[Editor’s note: On Sunday, March 28, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn gave an in-depth interview on the Austrian television network ORF. During the program, he spoke for a second time about the recent CDF statement on blessings for same-sex couples in the Catholic Church (Click here for our translation of his March 24 interview). This translation was provided by Deacon Clayton Nickel. The translation is provided for informational purposes and doesn’t necessarily represent the editorial position of Where Peter Is.]

[Editor’s note (10:35AM EST 3/31/2021): Translation has been updated to provide more clarity and context.]

Original interview link here (video is queued to the discussion about the CDF document). Translator’s notes and additions are in brackets [Example].

Andreas Mayer-Bohusch (ORF):

In the middle of the Corona crisis, the church is again making negative headlines. This is about refusing to give blessings to homosexual couples. For example, the news magazine “Profil” wrote: “The Vatican is losing its moral authority.” Was it sensible to start such a discussion at this time? Does it pay off?

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn:

Like I said earlier [Translator’s note: in the “Sonntag” interview], I wasn’t happy with both the timing and the way in which this was communicated. The core topic could be argued quite well, but in this case it wasn’t; only the “No” came across, and the “Yes,” which was the truly intended message behind this “no,” was not perceived.

Andreas Mayer-Bohusch (ORF):

But an institution like the Church should also master that—the rules of communication.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn:

Yes, and, there is in communication — in communication errors happen everywhere, but that was a clear communication error. Of all things coming after the Pope’s momentous trip to Iraq—which received worldwide attention—is now, completely, completely (at least with us) superseded by this issue, which is really not a central issue.

Doris Helmberger-Fleckl (Die Furche):

For many people it is central — for those who are affected. But what I would like to understand: you are a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and this document was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. What happened that you didn’t [weren’t informed] — did it happen behind your back? How can such a document be issued without your being involved?

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn:

Yes, I’ve been a member of this Congregation for 25 years now. The Council of Cardinals is the steering committee of the CDF, and this council considers the big questions. We hope to have our next meeting in May. I found it very unfortunate that this very delicate topic wasn’t discussed in the plenary session [Translator’s note: The German term, “Großen Rat,” literally translates to “Great Council.” It is not completely clear to which body he is referring, but the gist of the statement is “I wish it had been discussed with the wider group”]. [Other than that,] the CDF routinely answers questions, and also in this case, the Congregation has responded to a request.

Doris Helmberger-Fleckl (Die Furche):

OK, you said that the communication hasn’t worked well. But you do fully support the substance itself, don’t you? There are many who disagree completely. Countless female and male theologians have criticized the content as outdated and stated that it is necessary to adopt the scientific and anthropological state of research, like the Second Vatican Council did when it taught about the understanding of marriage — which is what this CDF document really is about. It’s not only about procreation anymore, but about love, and love exists in same-sex couples as well. That love is what the blessing would be about. So to what extent are you defending the substance of this document?

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn:

Yes, I definitely stand by the core concern of this document: The “Yes” to sacramental marriage. This is and always will be something sacred. We are familiar with sacramental marriage as it is described on page one of the Bible, when God created us as man and woman, giving us the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. In Jewish tradition, this is the first commandment ever given by God, and that is something holy and worth protecting. That is also true from a sociological point of view: I brought with me this bestselling book “Minimum” by Frank Schirrmacher; a fascinating read for me. Without any religious considerations, it makes a strong plea for the family as a network for survival in our time.

Doris Helmberger-Fleckl (Die Furche):

Cardinal, the plea for sacramental marriage is one thing, but it is quite another is that many people do not understand why it is not possible to just bless these couples. They say, pointedly, that even weapons can be blessed, and they do not understand why it should be impossible to bless people who love one another and want to be faithful to each other; to bless them, which means “to promise them the good” [Translator’s note: this is a reference to the meaning of the Latin word “benedicere”].

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn:

In my previous statement [in the interview in “Sonntag”] I used this simple comparison: My mother, who is soon going to be 101 years old, always blesses me when I leave her. I am certain she would bless me also if I lived in a different situation [Translator’s note: implying “for example if I had a same-sex partner”]. The Church is, as Tradition says, Mater et magistra, mother and teacher. It is her mission to teach, as Jesus commanded to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28,19). That is her mission, but first and foremost she is mother. I know many people who live and love in a same-sex way, and for whom this document from Rome was severely hurtful because it gave them the feeling “Does this mother not have a blessing for me? Can a mother leave me without a blessing?” I recently met a dear old friend, soon to be hundred years old, who has lived for 60 years in a faithful same-sex partnership. I must say to my dear mother Church: Isn’t that a value too? Isn’t that also something I must honor? And I also need to tell us, the insiders of the Church, to please discuss less about sexuality and more about love. Let’s talk more about successful relationships and less about what is and isn’t permitted. And for this reason I also understand why many priests and other people providing pastoral care [Translator’s note: “Seelsorger” is a term often used nowadays to include lay people, men and women, who provide pastoral care] have been heavily disappointed with this document.

Andreas Mayer-Bohusch (ORF):

A colleague of yours, Toni Faber, pastor of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and a very well known figure in the Catholic Church in Vienna, openly stated that he won’t refuse blessings for homosexual couples [see e.g. https://www.erzdioezese-wien.at/site/home/nachrichten/article/71697.html]. Are you with him on this?

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn:

I have a very good relationship with Toni Faber. We have different roles and he is great in many aspects of his; other things, I’m critical of, but I’m not going to discuss this here (on public TV). One needs to take a closer look concerning these blessings: Is it for show, is it about grandeur, organ music and a white horse carriage — or is it really about the blessing?That, by the way, applies to any kind of partnership, and that is why I said earlier I’m very skeptical [Translator’s note: a diplomatic way of saying “critical”] of just “blessing over” anyone’s desire for a show. However, I remember many examples [Translator’s note: i.e. couples] which I personally got to know, where I’d say “Yes, I wish you well, may your partnership succeed”, and that of course applies equally to same-sex partnerships. That is what I wish you, and what do I wish you? What does “to bless” mean? Benedicere. [Translator’s note: This is a core part of this statement. It’s kind of hard to consistently translate from ad-hoc spoken phrases. Card. Schönborn does confirm that in his opinion the positive affirmation of “May your partnership be successful” applies equally to same-sex couples, and is bless-able.]

Doris Helmberger-Fleckl (Die Furche):

So when you’re saying it is [possible to bless] if it isn’t just show — it’s tricky how the Church can judge if it’s just for show, isn’t it? But your point is: If people honestly want a blessing, then we will not and cannot refuse them this blessing. But the issue is, after this CDF statement people probably won’t even approach this Church anymore, because they felt this as a slap in the face and now say “I won’t take this anymore.”

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn:

That is indeed the situation with many, I know. And that is why, as I said, I was not happy with this document. Although I consider the core substance of this document correct, the way it came across was very hurtful. And I think it’s fair to say that we must improve our way of communication.


Image: Screenshot, ORF.

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Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.

Second Cardinal Schönborn Interview on CDF Statement
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