|Cardinal, Archbishop of Vienna|
|Appointed||13 April 1995 (Coadjutor)|
|Installed||14 September 1995|
|Predecessor||Hans Hermann Groër|
|Ordination||27 December 1970|
by Franz König
|Consecration||29 September 1991|
by Hans Hermann Groër OSB
|Created cardinal||21 February 1998|
by Pope John Paul II
|Denomination||Roman Catholic Church|
|Parents||Hugo-Damian, Graf von Schönborn, Eleonore Schönborn|
|Motto||Vos autem dixi amicos (I have called you friends)|
— John 15:15
|Coat of arms|
|Reference style||His Eminence|
|Spoken style||Your Eminence|
Christoph Maria Michael Hugo Damian Peter Adalbert Schönborn, O.P. (German: [ˈkrɪstɔf ˈʃøːnbɔrn]; born 22 January 1945) is a Bohemian-born Austrian Dominican friar and theologian, 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 princely 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
Schönborn was born at Skalka Castle, west of Litoměřice in Bohemia (then Czechoslovakia, now part of the Czech Republic), the second son of Hugo-Damian Schönborn, and Eleonore Schönborn. He is a member of the princely House of Schönborn whose members bore before 1918 the title of 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. 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. 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. His parents divorced in 1959. 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.
Growing up in Vorarlberg, Schönborn speaks the Vorarlberg dialect as well as Swiss German in addition to Standard German. In addition to his native German, Schönborn is fluent in French and Italian, and proficient in English, Spanish and Latin. He lived for several years in France and Switzerland.
Early church career
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.
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.
Archbishop of Vienna
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.
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. On Saturday, 30 November 2013, Pope Francis confirmed Cardinal Schönborn as a Member of the Education Congregation.
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.
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.
Schönborn has been described as an accomplished crisis manager. He has a close relationship with Pope Benedict XVI, whom he has known for decades, and has been referred to as Benedict's "spiritual son".
Response to the sex abuse scandal
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 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. 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. A sex abuse victims group named him as one of two promising cardinals they saw as good candidates for the papacy in 2013.
Gerhard Wagner controversy
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. Schönborn made an emergency trip to Rome and in mid-February 2009 Wagner was thus persuaded to resign his post at Linz.
Response to dissident priest movement
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. In 2011 the Pfarrer Initiative attracted considerable attention with the publication of the group's manifesto called "Call to Disobedience". 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. 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.
Schönborn has been described as a "conciliatory pragmatist who is open to dialogue."
On 1 December 2018, he allowed a controversial rock performance to take place in St. Stephen Cathedral to raise money for HIV patients. 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. 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. Conchita Wurst was invited to speak in that occasion.
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).
Islam and Catholicism
In 2006, Schönborn published an article on the relationship between Catholicism and Islam, noting that both are missionary religions and interfaith dialog is often seen as an alternative to the missionary impulse. He advised that dialog 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". When news outlets reported in 2016 that he had warned of "an Islamic conquest of Europe", 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."
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.
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.
HIV/AIDS and condoms
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."
Mozart, Catholicism and Freemasonry
According to Erich Leitenberger, former spokesman of the Austrian Bishops conference, the cardinal's position is that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a Freemason, but that he was also fully Catholic.
Evolution and the Catholic Church
In an opinion piece that appeared in The New York Times on 7 July 2005, 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"  and Catholic physicist Stephen Barr wrote a critique which evoked several replies, including a lengthy one from Schönborn.
Gay pastoral council member
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".
Reform of clerical celibacy
Health and retirement plans
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. On 9 May, the Archdiocese of Vienna announced that his surgery was successful.
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.
Coat of arms
|Ancestors of Christoph Schönborn|
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- 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.
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- "News Features". Catholic Culture. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
- Schönborn, Christoph (7 July 2005). "Finding Design in Nature". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
- "Intelligent Design belittles God, Vatican director says". Catholic Online. 30 January 2006. Archived from the original on 23 March 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
- Barr, Stephen (October 2005). "The Design of Evolution". First Things. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
- "April Letters". First Things. April 2006. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
- Mann, Benjamin (13 April 2012). "Vatican consultant defends Cardinal Schönborn in parish council flap". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
- kath.net: "Viri probati": Schönborn offen für Debatte über Weihe (german)
- Tiroler Tageszeitung: Schönborn – Offen für Weihe von „viri probati, 14 April 2019 (german)
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- "Kardinal Schönborn nach Krebsoperation auf dem Weg der Besserung". Katholisch (in German). 9 May 2019. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
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- Additional sources
- "Kardinal Christoph Schönborn: Der Unverzichtbare" [Kardinal Christoph Schönborn: The Indispensable]. Der Zenit (in German). 17 January 2020.
- "Schönborn Card. Christoph, O.P." Holy See Press Office. Archived from the original on 4 September 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
- The Schönborn Site – Following the Life and Work of Christoph Cardinal Schönborn (expired link)
- A critique of Schönborn on evolution by Alec MacAndrew
- Interview with Peter Schuster regarding Cardinal Schönborn's statement on evolution
- Some ancestors of Count Christoph von Schönborn