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Christoph Schönborn

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Christoph Schönborn

Cardinal, Archbishop of Vienna
Cardinal Schönborn in 2020
Appointed13 April 1995 (Coadjutor)
Installed14 September 1995
PredecessorHans Hermann Groër
Other post(s)
Ordination27 December 1970
by Franz König
Consecration29 September 1991
by Hans Hermann Groër
Created cardinal21 February 1998
by John Paul II
RankCardinal Priest
Personal details
Born (1945-01-22) 22 January 1945 (age 79)
DenominationRoman Catholic Church
ParentsHugo-Damian, Graf von Schönborn, Eleonore Schönborn
Previous post(s)
MottoVos autem dixi amicos (I have called you friends)
John 15:15
Coat of armsChristoph Schönborn's coat of arms
Styles of
Christoph Schönborn
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal

Christoph Maria Michael Hugo Damian Peter Adalbert Schönborn, O.P. (German: [ˈkrɪstɔf ˈʃøːnbɔrn];[1] born 22 January 1945) is a Bohemian-born Austrian Dominican friar, theologian and philosopher, who is a cardinal of the Catholic Church. He serves as the Archbishop of Vienna and was the Chairman of the Austrian Bishops' Conference from 1998 to 2020. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 1998. He is also Grand Chaplain of the Order of the Golden Fleece (Austrian branch), of which he has been a member since 1961. He is a member of the formerly sovereign House of Schönborn, several members of which held high offices of the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Church as prince-bishops, prince-electors and cardinals.

Family and early life[edit]

His birthplace and ancestral castle, Skalka Castle in modern Vlastislav

Schönborn was born at Skalka Castle, west of Litoměřice in Bohemia (then Nazi Germany, now part of the Czech Republic), the second son of Count Hugo-Damian von Schönborn (1916-1979), and his wife, Baroness Eleonore Ottilie Hilda Maria von Doblhoff.[2] He is a member of an ancient House of Schönborn whose members have historically borne the title of Imperial Count and the style of Illustrious Highness. Several members of the Schönborn family held high offices in the Catholic Church and, since the 17th century, the Holy Roman Empire, including several prince-bishops, cardinals and ecclesiastical prince-electors.[3] One ancestor was Franziskus von Paula Graf von Schönborn, Cardinal-archbishop of Prague. When aristocratic titles were abolished in the First Czechoslovak Republic, after its independence in 1918, just as in Austria, his father officially lost his title of count, although titles continue to be used privately.

During the war, his father Hugo Damian was involved in the anti-Nazi resistance.[4] Following the German withdrawal from Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II, Bohemia's German-speaking population, especially the nobility, was persecuted by the new rulers, first by Edvard Beneš' post-war nationalist government and then by the new Stalinist regime, and the family fled to Austria in 1945.[5][6] His parents divorced in 1959.[7] He has two brothers and one sister; his brother Michael Schönborn is an actor. He grew up in Schruns in western Austria, close to the border of the Swiss canton of Graubünden. Parts of his family live in France.[8]

Growing up in Vorarlberg, Schönborn speaks the Vorarlberg dialect as well as Swiss German in addition to Standard German.[9] In addition to his native German, Schönborn is fluent in French and Italian, and proficient in English, Spanish and Latin.[10] He lived for several years in France and Switzerland.[6]

He is a direct descendant of the Duchess of Bohemia Saint Ludmilla (860 Mělník – 921 Tetín).[11]

Early church career[edit]

In September 1945, his family was forced to flee from Bohemia. Schönborn took his Matura examination in 1963, and entered the Order of Preachers. He studied theology in Paris; and philosophy and psychology in Bornheim-Walberberg and Vienna. Schönborn also attended the Catholic Institute of Paris for further theological work, before studying Slavic and Byzantine Christianity at the Sorbonne.[citation needed]

Schönborn was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Franz König on 27 December 1970 in Vienna. He obtained a Licentiate of Sacred Theology in 1971, and later studied in Regensburg under Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI). He subsequently completed a doctorate in Sacred Theology in Paris. From 1975 he was Professor of Dogmatics at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. In 1980, he became a member of the International Theological Commission of the Holy See, and in 1987 he became editorial secretary for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In 1991 he was chosen to become an auxiliary bishop of Vienna.[12][13]

Archbishop of Vienna[edit]

Cardinal Schönborn at the consecration of the papal cross at Danube Park, Vienna, 2012
Cardinal Schönborn (with crosier) and Archbishop Peter Stephan Zurbriggen walking in the Otto von Habsburg funeral procession

Schönborn was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Vienna on 11 April 1995 and succeeded as Archbishop of Vienna on 14 September 1995. He was created Cardinal-Priest of Gesù Divin Lavoratore by Pope John Paul II in the consistory of 21 February 1998. Considered among the papabili following John Paul's death, Cardinal Schönborn was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2005 papal conclave that selected Pope Benedict XVI, and in the 2013 papal conclave that selected Pope Francis. Cardinal Schönborn remains eligible to vote in any future papal conclaves for papal vacancies occurring before he reaches 80 on 22 January 2025.

He has been Chairman of the Austrian Bishops Conference since 1998 when he was elected to the first of four six-year terms.[14]

Schönborn serves as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that for the Oriental Churches, and that for Catholic Education, and of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church. On 5 January 2011 he was appointed among the first members of the newly created Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation.[15] On Saturday, 30 November 2013, Pope Francis confirmed Cardinal Schönborn as a Member of the Education Congregation.[16]

Cardinal Schönborn also serves as the Grand Chaplain to the Austrian Order of the Golden Fleece. Schönborn's episcopal motto is Vos autem dixi amicos (I have called you friends) from John 15:15.

Acting as Pope Benedict XVI's personal representative as well as in his own capacity as archbishop, Schönborn presided over the Funeral of Otto von Habsburg, former Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, in St. Stephen's Cathedral on 16 July 2011.[17]

On 18 September 2012, Schönborn was named by Pope Benedict XVI as a Synod Father for the October 2012 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.[18]

Schönborn visited Iran in February 2001 and met with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Schönborn was one of the highest-ranked Catholic Church officials to visit the country since the 1980–88 Iran–Iraq War.[19]

Schönborn has been described as an accomplished crisis manager.[20] He had a close relationship with Pope Benedict XVI, whom he knew for decades, and has been referred to as Benedict's "spiritual son".[21]

On December 1, 2017, Cardinal Schönborn presided over an interconfessional prayer service entitled Mozart Requiem in his cathedral church for World AIDS Day. The event was co-hosted by the homosexual Gerry Keszler.[22]

On December 1, 2018, he invited in the St. Stephen’s Cathedral a rock ensemble to perform a flamboyant play called Jedermann (reloaded), which was based on the early 20th-century homonym drama written by Hugo von Hofmannsthal.[23]

Response to the sex abuse scandal[edit]

In May 2010 Schönborn told the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress, "the days of cover-up are over. For a long while the Church's principle of forgiveness was falsely interpreted and was in favour of those responsible and not the victims," while praising Pope Benedict XVI for having pushed for sex abuse inquiries when he was a Cardinal. Schönborn has earned much recognition[24] for his handling of the abuse scandal surrounding his predecessor as Vienna Archbishop Hans Hermann Groër, who was removed from office in 1995. In 1998, Schönborn publicly confirmed that he believed in the allegations against Groër.[10] In 2010, he explained that the future Pope Benedict XVI had long pressed for a full investigation of the case, but met resistance in the Vatican at the time.[25] A sex abuse victims group named him as one of two promising cardinals they saw as good candidates for the papacy in 2013.[26]

Gerhard Wagner controversy[edit]

In January 2009, Gerhard Maria Wagner was appointed by the Vatican, without consultation with the Austrian bishops' conference, as an auxiliary bishop of Linz, Austria. Wagner was known for highly conservative views, in particular for blaming the Hurricane Katrina on the sins of the New Orleans' homosexuals and abortionists. Wagner's appointment generated widespread protests in Austria and a boycott by many priests of the Linz diocese. Schönborn quickly joined the public criticism of the appointment.[27] Schönborn made an emergency trip to Rome and in mid-February 2009 Wagner was thus persuaded to resign his post at Linz.[28]

Response to dissident priest movement[edit]

Cardinal Schönborn, 2007

As the Archbishop of Vienna and the head of the Catholic Church in Austria, Schönborn has faced an open and highly publicized rebellion by a movement of Austrian dissident clergy known as the Pfarrer Initiative or Parish priests' Initiative. The group, formed in 2005, and comprising about 10% of the Austrian clergy, has been publicly advocating a number of radical religious reforms, such as ordination of women, allowing priests to marry, allowing divorced Catholics and non-Catholic Christians to receive communion, and others.[29] In 2011 the Pfarrer Initiative attracted considerable attention with the publication of the group's manifesto called "Call to Disobedience".[29] Cardinal Schönborn met with the supporters of the Pfarrer Initiative, but in June 2012 he publicly reaffirmed the official position of the Vatican on the issues raised by the dissident group and directed that no priest expressing support for the "Call to Disobedience" be allowed to hold any administrative post in the Austrian Catholic Church.[30] In September 2012 Schönborn again "backed celibacy for priests, limiting ordination to men and preserving marriage as a life-long commitment" and reiterated a warning to the dissident clergy that they faced serious consequences if they continued to advocate disobedience to the Vatican.[31]


Schönborn has been described as a "conciliatory pragmatist who is open to dialogue."[32]

On 1 December 2018, he allowed a controversial rock performance to take place in St. Stephen Cathedral to raise money for HIV patients.[33][34] The event was held to benefit the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard, a hospice in South Africa run by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta for people dying of AIDS.[35] In the previous year, Cardinal Schönborn, the Order of Malta, and Gery Keszler's LGBT Life Ball organized a Mass to remember World Aids Day.[36] Conchita Wurst was invited to speak in that occasion.[37][38]

Interfaith dialogue[edit]

Schönborn is a member of the Elijah Interfaith Institute Board of World Religious Leaders.[39]

In May 2017, Schönborn published an approbation in regards to the Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity entitled To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians which was published two years beforehand by the Israel-based Center for Jewish–Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC).[40]

Islam and Catholicism[edit]

In 2006, Schönborn published an article on the relationship between Catholicism and Islam, noting that both are missionary religions and interfaith dialogue is often seen as an alternative to the missionary impulse. He advised that dialogue focus on "How is mission situated in respect of freedom of conscience and of religion? How is it situated in respect of the requirements of a plural world?", while addressing "openly the dangers of intolerance, of attacks on religious freedom".[41] When news outlets reported in 2016 that he had warned of "an Islamic conquest of Europe",[42] Schönborn pointed out that he had asked the question "Will there be an Islamic conquest of Europe?" in a sermon that identified Europe with the prodigal son in Luke's gospel who has squandered his inheritance. He argued that if Islam stood to gain it was because "We ourselves are therefore those that have brought the Christian inheritance of Europe into peril." He objected to any reading of his words as an attack on refugees. He wrote: "Europe's Christian legacy is in danger, because we Europeans have squandered it. That has absolutely nothing to do with Islam nor with the refugees. It is clear that many Islamists would like to take advantage of our weakness, but they are not responsible for it. We are."[43][44]

Same-sex relationships[edit]

In a September 2015 interview, he said that the Church's ministers should recognise what is good where it is found. For example, he said, a civil marriage is better than simply living together, because it signifies a couple has made a formal, public commitment to one another. "Instead of talking about everything that is missing, we can draw close to this reality, noting what is positive in this love that is establishing itself." Schönborn described a gay friend of his who, after many temporary relationships, is now in a stable relationship. "It's an improvement. They share "a life, they share their joys and sufferings, they help one another. It must be recognised that this person took an important step for his own good and the good of others, even though it certainly is not a situation the Church can consider 'regular'." The Church's negative "judgment about homosexual acts is necessary, but the Church should not look in the bedroom first, but in the dining room! It must accompany people." He said that pastoral accompaniment "cannot transform an irregular situation into a regular one, but there do exist paths for healing, for learning," for moving gradually closer to a situation in compliance with Church teaching.[45]

In 2021, Schönborn said he cannot deny same-sex couples a blessing if they request one and that he was "not happy" with the Vatican's mid-March statement on same-sex unions.[46]

HIV/AIDS and condoms[edit]

In 1996, Schönborn told an Austrian television audience that someone suffering from AIDS might use a condom as a "lesser evil", but he quickly cautioned, "no one could affirm that the use of a condom is the ideal in sexual relations."[47]

Evolution and the Catholic Church[edit]

In an opinion piece that appeared in The New York Times on 7 July 2005,[48] Schönborn accepted the possibility of evolution but criticised certain "neo-Darwinian" theories as incompatible with Catholic teaching:

Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense – an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection – is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.

The director of the Vatican Observatory, George Coyne, SJ, criticized Schönborn's view and pointed to Pope John Paul II's declaration that "evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis" [49] and Catholic physicist Stephen Barr wrote a critique[50] which evoked several replies, including a lengthy one from Schönborn.[51]

Gay pastoral council member[edit]

In April 2012, the election of a young gay man, who was living in a registered same-sex partnership, to a pastoral council in Vienna was vetoed by the parish priest. After meeting with the couple, Schönborn reinstated him. He later advised in a homily that priests must apply a pastoral approach that is "neither rigorist nor lax" in counselling Catholics who "don't live according to [God's] master plan".[52]

Reform of clerical celibacy[edit]

On 14 April 2019, Schönborn expressed openness to the possibility of married men being ordained to the priesthood (something which already occurs in the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Anglican ordinariate), while maintaining clerical celibacy as normative.[53][54]

Health and retirement plans[edit]

Christoph Schönborn's coat of arms as a cardinal and archbishop. The upper sinister field is the family arms of the House of Schönborn.

On 22 March 2019, Schönborn revealed that he was suffering from prostate cancer and would not appear in public until after surgery in May 2019.[55][56] On 9 May, the Archdiocese of Vienna announced that his surgery was successful.[57][58][59]

On 21 January 2020, the archdiocese announced that Pope Francis would not accept Schönborn's resignation when he turned 75, but only when it was ready to name his successor. Schönborn has resigned as president of the Austrian Bishops Conference on 16 June 2020, after four years of his six-year term.[14]

Coat of arms[edit]

Schönborn's coat of arms as an archbishop and cardinal includes in its upper sinister field the family arms of the House of Schönborn.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Duden Aussprachewörterbuch (in German) (6 ed.). Mannheim: Bibliographisches Institut & F.A. Brockhaus AG. 2006. ISBN 3-411-04066-1.
  2. ^ https://www.genealogics.org/pedigree.php?personID=I00206032&tree=LEO
  3. ^ "Papabile of the Day: The Men Who Could be Pope". 25 February 2013.
  4. ^ Christa Zöchling: Die wahren Kriegshelden. Wie prominente Österreicher dem NS-Terror widersetzten (in German) profil 29 August 2009, retrieved on 18 May 2021.
  5. ^ "Österreichs Kardinalsmutter – Eleonore Schönborn wird 100". katholisch.de (in German). Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  6. ^ a b "Der Mensch ist dazu geschaffen, glücklich zu sein". Erzdiözese Wien (in German). 22 August 2018. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  7. ^ Loup Besmond de Senneville (10 October 2014). "Cardinal Schönborn: " Le soir où j'ai appris le divorce de mes parents, l'un des moments les plus douloureux de ma vie "". La Croix (in French). Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  8. ^ "Vatican : Schönborn n'est pas prophète en son pays – Le Point". lepoint.fr. 9 March 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  9. ^ "Papst-Konklave: Die aussichtsreichsten Kandidaten... • format.at". format.at. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  10. ^ a b Katholische Presseagentur Österreich. "kathweb Nachrichten .:. Katholische Presseagentur Österreich". kathweb.at. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  11. ^ Czech Radio,Národní pouť k výročí svaté Ludmily pokračovala mší. Sloužil ji papežský legát a přímý potomek světice on-line 2021-09-19
  12. ^ "Erzdiözese Wien". Erzdiözese Wien (in German). 26 September 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  13. ^ Cheney, David M. (24 September 2020). "Christoph Cardinal Schönborn Catholic-Hierarchy". Catholic-Hierarchy. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  14. ^ a b "Kardinal Schönborn bleibt als Erzbischof vorläufig weiter im Amt" (in German). Archdiocese of Vienna. 21 January 2020. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
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  22. ^ ""Cardinal" Schönborn celebrates Homosexual Prayer Service with blasphemous Transvestite". 3 December 2017. Retrieved 14 February 2024.
  23. ^ "Cardinal Schönborn hosts Flamboyant Rock Play in Cathedral Sanctuary". 2 December 2018.
  24. ^ "Unser Kardinal wird in Rom sehr geschätzt". oe24.at. 12 February 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  25. ^ "Pope John Paul II ignored Ratzinger's pleas to pursue sex abuse cardinal – Telegraph Blogs". London: blogs.telegraph.co.uk. 29 March 2010. Archived from the original on 1 April 2010. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  26. ^ "New Pope 2013: Sex Abuse Victims Group Names Filipino, Austrian and Irish as Promising Papabiles After Rejecting Dirty Dozen Cardinals – International Business Times". au.ibtimes.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2014. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  27. ^ Austria's perilous journey, The Tablet, 21 February 2009. Accessed 9 March 2013.
  28. ^ The men who could be pope: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn Archived 23 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Catholic Herald, 6 March 2013. Accessed 9 March 2013
  29. ^ a b "Austria: "Cold war" between rebel priests and the Vatican – Vatican Insider". Vaticaninsider.lastampa.it. 30 November 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  30. ^ Austrian cardinal cracks down on rebel priests, Reuters, 27 June 2012. Accessed 9 March 2013
  31. ^ Vienna cardinal takes tough line on priest revolt, Reuters, 17 September 2012. Accessed 9 March 2013
  32. ^ ""Mein Herz gilt Wien": Christoph Schönborn gilt als Papst-Kandidat – Heute.at". heute.at. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  33. ^ "Cardinal leads first-ever AIDS Day requiem in Vienna cathedral- La Croix International". international.la-croix.com. 4 December 2017. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  34. ^ "The Desecration of a Cathedral in Vienna". Ricochet. Archived from the original on 22 October 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  35. ^ "Zum Welt-AIDS-Tag spielt der "Jedermann im Dom"". kurier.at (in German). 13 October 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  36. ^ "Austria: Catholic Church joining World Aids Day. Card. Schönborn, celebration in Vienna Cathedral tonight | AgenSIR". SIR – Servizio Informazione Religiosa (in Italian). 1 December 2017. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  37. ^ News, Eurovision; News, Participants; Participants, Eurovision; Fans (4 December 2017). "Eurovision Austria: Conchita in special mass for World Aids Day 2017 - ESCToday.com". Eurovision News, Polls and Information by ESCToday. Retrieved 22 October 2019. {{cite web}}: |last1= has generic name (help)
  38. ^ Cardinal Schonborn hosts disturbing gay-themed service in Cathedral, archived from the original on 15 December 2018, retrieved 22 October 2019
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  40. ^ "ORTHODOX RABBINIC STATEMENT ON CHRISTIANITY". Center for Jewish–Christian Understanding and Cooperation. 3 December 2015. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  41. ^ "Cardinal Schönborn on 2 Missionary Religions". Zenit. 20 June 2006. Retrieved 22 January 2020.[permanent dead link]
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  43. ^ "Schönborn: Renewal of Christian Legacy". Archdiocese of Vienna. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  44. ^ Lodge, Carey (16 September 2016). "Cardinal denies attacking Muslims after warning of 'Islamic conquest of Europe'". Christian Today. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  45. ^ Wooden, Cindy (11 September 2015). "Stable gay relationship is better than a 'temporary' one, says Cardinal Schönborn". Catholic Herald. Archived from the original on 4 November 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  46. ^ "Vienna cardinal 'not happy' with Vatican same-sex statement". Catholic News Service. 26 March 2021. Archived from the original on 26 March 2021. Retrieved 3 March 2022.
  47. ^ "News Features". Catholic Culture. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  48. ^ Schönborn, Christoph (7 July 2005). "Finding Design in Nature". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  49. ^ "Intelligent Design belittles God, Vatican director says". Catholic Online. 30 January 2006. Archived from the original on 23 March 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  50. ^ Barr, Stephen (October 2005). "The Design of Evolution". First Things. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  51. ^ "April Letters". First Things. April 2006. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  52. ^ Mann, Benjamin (13 April 2012). "Vatican consultant defends Cardinal Schönborn in parish council flap". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  53. ^ kath.net: "Viri probati": Schönborn offen für Debatte über Weihe (German)
  54. ^ Tiroler Tageszeitung: Schönborn – Offen für Weihe von „viri probati, 14 April 2019 (German)
  55. ^ Catholic News Service (22 May 2019). "Austrian cardinal to undergo surgery for prostate cancer". NCR Online. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  56. ^ Catholic News Service (23 May 2019). "Austrian cardinal to undergo surgery for prostate cancer". Crux Now. Crux Catholic Media Inc. Archived from the original on 23 March 2019. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  57. ^ Gennari, Christian (9 May 2019). "Kardinal Schönborn nach Krebsoperation auf dem Weg der Besserung". Dom Radio (in German). Retrieved 24 December 2019.
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  60. ^ "Skutetzky, Wilhelm". biographien.ac.at. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
Additional sources

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
New title — TITULAR —
Titular Bishop of Sutri
11 July 1991 – 13 April 1995
Succeeded by
Preceded by Auxiliary Bishop of Vienna
11 July 1991 – 13 April 1995
Succeeded by
Alois Schwarz
Preceded by Archbishop of Vienna
14 September 1995 –
Ordinary of Austria of the Eastern Rite
6 November 1995 –
Preceded by Cardinal Priest of Gesù Divin Lavoratore
21 February 1998 –
Preceded by President of the Austrian Episcopal Conference
30 June 1998 – 16 June 2020
Succeeded by