Interview with Cardinal Schönborn – Islamic Terror and Debates in the Church

The following is excerpted from an interview given by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, published in the Austrian journal "The Standard" (Original German text).

STANDARD: Everyone is in shock over the attack in Nice. How do you explain such hatred?
Schönborn: For me the central question is: why does someone become a terrorist? What leads to someone getting into a truck and, with utterly no restraint, simply driving into a crowd and killing men, women and children? What is the source of this grave disturbance of humanity? Religious fanaticism can certainly give an impulse in that direction, but it cannot explain it completely. There is also a component of insanity.
STANDARD: What is the appropriate answer to such attacks?
Schönborn: Experience tells us: No one becomes a perpetrator, who wasn't previously a victim. For this reason, among all security measures that a society can employ to defend against terror, the most important are love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness. So that no more become perpetrators.
STANDARD: The terror attacks result in constantly growing reservations vis-à-vis Muslims. How can one mitigate this?
Schönborn: These are complex issues. At the current time terror has an Islamic label — justified or not. At any rate, it is not Christians, ex-Christians or men of other religions. It is Muslims. That is a big problem for Islam, which it must tackle. On the other hand, we should not forget that the majority of the victims of terror are Muslims. But certainly many are justified in looking for clearer statements from Islamic authorities.
STANDARD: Do you also look for a clearer statement?
Schönborn: Yes. Still, one has to be careful with the question, to what degree this terrorism has inner-Islamic roots. We also have, in the Bible, very many awful passages, which admittedly interpreted in a christian manner have to be read differently.

STANDARD: So said in another manner: Christianity has worked through the chapter of its history involving violence and has distanced itself from violence, and this is lacking in Islam?
Schönborn: Yes, that is so. But to be honest I have to add that the distancing of Christianity from antisemitism, from the excesses of wars of religion, etc., is not so very old. We ourselves went through a learning process. Without the terrors of the holocaust there probably wouldn't have been a clear confession against antisemitism.


STANDARD: On the Catholic Church: after difficult years with the coming to be known of cases of sexual abuse and the call to disobedience of pastors, it is at the present time strikingly quiet in the Catholic Church in Austria. Do you enjoy this holy harmony?
Schönborn: I cannot report a great deal of quiet. We currently have intensive inner-ecclesial debates — less in Austria than internationally. There is currently a very strong, significant inner-ecclesial opposition to Pope Francis that is very actively and vehemently involved. While Pope Francis finds a great acceptance in milieus that in general don't have much to do with the Church, there is a polarization within the Church.

STANDARD: So there are two camps?

Schönborn: It doesn't take the form of camps. The clear majority agree with the pope and are happy about what he does. But there are also many voices that are very concerned. Last week I had a talk with Pope Francis. Among other things, he said something that made a great impression on me: We have to try to lovingly win over the inner-ecclesial opponents.

STANDARD: How are the pope's opponents to be won over? Are meetings planned?

Schönborn: We are in the midst of a great debate within the Church — and it is good, that it takes places. We've gotten too used to there simply being the conservative and the liberals. Somehow we just resigned ourselves to that fact. But the Gospel is neither conservative nor liberal: it is challenging.

STANDARD: But this difficult situation puts the brakes on the Pope's desire for reform, doesn't it?

Schönborn: I believe that already much has happened. Pope Francis relies on processes. Things are started up, and things get moving. He did that for two years with the synod on the family. It is a journey, and a lot has to be discussed. Change doesn't happen at the end, but on the way. A simple example: in the 2014 synod the talks were incredibly abstract. A year later people spoke suddenly of reality, even bishops told of their situation with families. And, lo and behold, they didn't simply theorize abstractly. In a certain sense the journal is the destination, because it moves towards a goal.