Now that he has made a public statement, I feel I can now reveal what Cardinal Schönborn told me two years ago.
I know him a little, and I sent him my book Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church. We met in San Diego, and I asked him what he thought of the book, especially the section on his predecessor, Cardinal Groër. I wondered whether I had understood all the German sources correctly.
Schönborn said the situation was worse than I knew. Groër had molested almost every student he had come into contact with for decades. After Groër was accused of this abuse, John Paul II continued to receive Groër socially in the Vatican, and tens of thousands of Austrians were resigning from the Church in protest.
Schönborn in person pleaded with John Paul to make a statement about Groër. John Paul replied that he would like to, but “they won’t let me.”
“They”? I asked Schönborn. Who are “they” who can tell the pope what to do or not to do? Schönborn said that John Paul would not explain. I gathered from the context it must be part of the curia.
Schönborn has now explained:
Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, in defense of the pope, told ORF Austrian television on Sunday that Benedict wanted a full probe when former Vienna Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer was removed in 1995 for alleged sexual abuse of a boy.
But other Curia officials persuaded then Pope John Paul that the media had exaggerated the case and an inquiry would only create more bad publicity.
“He told me, ‘the other side won’,” Schoenborn said.
This other side, from all indications, was Cardinal Sodano, the Secretary of State, or at least some influential members of that Secretariat.. Ratzinger did not report directly to the pope, but to the Secretary of State.
Der heutige Papst habe sich in der Causa Groer (1995) energisch für eine vatikanische Untersuchungskommission eingesetzt. Diese sei aber von der “anderen Partei” im Vatikan verhindert worden, berichtete Schönborn: “Ratzinger hat mir damals traurig gesagt: Die andere Partei hat sich durchgesetzt.”
Bei den Kommissions-Gegner habe es sich 1995 um die – im Staatssekretariat angesiedelte – “diplomatische Schiene” gehandelt.
Ratzinger sei auch der Verantwortliche für die Errichtung des “Gerichtshofs” in der Glaubenskongregation zur Behandlung der “delicta graviora” gewesen: “Ihm vorzuwerfen, er sei ein Vertuscher, ist deshalb nicht wahr.”
Ratzinger made a mistake in his handling of the Hullermann case; from all indications, he wanted to act against other abusers but was limited by John Paul and Sodano. No doubt he feels it a terrible injustice to be criticized for others’ failures. It would be awkward for Benedict to blame others, even if they are to blame. He should set up an independent commission to investigate what really happened and to bring out the truth about who was blocking the investigations of abusers.
But of course if John Paul II failed, the next question would be. “Why on earth are you trying to canonize him as a saint?” And if Sodano is the one responsible, why is he still a cardinal?