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Christoph Schönborn

Christoph Maria Michael Hugo Damian Peter Adalbert Schönborn, (German pronunciation: [ˈkrɪstɔf ˈʃøːnbɔrn])[1] O.P. (German: Christoph Maria Michael Hugo Damian Peter Adalbert Schönborn; 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 President of the Austrian Bishops' Conference. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 1998. He is also the 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. In March 2019, he revealed that he was suffering from prostate cancer.[2][3] He later survived surgery which removed the cancer on May 9, 2019 and began his recovery without complications.[4]

Christoph Schönborn

Cardinal, Archbishop of Vienna
Schoenborn 20120616 1.JPG
Cardinal Schönborn in 2012
Appointed13 April 1995 (Coadjutor)
Installed14 September 1995
PredecessorHans Hermann Groër
Other posts
Ordination27 December 1970
by Franz König
Consecration29 September 1991
by Hans Hermann Groër OSB
Created cardinal21 February 1998
by Pope John Paul II
Personal details
Born (1945-01-22) 22 January 1945 (age 74)
Leitmeritz, Reichsgau Sudetenland, Germany
(modern Litoměřice, Czech Republic)
DenominationRoman Catholic Church
ParentsHugo-Damian, Graf von Schönborn, & Baroness Eleonore von Doblhoff
Previous post
MottoVos autem dixi amicos (I have called you friends)
John 15:15
Coat of armsChristoph Schönborn's coat of arms
Styles of
Christoph Schönborn
Coat of arms of Christoph Schönborn.svg
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal

Family and early lifeEdit

His birthplace and ancestral castle, Skalka Castle in modern Vlastislav

Schönborn was born at Skalka Castle, west of Litoměřice in Bohemia (then Czechoslovakia, now part of the Czech Republic), the second son of Maria Hugo Damian Adalbert Josef Hubertus, Graf von Schönborn, and Baroness Eleonore Ottilie Hilda Maria von Doblhoff. 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 the Holy Roman Empire from the 17th century, including several prince-bishops, cardinals and ecclesiastical prince-electors.[5]

As to be expected from a member of high aristocracy, his ancestry is quite illustrious in female lines too. Such he descends from some of the leading aristocratic families of Bohemia and other lands of the Habsburg Empire of both German Bohemian, Czech Bohemian and German Austrian origin, including Lobkowicz, Chotek, Wurmbrand-Stuppach, Kolowrat, Schwarzenberg, Thun und Hohenstein and Clam-Martinic. He also descends from Hungarian families such as Széchenyi and Batthyány, and from royal houses such as Savoy-Carignano and Hohenzollern-Hechingen. Further ancestors are astronomers Joseph Johann Littrow and Karl L. Littrow, and the feminist pioneer Auguste von Littrow. He has an Anglo-Irish great-great-great-grandmother, Lady Selina Meade (1797–1872), the daughter of Richard Meade, 2nd Earl of Clanwilliam (1766–1805), who married the Count of Clam-Martinic. Christoph Schönborn is a great-grandson of the niece (Marie Chotek) of Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. He also descends from the Bohemian branch of the Colonna family, a mediaeval papal family.[6] Among his direct ancestors is Princess Gabrielle of Savoy-Carignano (1748–1828), a daughter of Louis Victor, Prince of Carignano and a member of the House of Savoy which in 1861 became the Italian royal family.

At the end of the 18th century, the House of Schönborn split into three branches that are still today existing, the Franconian Schönborn-Wiesentheid, the Austrian Schönborn-Buchheim, and the Bohemian Schönborn of Prague. The Bohemian branch of the House of Schönborn was founded by count Friedrich (1781–1849). His younger son Franziskus (1844–1899) became archbishop of Prague and cardinal, while his elder son continued Christoph's direct ancestral line. The Bohemian Schönborns resided at Schönborn Palace (Prague), which Christoph's grandfather sold to the US ambassador in 1919, and which to this day remains the US embassy. Count Friedrich also became Lord of Skalken in Bohemia in 1796, and his descendants kept most of the property until a land reform in 1923. The Schönborn family continued to live at Skalka Castle, Czechoslovak Republic, until 1945, the year Christoph was born there. They spoke German as their primary language and Czech as a secondary language; in Skalka around half of the population were native German speakers and the other half native Czech speakers and most people spoke both languages. 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.[citation needed] 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 when Christoph Schönborn was nine months old.[citation needed] 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. Nevertheless, he has said that Bohemia is his home.[citation needed] Parts of his family live in France.[7]

Growing up in Vorarlberg, Schönborn speaks the Vorarlberg dialect as well as Swiss German in addition to Standard German.[8] In addition to his native German, Schönborn is fluent in French and Italian, and proficient in English, Spanish and Latin.[9] He also speaks Czech.[10] He lived for several years in France and French-speaking Switzerland, and speaks French at a near-native level.

Early church careerEdit

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. Schönborn 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 ViennaEdit

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

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.[11] On Saturday, 30 November 2013, Pope Francis confirmed Cardinal Schönborn as a Member of the Education Congregation.[12]

Cardinal Schönborn also serves as the 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.[13]

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.[14]

Schönborn is the highest-ranked Catholic Church official to visit Iran after the 1980–88 Iran–Iraq War.[15]

Schönborn has been described as an accomplished crisis manager.[16] 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."[17]

Response to the sex abuse scandalEdit

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[18] for his handling of the abuse scandal surrounding former 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.[9] 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.[19] A sex abuse victims group named him as one of two promising cardinals they saw as good candidates for the papacy in 2013.[20]

Gerhard Wagner controversyEdit

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.[21] Schönborn made an emergency trip to Rome and in mid-February 2009 Wagner was thus persuaded to resign his post at Linz.[22]

Response to dissident priest movementEdit

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 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.[23] In 2011 the Pfarrer Initiative attracted considerable attention with the publication of the group's manifesto called "Call to Disobedience".[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]


Schönborn has been described as a "conciliatory pragmatist who is open to dialogue."[26]

On December 1, 2018, he allowed a controversial rock performance to take place in St. Stephen Cathedral to raise money for HIV patients.[27][28] 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.[29] 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.[30] Conchita Wurst was invited to speak in that occasion.[31][32]

Interfaith dialogueEdit

Schönborn is a member of the Elijah Interfaith Institute Board of World Religious Leaders.[33]

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).[34]

Islam and CatholicismEdit

Schönborn favors dialogue between Catholicism and Islam.[15] However, he warns of an 'Islamic conquest of Europe'[35]

Catholic-Orthodox dialogueEdit

Schönborn has said that theological differences between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches can be resolved, if the two faiths can overcome the burden of history.[36]

Same-sex relationshipsEdit

In an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica he opined 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." Cardinal Schönborn spoke in the interview about a gay friend of his who, after many temporary relationships, is now in a stable relationship. "It's an improvement," he said. 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", he said, "but the Church should not look in the bedroom first, but in the dining room! It must accompany people." Pastoral accompaniment "cannot transform an irregular situation into a regular one", he said, "but there do exist paths for healing, for learning," for moving gradually closer to a situation in compliance with Church teaching.[37]

HIV/AIDS and condomsEdit

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."[38]

Mozart, Catholicism and FreemasonryEdit

According to Eric Leitenberger, Schönborn's spokesman, the cardinal's position is that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a Freemason, but that he was also fully Catholic.

Evolution and the Catholic ChurchEdit

In an opinion piece that appeared in The New York Times on 7 July 2005[39] 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.

This statement created considerable controversy, including public criticism of Schönborn's views by the director of the Vatican Observatory, George Coyne, SJ, who pointed to Pope John Paul II's declaration that "evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis" [40] and by Catholic physicist Stephen Barr in the Catholic periodical First Things,[41] to which Schönborn in turn replied.[42]

Gay pastoral council memberEdit

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".[43]

Reform of clerical celibacyEdit

On 14 April 2019, Schönborn said, there can be clerical celibacy priests and also married priests in Roman Catholic church.[44][45]

Health and Leave of AbsenceEdit

On March 22, 2019, Schönborn revealed that he was suffering from prostate cancer and will be absent from public viewing until after he undergoes surgery to remove the cancerous tumor in May 2019.[2][3] On May 9, the Archdiocese of Vienna announced that Schönborn had successfully undergone surgery which resulted in the cancer being removed.[46][4] It was also reported that he suffered no complications from the surgery and was "well and is just recovering from the procedure."[4][47]

Coat of armsEdit

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

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


Titles and stylesEdit

  • 1945–1970: His Illustrious Highness Christoph Graf von Schönborn
  • 1970–1991: Reverend Fr. Christoph Graf von Schönborn, O.P.
  • 1991–1995: His Most Reverend Excellency Mons. Christoph Graf von Schönborn, O.P., The Titular Bishop of Sutri, Auxiliary Bishop of Vienna
  • 1995–1998: His Most Reverend Excellency Mons. Christoph Graf von Schönborn, O.P., The Metropolitan Archbishop of Vienna
  • 1998–present: His Most Reverend Eminence Christoph Cardinal Graf von Schönborn, O.P., Cardinal-Priest of Gesù Divin Lavoratore, The Metropolitan Archbishop of Vienna



See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Duden Aussprachewörterbuch (in German) (6 ed.). Mannheim: Bibliographisches Institut & F.A. Brockhaus AG. 2006. ISBN 3-411-04066-1.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ Graf/Gräfin von Schöborn. An Online Gotha. Retrieved 22 March 2010.
  6. ^ A. Nowak: Die Reichsgrafen Colonna, Freiherrn von Fels, auf Groß-Strehlitz, Tost und Tworog in Ober-Schlesien. – Groß-Strehlitz : Wilpert, 1902
  7. ^ "Vatican : Schönborn n'est pas prophète en son pays – Le Point". Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  8. ^ "Papst-Konklave: Die aussichtsreichsten Kandidaten... •". Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  9. ^ a b Katholische Presseagentur Österreich. "kathweb Nachrichten .:. Katholische Presseagentur Österreich". Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  10. ^ "John Grace: We are soon to have an ex-pope – The Herald-Dispatch". Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  12. ^ "RINUNCE E NOMINE". Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  13. ^ "Otto Habsburg: Beisetzung am 16. Juli in Wien". Archived from the original on 13 July 2011. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  14. ^ "Rinunce e Nomine, 18.09.2012" (Press release) (in Italian). Holy See Press Office. 18 September 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  15. ^ a b "The Next Pope: For Whom Will the White Smoke Rise?: A New Pope – Bloomberg". Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  16. ^ "Papst Benedikt XVI. – Wer kann Papst? • NEWS.AT". Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  17. ^ "C. Schönborn, le "fils spirituel" de Benoît XVI – JOL Journalism Online Press". Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  18. ^ "Unser Kardinal wird in Rom sehr geschätzt". Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  19. ^ "Pope John Paul II ignored Ratzinger's pleas to pursue sex abuse cardinal – Telegraph Blogs". London: 29 March 2010. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  20. ^ "New Pope 2013: Sex Abuse Victims Group Names Filipino, Austrian and Irish as Promising Papabiles After Rejecting Dirty Dozen Cardinals – International Business Times". Archived from the original on 4 March 2014. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  21. ^ Austria's perilous journey, The Tablet, 21 February 2009. Accessed 9 March 2013.
  22. ^ The men who could be pope: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Catholic Herald, 6 March 2013. Accessed 9 March 2013
  23. ^ a b "Austria: "Cold war" between rebel priests and the Vatican – Vatican Insider". 30 November 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  24. ^ Austrian cardinal cracks down on rebel priests, Reuters, 27 June 2012. Accessed 9 March 2013
  25. ^ Vienna cardinal takes tough line on priest revolt, Reuters, 17 September 2012. Accessed 9 March 2013
  26. ^ ""Mein Herz gilt Wien": Christoph Schönborn gilt als Papst-Kandidat –". Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  27. ^ "Cardinal leads first-ever AIDS Day requiem in Vienna cathedral- La Croix International". Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  28. ^ "The Desecration of a Cathedral in Vienna". Ricochet. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  29. ^ "Zum Welt-AIDS-Tag spielt der „Jedermann im Dom"". (in German). Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  30. ^ "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.
  31. ^ News, Eurovision; News, Participants; Participants, Eurovision; Fans (4 December 2017). "Eurovision Austria: Conchita in special mass for World Aids Day 2017 -". Eurovision News, Polls and Information by ESCToday. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  32. ^ Cardinal Schonborn hosts disturbing gay-themed service in Cathedral, retrieved 22 October 2019
  33. ^ "Board of World Religious Leaders". Elijah Interfaith. 22 May 2007. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  34. ^ "ORTHODOX RABBINIC STATEMENT ON CHRISTIANITY". Center for Jewish–Christian Understanding and Cooperation. 3 December 2015. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  35. ^ "Austrian cardinal tipped to be the next pope warns of an 'Islamic conquest of Europe'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  36. ^ "Austrian cardinal optimistic on Catholic-Orthodox accord". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  37. ^ [1]
  38. ^ "News Features". Catholic Culture. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  39. ^ "Finding Design in Nature", The New York Times, 7 July 2005.
  40. ^ "Intelligent Design belittles God, Vatican director says". Catholic Online. 30 January 2006. Archived from the original on 23 March 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  41. ^ Stephen Barr. "The Design of Evolution". Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  42. ^
  43. ^ Mann, Benjamin (13 April 2012). "Vatican consultant defends Cardinal Schönborn in parish council flap". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  44. ^ "Viri probati": Schönborn offen für Debatte über Weihe (german)
  45. ^ Tiroler Tageszeitung: Schönborn – Offen für Weihe von „viri probati, 14 April 2019 (german)
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^ "Pedigree Chart for Christoph, Graf von Schönborn, Cardinal: Genealogics". Retrieved 5 April 2014.[permanent dead link]
  49. ^ "Skutetzky, Wilhelm". Retrieved 5 April 2014.

External linksEdit