I am filled with wrath, God” in St Stephen’s Cathedral on 31 March 2010.
Apr 16, 2010
Transcription of the homily of Cardinal Schönborn at the solemn penitential
“When the victims speak, God speaks to us,” said Cardinal Christoph
Schönborn in his homily at the solemn penitential liturgy held for the abuse
scandal in Vienna’s St Stephen’s Cathedral. The Cardinal’s homily during the
service, attended by a congregation of around 3,000, was transcribed as
In an hour such as this, it would be out of place to preach. Such words can
only be embarrassing, even injurious in effect. Silence would be the tactful
response. Not the silence we have so often encountered: the silence of the
cover-up, of gagging, the silence of not being able to speak. It has to be
the silence of Job’s friends, who were struck dumb at the suffering of their
friend and could only sit by him, in silence.
Thank you for breaking the silence. Thank you that victims have started to
trust themselves to say something. It often takes a long time to break out
of the silence spiral. A great deal has been started. People are not looking
away as much. But there’s still much to do.
I must admit, during these last few days I have often had a feeling of
injustice. Why is the Church being pilloried more than any other
institution? Doesn’t abuse happen elsewhere? Isn’t it being followed up
there as well? Investigated? And then I’m tempted slightly to say: Yes, the
media simply can’t stand the Church! Perhaps there’s a conspiracy against
But then I sense in my heart that that’s not it. Even if it were, the mirror
that is being held up to us shows us more or less what makes abuse in the
Church so grave: it desecrates the Holy Name of God. It warps the access to
God, often throughout one’s entire life, the God who is with us and who
frees us. When sexual or physical abuse or both happens through clerics,
priests, religious, it can lead to a “poisoning of God”. The very people who
ought to bring God and His Name close to us become destroyers of the
relationship to God. This is what multiplies the blame of abuse in the
Church, and this is why the word “holy wrath”, which Jesus used, is so
terribly grave: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these
little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great
millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. “
Offence to the “little Ones”, the dependent ones, the vulnerable, the
children and young people: this encounters the wrath and grief of God.
The reading from the Book of Exodus is about the encounter with God. It is
not the encounter with an anonymous power, with some kind of force or
energy, but with an “I”: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the
God of Jacob. I am the God of thy father,” – the God who calls Moses by
name, who calls us by name: He knows him. He knows me. He calls him. He
calls me. He is my God and your God.
And He shows us what He’s like. He is not the God that looks away and
doesn’t hear: “I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt and I have heard
their loud complaints. I know their suffering.” A God who looks and listens,
and who is not left cold by suffering.
How terrible, when the approach to this God is blocked by people of the
Church. When the name of this living God is poisoned. And then people have
to discover that their suffering is being ignored, their misery is not seen,
their loud complaints are not heard!
Moses would never have been able to meet this God if he himself had looked
away in Egypt when one of his compatriots, one of the Hebrews, was
maltreated by a slave driver. Moses paid the price for not looking away.
“And now go,” God demanded of Moses, “lead my people out of the house of
slavery! Lead them to freedom, into the land where milk and honey flow.”
Moses can only perform this service if he “knows suffering”, if he imitates
God, who says of Himself: “I came down to wrest them from the hand of the
Egyptians.” Moses cannot bring the freedom of God to his people from the
proud back of a horse.
Isn’t this the tragedy of what we are now experiencing, that the Gospel of
liberation has become a false message of abuse? This is why the Church must
change its path, all of us have to. As long as the Church looks away and
doesn’t listen, it will block the way to the liberating, rescuing God. It
will not only be unable to spread the message of freedom from the house of
slavery, but will make the slavery even worse.
It is a painful experience for the Church. But what is this pain in
comparison with the pain of the victims, whom we have not overlooked and
overheard! When the victims speak to us now, then God speaks to us, to his
Church, to shake it out of its complacency, to purify it; then God speaks to
us through the victims, the God who spoke to Moses: “I have watched and
cared and have seen what has been done to you.”