FaithWorld

In Catholic debate on celibacy, “ask about” is different from “question”

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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn addresses a news conference in Vienna November 7, 2008S/Heinz-Peter Bader

Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn set off a storm in a teacup this week when he said the Roman Catholic Church had to ask tough questions about the reasons for the clergy sex abuse cases coming to light now in Europe. “The issue of celibacy belongs to that (questioning) as well as the issue of personality development (of priests). And a large portion of honesty belongs to this too, in the Church but also in society,” he wrote in a newsletter for Vienna archdiocese employees called thema kirche.

In the blogosphere, this somehow got turned into  headlines like  “Schönborn questions celibacy” and speculation that he was somehow challenging this centuries-old tradition. Those comments must have been based on dodgy Google translations from the German, because it’s clear in the original that he never questioned the celibacy rule itself. He said the Church should “ask about the reasons for sexual abuse” (nach den Ursachen sexuellen Missbrauchs fragen) and “celibacy belongs to that” set of issues to ask about. He did not say “put celibacy into question” (in Frage stellen) or “challenge celibacy” (hinterfragen).

What he did do, though, is what several other prelates and experts in the German-speaking countries are doing these days, i.e. say that celibacy has to be considered as one of the pieces in the sexual abuse puzzle. This bring the public discussion about celibacy a lot further than the traditional arguments Pope Benedict puts forward.  In my analysis today “Celibacy debate re-emerges amid Church abuse scandal,” Hamburg Auxiliary Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke is quoted as saying celibacy was not the reason for sexual abuse but  “the celibate lifestyle can attract people who have an abnormal sexuality and cannot integrate sexuality into their lives. That’s when a dangerous situation can arise.” zdf discussion 1

ZDF sexual abuse discussion, Bishop Ackermann at left, 11 March 2010/ZDF videograb

Vienna cardinal’s Medjugorje visit stirs emotions, speculation about Mary visions

Medjugorje, 25 June 2006/Danilo Krstanovic

Medjugorje, 25 June 2006/Danilo Krstanovic

A highly-publicised visit by Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn to the disputed Roman Catholic shrine of Medjugorje seems to have deepened the divide between Catholics who fervently believe the Virgin Mary appears to visionaries there and those who suspect the Bosnian pilgrimage site may be a hoax.

The visit over the New Year’s holiday provoked a surprisingly undiplomatic public complaint from the bishop of Mostar, the Bosnian region that includes Medjugorje, and that has set the Catholic blogosphere buzzing (for example herehereherehereherehereherehere…). It also prompted a little-noticed theological comment from Schönborn that might point to where the debate over Medjugorje may be going. More on that later…

We reported here in October that Bosnian Church officials expected the Vatican to rule soon on the apparitions at the village supporters see as a “new Lourdes.” There has still not been any such ruling, so the issue has remained unresolved. This also heightened the interest in a visit by a leading “prince of the Church,” a cardinal who is also a close adviser of Pope Benedict and editor of the official Catechism catechism.