Cardinal Schönborn (2r), at this Monday's Amazon Synod press briefing

Schönborn springs to Francis’ defence, denies “slightest opposition” to predecessors

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has sprung to Pope Francis’ defence against the ultraconservative attacks the pontiff continues to receive, saying that there’s no difference between Bergoglio and the other six popes he’s seen in his lifetime.

Driving the news

Schönborn, the 74-year-old archbishop of Vienna, was speaking from the Amazon Synod in Rome, where he is a participant by special papal appointment.

“I’m old enough to have memories of the pontificate of St Paul VI, and the criticisms he received are very similar to those Francis receives”, Schönborn said Monday at a Synod press conference in the Vatican.

“For some, [Paul VI] was the destructor of the Church, of others he was the impediment for progress in the Church. But in the middle, he was simply the pope”.

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Go deeper

“That is my attitude as a Catholic: He’s the pope”, Schönborn explained with respect to his perspective on Francis.

Between Bergoglio and his two immediate predecessors – Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II – the cardinal said he’d never seen “the slightest opposition”, though each of the three is “different, because each has their own character”.

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But whether the Chair of Peter is occupied by Ratzinger, Wojtyla or Bergoglio, “they’re the pope”, Schönborn said.

“It’s very clear to me: be loyal to the pope. Full stop”.

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Why it matters

Schönborn brushed aside the fact that criticism of Pope Francis comes not just from trained theologians but also from Catholics in the pews, and said Pope Paul VI had to deal with such heckling as well.

“The criticism of Paul VI wasn’t always [from] qualified [theologians]”, the cardinal recalled.

Schönborn continued by saying that “criticism is part of life, and to be pope means to be both criticized and loved”.

“There are so many people who love the Pope [Francis], who admire him, and who pray for him”, the cardinal celebrated.

“We have 1.3 billion Catholics who every Sunday pray for this pope, and we will do so for the next pope”, Schönborn said.

“This is, for me, much more impressive”.

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For the record

Schönborn also referred in Monday’s press conference to one of the Synod’s most controversial talking points: the possible reintroduction into the Church of married priests.

Before the Church looks at ordaining married men, the cardinal explained, it should consider ways of better distributing the priests it already has.

There are presently 1,200 Colombian priests in the United States, Canada and Spain, Schönborn pointed out, by way of an example.

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If those priests were willing to serve in the Amazon, that would go some way towards solving the Mass shortage for which married priests are seen as necessary, the cardinal said.

“We know this problem of the distribution of the clergy”, Schönborn affirmed, adding that vocational solidarity has been central in Synod discussions.

“Europe has an over-abundance of clergy, and we have to be honest, this is also because there’s a better well-being and salaries than in poor regions of the world”, he observed.

Schönborn also said that he had “learned a lot from the courage” of indigenous participants in the two weeks of the Synod to date, particularly on the difficult issues of decolonisation and the care for Creation.

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“We, as colonial powers, we have to be very alert, very attentive, to what it means for these peoples to have been under pressure, under the danger of extinction, for centuries”, the cardinal explained.

On the integral ecology the Synod seeks to promote, Schönborn said “we don’t need to tame the Amazon but to ask ourselves how to safeguard it”.

“We need to give voice to these threatened peoples, and pay attention to the poor and to those forgotten by politics”, he insisted.

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