BY MAIKE HICKSON ON AUGUST 11, 2016
On 17 July, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria – one of the pope’s preferred theologians and his designated interpreter of Amoris Laetitia – gave an interview to the Austrian newspaper Der Standard. For the first time since the many recent signs of a serious resistance against the papal document Amoris Laetitia – such as the letter of the 45 theologians and the very recent critique of Professor Josef Seifert – Schönborn himself suggests a small, but largely indirect, response from Pope Francis to his public critics.
Many observers have indeed wondered why the pope has not yet taken it upon himself to much more directly and publicly respond to these morally earnest and charitable oppositions to his text Amoris Laetitia – with, perhaps, the exception of the pope’s somewhat surprising comments in a July 2016 interview that he does not like to “behead” his opponents.
On 29 July, Global Pulse Magazine published an article about that 17 July interview with Cardinal Schönborn, after having translated the major sections of the original interview.
In that interview, Cardinal Schönborn acknowledges “the existence of a fierce and organized opposition to Pope Francis, [which is being]carried out in certain Catholics circles. And he [Schönborn] has warned us that it is fomenting considerable polarization within the Church,” according to Global Pulse Magazine. Schönborn also says: “We are currently witnessing intensive inner-church debates – not so much in Austria, but internationally – as there is, quite evidently, a very strong, significant opposition to Pope Francis.” He adds that this opposition to the pope has been “very active and very loud,” even though a clear majority of Catholics support Pope Francis and his variously proposed reforms.
Significantly – and this will now be my own added translation – the Austrian Cardinal admits: “While Pope Francis has had a great acceptance in milieus which otherwise have little to do with the Church, there exists a polarization within the Church.” [my emphasis added]
Cardinal Schönborn also reveals in this 17 July interview that he had just spoken, the week before, with Pope Francis about this strong, manifest resistance that has taken root against his reforms. The cardinal said, moreover, that he was “greatly impressed” with Francis’ immediate response: “We must try to win over this inner-church opposition lovingly [sic]”. One might here pose a question as to how one should properly win people over to one’s own camp if we are likewise facing a grave question of heresy or of one’s complete loyalty to Christ’s teaching – which the recent letter of the 45 theologians concerning Amoris Laetitia has already aptly discussed.
As to the method of how to “win the opposition over,” the Cardinal Schönborn himself gives a few hints of his own. First of all, he proposes to overcome the dichotomy of “conservative” and “liberal” as a two-fold category; and he thus thinks it is more helpful, instead, to describe the Gospel Messages as “challenging.” He continues, according to the translation provided by Global Pulse Magazine: