It is a rare thing when one Catholic cardinal publicly attacks another. The most famous example occurred in the middle of the 11th century, when Humbert of Silva Candida bitterly criticized Peter Damian for claiming that bishops who had purchased their offices were still valid bishops. The saintly (later sainted) Damian was one of the circle of papal reformers who strongly opposed simony, but he was unwilling to evoke the chaos that would have ensued if half the bishops in Europe (and all the priests they had ordained) had been kicked out of their jobs. Humbert was the kind of intellectual radical whose unwillingness to compromise helped bring about Rome’s permanent split with Eastern Orthodoxy.
Now comes Christoph Schönborn, the cardinal archbishop of Vienna, accusing Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and former Vatican secretary of state, of having blocked the Vatican’s inquiry into sex abuse allegations against
the late, disgraced cardinal of Vienna, Hans Hermann Groer. Schönborn also said that Sodano had done “massive harm” to victims of sex abuse on Easter Sunday when he waved away criticism of the church’s handling of sex abuse as “idle gossip.” Declared Schönborn, a sometime protege of Benedict XVI: “The days of
cover up are over.”
While Sodano–also protector of the late, disgraced Legionaries of Christ founder Marcial Maciel Degollado–could never be confused with Peter Damian (and Schönborn seems a far cry from Humbert), there’s certain parallel with the earlier strife, which help set the terms for the papacy’s massive effort to reform the medieval church. The question now is what the papacy will do to reform its own ways and means.
In the 1050s, it was Humbert’s ideas that prevailed with the pope. A millennium later, will Schönborn’s?