For several years now, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna has spoken acted very forthrightly in support of lesbian and gay couples. In his latest interview with an Italian Catholic magazine, Schönborn continued his advocacy for greater recognition of same-gender couples, while at the same time tempering his recommendations by stating his adherence to the magisterium’s heterosexual norm for sexual expression. [For a list of Schönborn’s previous statements on lesbian and gay couples, see the end of this post.]
In an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica‘s editor, Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, Schönborn enunciated both one of his strongest statements of support for lesbian and gay couples, as well as one of his strongest statements of support for the hierarchy’s view of sexual ethics. The interview was conducted in Italian, but excerpts from it were included in a news article in the United Kingdom’s Catholic Herald:
“Cardinal Schönborn spoke in the interview about a gay friend of his who, after many temporary relationships, is now in a stable relationship. ‘It’s an improvement,’ he said. They share ‘a life, they share their joys and sufferings, they help one another. It must be recognised that this person took an important step for his own good and the good of others, even though it certainly is not a situation the Church can consider “regular.” ‘
“The Church’s negative ‘judgment about homosexual acts is necessary,’ he said, ‘but the Church should not look in the bedroom first, but in the dining room! It must accompany people.’ “
The cardinal gave a description of how he understands what it means to pastorally accompany gay and lesbian couples:
“Pastoral accompaniment ‘cannot transform an irregular situation into a regular one,’ he said, ‘but there do exist paths for healing, for learning,’ for moving gradually closer to a situation in compliance with Church teaching.
” ‘We are not at risk of diluting the clarity [of Church teaching] while walking with people because we are called to walk in the faith,’ he said.
Though his comments about gay and lesbian relationships are not the most positive that they can be, there is a hopeful message in the methodology that Schönborn lays out. His pastoral methodology seems very close to ideas offered by Pope Francis:
” ‘We are all called to observe the situation, not gazing from above and beginning with abstract ideas, but with the gaze of pastors who scrutinise today’s reality in an evangelical spirit,’ the cardinal said . . .
“The approach the bishops are called to take, he said, ‘is not first of all a critical gaze that highlights every failure, but a benevolent gaze that sees how much good will and how much effort there is even in the midst of much suffering.’
“The next step, he said, is not to pretend that everything in all those situations is fine, but to help Catholics build on what is good, growing in holiness and faithfulness to God and to each other.”
Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I tend to think that if such an approach were actually practiced by bishops and other pastoral ministers, these church leaders would also be changed by the encounter they experience. In giving up their harsh judgmental stance, bishops and pastoral ministers will be opening their hearts to seeing goodness and holiness, and I can’t help but think that this new vision will change their own hearts and minds.
How did Cardinal Schönborn develop such an open approach to these pastoral situations? Perhaps the detail of his biography that he mentioned in the interview holds a clue:
“Cardinal Schönborn said that being a child of divorced parents – and of a father who remarried – he knows what it is to grow up in a ‘patchwork family.’ And despite it not conforming fully to the Church’s ideal, ‘I also experienced the radical goodness of the family’ with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who helped out.
In 1999, Detroit’s Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a great advocate for LGBT Catholics, was asked a question at a talk he gave, “How can more bishops become like you?” Gumbleton, whose eyes were opened about LGBT people because of having a gay brother, answered, “Tell the bishops to find the gay and lesbian members in their families.”
I strongly suspect that the reason Cardinal Schönborn has such an open view about what the church would call an “irregular” relationship is that he experienced these realities in his own family. And he is courageous enough–and vulnerable enough–to face those facts, reflect on his experience, and share those thoughts publicly. I’m not sure enough church leaders are willing to be so vulnerable.
If you can read Italian, you can read the entire interview with Cardinal Schönborn in La Civiltà Cattolica by clicking here.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Previous posts about Cardinal Schönborn’s statements on lesbian and gay couples:
April 3, 2012: “Austrian Cardinal: Gay Man Can Stay on Parish Council”
April 12, 2013: “Two More Cardinals on the Record Endorsing Civil Unions