Archbishop of Vienna Accuses One of Pope's Closest Aides of Abuse Cover-Up

By Richard Owen
The Times
May 9, 2010

Open warfare broke out in the Vatican over the clerical sex abuse scandal at the weekend as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, accused one of Pope Benedict XVI's closest aides of covering up past scandals.

Cardinal Schönborn, 65, seen as a possible future Pope, accused Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 82, the former Vatican Secretary of State (Prime Minister), of having blocked investigations into sex abuse crimes committed by his predecessor in Vienna, the late Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer.

Cardinal Schönborn, a former theology pupil of Pope Benedict and a close ally, also charged Cardinal Sodano with causing "massive harm" to victims by dismissing claims of clerical abuse as "petty gossip" on Easter Sunday.

Cardinal Schönborn accused the former Vatican Secretary of State of having blocked investigations into abuse

Cardinal Sodano is now Dean of the College of Cardinals and as such due to convene and chair the conclave to elect the next Pope. The row thus pitches the man in charge of the next papal election against one of the leading contenders.

Andrea Tornielli, the papal biographer, said that Cardinal Schönborn's remarks, made to a small group of journalists and reported by the Catholic news agency Kathpress, were "without precedent" and a sign of "nervous tensions" in the Church hierarchy.

Pope Benedict, who on Tuesday travels volcanic ash permitting to Portugal, asked the faithful yesterday to "pray for the success" of his visit to the Marian shrine at Fatima, where in 1917 the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three shepherd children and confided three "apocalyptic" secrets to them.

The first and second secrets offered a vision of Hell and predicted the Second World War and the conversion of Communist Russia to Christianity. The Third Secret was only revealed ten years ago at Fatima by John Paul II, who in remarks read out on his behalf by Cardinal Sodano said that it referred to the attempt on his life in 1981.

There are persistent reports that part of the Third Secret referring to the collapse of the Roman Catholic Church in scandals and "apostasy" was withheld. Vatican officials deny this.

Cardinal Schönborn had previously accused senior Vatican officials of obstructing the investigation of Cardinal Groer, but had stopped short of naming names. The scandal broke in 1995 when a former seminary student said that Groer had abused him repeatedly in the early 1970s. Other accusations followed. Groer stepped down because of "old age" and died in 2003 without admitting any wrongdoing.

Cardinal Sodano has also been accused by US Catholic journals of persuading John Paul II not to take action against Father Marcial Maciel, the once revered Mexican founder of the conservative order the Legionaries of Christ.

Father Maciel, who died two years ago, was found to have abused seminarians and fathered several children by mistresses. Pope Benedict has ordered direct Vatican control of the disgraced order.

Cardinal Schönborn praised Benedict for having pushed for sex abuse inquiries when he was Cardinal Josef Ratzinger and head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before his election as Pope in 2005. He said that "others" however had stopped John Paul II from taking action, adding "The days of cover up are over."

Austria, like other countries in Europe, has been hit by a wave of clerical abuse allegations. On Saturday Pope Benedict accepted the resignation of Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg in Bavaria. Bishop Mixa, 69, is the first bishop to step down in the pontiff's native Germany over the abuse scandal.

Bishop Mixa offered to step down last month after being accused of striking children. However, German prosecutors and Church officials said that they were now also investigating accusations of sexual abuse when he was bishop of Eichstaett in Bavaria. Bishop Mixa's lawyer denied the accusations.

A survey last month found that a quarter of Germany's Catholics were considering leaving the church over the abuse allegations.

Belgian bishops ended a week-long visit to the Vatican on Saturday with a press conference at which they spoke of their pain over the resignation last month of the Bishop of Bruges, Monsignor Roger Vangheluwe, after he admitted sexual abuse.

In his remarks to the Belgian bishops Pope Benedict only made an indirect reference to the Bruges case, saying that their Church had been "tested by sin".

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