the theological question. This isn’t a father who says to his children “you are wrong”. This is a father who says to his children in an understanding tone “I know you’re right, but be good for your mother’s sake”. 

The last pearl is the following one:

Schließlich bestätigte Schönborn in dem Brief, dass er in Kürze mit den Vertretern der Pfarrer-Initiative ein Gespräch führen wolle und darin auf verschiedene „Ungereimtheiten“ ihres Aufrufs hinweisen werde

In the end, Schoenborn confirmed in the letter that he wants to meet in the near future with the representatives of the “Priest Initiative”, and point out to them to some “inconsistencies” of their appeal

“Ungereimtheiten”. This means “inconsistencies”, “small contradictions”. That the rebels want to give away the Eucharist without priests – and make of this, let us not forget, a substitute for sunday mass obligation – is merely an “inconsistency”.

And so we are at the end of the article. From what it is possible to see from it, the entire question has been reduced to a question of obedience.

Theology doesn’t play any role; on the contrary, the man clearly feels with his priests; he doesn’t reproach their theological position with one word, not even on the most scandalous issues; he doesn’t threaten any consequence; he doesn’t suspend anyone, not even Father Schueller; he doesn’t even order to take the page down; he doesn’t do anything else than inviting them to be obedient, whilst at the same time giving them every reason to believe that he is not in disagreement with the way they think, merely with the way they act.

This is, be assured, the message that will go out among the Austrian faithful. That the priests are impulsive, but in the end they are right; that their superior can’t tell them they are wrong, so he tells them to be patient and well-behaved; that what is wrong is not what they think, but Rome’s position.

If I were in his shoes and were to be scheming on how to protect the uprising without incurring the ires of Rome but at the same time allowing it to grow and consolidate, I would do exactly as he did: make a formal appeal to obedience by at the same time never showing that I disagree with the theological argument; allow my priests to appear in front of the faithful as people who have their heart in the right place, but who are a bit impulsive in their desire to progress; downplay as “inconsistencies” those requests who are less hugely heretical than the call to women priests.

Well no, on second though, I think I’d be more prudent than that. I’d say a couple of words about the Magisterium, too. To just completely ignore the matter would seem to me too openly approving of their position.

I wonder how long the Church in Austria will have to cope with this man.

Pray for his immortal soul, and that the Church in Austria may soon have a new, worthy pastor.


Posted on July 7, 2011, in Bad Shepherds, Catholicism and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Why, why was this entry posted before you had found and read the full text of Cardinal Schönborn‘s letter? Get it on and you will see that the Cardinal DID take the rebels to task for heresy, stating that „if the Pope has repeatedly — as on the issue of ministry — given clear guidance and called authentic doctrine to mind“ then they need to put up or shut up, i.e. if, as they have stated, they cannot in conscience obey, they must follow their conscience and part ways with the Catholic Church.

    Nor is the Cardinal telling the rebels, „I‘m with you, bro.“ He‘s telling them that he has walked a mile in their shoes. Last year the Pope took him to task for publicly criticizing Cardinal Angelo Sodano, which he had no right to do, and he had to backpedal. His hearers know this and will realize, if they have the sense they were born with, that he is bringing an embarrassment of his own to bear on his appeal to them to heed their fathers in the faith.

    Also on At 12:30 p.m. (Austrian time) on the day you posted „Cardinal Schönborn under Criminal Investigation“, the news was published that charges against Leo Maasburg, and consequently those against Cardinal Schönborn, had been dismissed as baseless by the Viennese prosecutor.

    I appreciate your bringing the problems in Austria to the attention of orthodox Catholics who read English: the cancellation of the sacrilegious „Western Mass“ at Vienna‘s Danube Island festival (June 26) proves that pressure from the online community can make a difference. However, there is something to be said for holding back (as Cardinal Schönborn did before writing to his rebel priests) until one has looked at different aspects of the issue and is no longer speaking „from the gut“.
    Here is a quick translation ot the Cardinal’s open letter. I have translated “Ungereimtheiten” as “absurdities” since from the context it is clear that the Cardinal is reproaching the rebels’ position paper not for inconsistency within itself, but for inconsistency with reason and the definition of words.

    Dear fellow labourers, dear brothers and sisters — and especially, this time, dear brother Priests:

    On Trinity Sunday (June 19), the leadership of the “pastors‘ initiative“ published a “call to disobedience.” In order not to respond out of the anger and the sorrow that this call caused me, I chose not to react immediately, although I did address the issue indirectly in my homily at the Ordination of priests on June 24. I was appalled at the open call to disobedience. What would the families in our country be like if disobedience were elevated to the status of a virtue? Many working people must be asking how it is possible for disobedience to be thus propagated and practiced in the Church, in view of the fact that if they did likewise at their workplaces, they would have lost ther jobs long ago.

    At our ordination, we priests all promised, freely and under no coercion by anyone, “reverence and obedience” to our Bishop and responded loud and clear in the presence of the entire congregation: “Yes, I promise.” Do you stand by that? Can I, can your congregations rely on you for that? As a Bishop I have also made a promise of loyalty and obedience to the Pope. I will continue to stand by that, even though there have been moments when it was not an easy thing to do.

    Christian obedience is a school of freedom. It is about the concrete translation into life of what we say each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, when we pray to the Father that His will be done in heaven and on earth. This prayer receives its meaning and dynamics from the interior willingness of the petitioner to accept the will of God even over and against his own designs. This willingness is embodied in religious obedience to the Pope and the Bishop. Sometimes what it asks of us can be painful.

    The will of God is also the central concern of the “Master Plan” for our diocese, of “Acts of the Apostles 2010” and the diocesan development plan [translator‘s note: current evangelization and development projects for the Archdiocese of Vienna]. What is God’s will for us, for the archdiocese in today‘s situation of change and upheaval? In common prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist, in reflection on Scripture, in awareness of the development of our society, we strive to discern the will of God. The “Master Plan” is meant to be the plan of the Master, of our Lord. 

    These are the issues the “call to disobedience” purports to address — but at cross-purposes to the “Master Plan”. Because the reforms demanded by the initiators of the “pastors‘ initiative” have not always been carried out and because the bishops, as they allege, have been idle, they find themselves forced to “follow their conscience and take action on their own”. 

    If it becomes a question of conscience to stand in disobedience to the Pope and the bishops, then a new level has been reached that demands a clear decision. For one is always obligated to follow one‘s conscience, provided that it is a well-formed and self-critical conscience. Blessed Franz Jägerstätter made a solitary decision of conscience to refuse military service in Hitler’s army, at the cost of his life. Blessed John Henry Newman, after years of intense struggling, came to a certainty of conscience that the Anglican Church had deviated from the truth and that the Church of Jesus Christ lives on in the Catholic Church. So he left his church and became Catholic. Whoever in deliberation of conscience reaches the conclusion that “Rome” is on the wrong track and in serious contradiction to the will of God, would ultimately have to act accordingly and part ways with the Roman Catholic Church. I believe and hope, however, that this extreme case is not about to occur here. 

    I am not required to approve in my heart of every decision of the Church, especially in disciplinary matters, and I am allowed to honestly wish for different decisions from Church leadership. But if the Pope has repeatedly — as on the issue of ministry — given clear guidance and called authentic doctrine to mind, then an invitation to disobedience calls the community of the Church into question. Ultimately each priest and every one of us must decide whether we want to go with the Pope, the Bishop and the universal Church or not. Compromising one‘s own plans is always difficult. But those who abandon the principle of obedience corrode unity. 

    My pastoral letter was an invitation to stand together. I proposed a very specific path: that we give first priority to missions and align everything toward that goal, above all the effort to renew ourselves and become better disciples of Jesus. This is what will show “the world” whether following Jesus is worth it, whether being the Church of Jesus Christ really works anything for good. All efforts to pursue structural reforms have to be seen from this perspective. 

    I do not consider the “call to disobedience” a constructive measure. As soon as possible I will meet with the representatives of the “pastors‘ initiative”. I will point out to them, in particular, certain absurdities in their “disobedience program”, for example, the phrase “priestless Eucharist” or derogatory remarks about visiting priests as “touring liturgists”. Only a style of mutual appreciation, as we experienced it in a gratifying way in the three diocesan meetings, will help us move forward. 

    I have been a bishop for almost 20 years now. The bishop‘s ministry is one of unity, for his own diocese and with the Pope and the universal Church. I am doing this service with joy. I have seen much that is wonderful, but also experience many painful wounds to unity. The “call to disobedience” is such a wound. My call is to the unity for which Jesus prayed to the Father (cf. Jn 17:21) and for which He gave His life. May He help me in my ministry to maintain the bond of unity in love and in the truth.

    • Vonja, thank you for your time, and the nergy put in the translation.

      On the matter:

      1) as everyone else, I write with the information available. A newspaper article is, to me, credible enough. I will discount the information if I don’t have the entire letter, and I will say so. That is that. If you think this is not enough, don’t read the blog post.

      2) From the letter (that I have read in German) transpires a slightly different, and slightly harder attitude of cardinal Schoenborn. In the end, though, it seems to me that the journalist has made a much better job than you in understanding both the message, and the attitude.

      3) Your translation of “Ungereimtheiten” with “absurdities” is in my eyes untenable. You have forced this translation out of a context that you believe right. If you do so, you are re-writing the text, not translating it. But even in this case, it would be extremely grave for a Cardinal to address what would be, in this case, the harshest comment on the letter regarding what are in the end secundary matters.

      4) Unfortunately, all my comments above stay. I will not make any modification to my blog post. The only differences transpiring from the full text are that:

      a) he does make a small reference to the doctrinal teaching: that is, he does as I wrote – at the end of my blog post – that I would have done if I had been him;
      b) he points out that sooner or later, there will be consequences. This is clear enough. The problem is that there are no consequences now. The journalist could have inserted this, but frankly the dismally weak and complicitous tone of the letter doesn’t change. The cardinal is just saying a couple of truisms to protect himself. Obviously, sooner or later, there will have to be consequences. Actually the removal of Schoenborn mightbe one of these!
      c) the reference to the employees losing their job is well-thought, and a good piece of information. This, perhaps, the journalist could have inserted.

      Again, many thanks for your effort, but I think you are trying to look for a couple of small trees in order not to see the forest. If you think that this is an orthodox Cardinal honestly trying to make his best effort, you’ll have to think again.

      This Cardinal is the last one you could suspect of orthodoxy: look at the liturgical abuses in my mass video (and I haven’t touched other issues yet) and you’ll understand it for yourself. You have mentioned the mass yourself. He has made headlines on a number of other occasions. His skirmish with Sodano is fully secundary, and please don’t tell me that he was tempted to leave the union with the Church because he was rebuked about Sodano!

      I remind you again that as we speak the priests are still in good standing, and the internet page is still up. This really says it all.


    • Apologies I forgot:

      no, there is no reason, and there can be justification, for “holding back” in front of such heresies. On the contrary, the uprising is the direct consequence of the way things have been done in Austria in the last years, for which Schoenborn carries – as I have written – a great deal of responsibility.

      Cardinal Schoenborn only acts when he is put under pressure. He did so in the matter of the blasphemous exposition (I have written a blog post on this) and he did so, after three years, regarding the Mass.

      This time he did the same: he remained silent until pressure mounted, then he was forced to look for excuses to justify his inaction.

      Make sure that the pressure will continue to mount (I am not talking of me; I am just a one-man amateur band) until he has to act. With him, this is the only way.


    • vonja,

      thanks for the info on Moosburg. This is good news. I might write an update on this when I can.


  2. This whole escapade is fairly predictable given the weak state of the papacy at this point in history. It should be recalled that there was another epoch in the Church when a weak papacy dithered and did next to nothing: at the time of Luther. So when the man at the top sends conflicting signals, the generals under him (Cardinals, Bishops) sense disarray and weakness and often will go their own way. And those under the generals (priests, nuns) will follow suit and also go their own ways.

    There is an old (somewhat vulgar) axiom that states (if you will forgive me): “shit flows downhill.” This means, of course, that troubles originate, or at least ferment, with the man at the top.

    This is a harsh criticism of the current pontiff, I know. It is a harsh criticism of many of his predecessors as well. And in all fairness to the Holy Father and of those who held that office before them they have at times done the right thing. But a swift, strong and uncompromising response must come from the Vatican soon, or this priest rebellion will spread. Don’t expect a compromiser like Schonborn to lead the charge. He WOULD do it, if directly ordered to do it by the Pope, but I don’t see that happening either. Right now, Benedict, like his predecessors, prefers the “nice” approach, an approach that has produced very little improvement. Very little.

    That they won’t admit the catastrophic mistake they made in imposing this protestantizing “mass” on us in 1970 tells you quite clearly that anarchy will remain the order of the day. The churchmen tasted freedom in 1970, with their made-up-on-the-spot masses and doctrines, and they aren’t about to let go of that freedom. Nor are the Bishops and Cardinals either….unless the Pope acts, tough, strong and uncompromising.

    Until that time, look for more of these open rebellions to sprout all over the world.

    • Schmenz,

      in Italy we say that the fish stinks from the head down, which I think is thew same concept.. 😉

      I do not think that Schoenborn is a compromiser. I’d say he is a subversive, but one of the cowardly sort. He’ll do what he can to subvert sound Catholic teaching, but whenever he gets a slap in the face he will backpedal with a smile.

      I agree with you (though I wouldn’t follow you all the way in your criticism) that the episcopal appointments of Pope Benedict are the weakest part of his pontificate. Schoenborn is a pupil of his, and I think that the Pope must have a sort of natural friendship or sympathy with him, which I think has saved Schonborn from bigger troubles up to now.

      When Pope Benedict dies, and particularly if some ortodox bloke liek Burke or Pell should become Pope, I think Schonborn will fall from grace faster than you can say “Hrdlicka” (


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