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His Eminence Christoph Schönborn OP
Cardinal, Archbishop of Vienna
Cardinal Schönborn in 2020
Archdiocese Vienna
See Vienna
Appointed 13 April 1995 (Coadjutor)
Enthroned 14 September 1995
Predecessor Hans Hermann Groër
Other posts
  • Cardinal-Priest of Gesù Divin Lavoratore
  • Ordinary for the Austrian Ordinariate for the Faithful of Eastern Rites
Ordination 27 December 1970
Consecration 29 September 1991
by Hans Hermann Groër OSB
Created Cardinal 21 February 1998
Rank Cardinal Priest
Personal details
Born (1945-01-22) 22 January 1945 (age 79)
Skalka Castle, Reichsgau Sudetenland, Germany
(now Czech Republic)
Nationality Austrian
Denomination Roman Catholic Church
Parents Hugo-Damian, Graf von Schönborn, Eleonore Schönborn
Previous post
  • Coadjutor Archbishop Of Vienna (1995)
  • Auxiliary Bishop Of Vienna (1991–1995)
  • Titular Bishop of Sutrium (1991–1995)
Motto Vos autem dixi amicos (I have called you friends)
John 15:15
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}
Styles of
Christoph Schönborn
Coat of arms of Christoph Schönborn.svg
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Vienna

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

Sutom 2
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 Hugo-Damian Schönborn [de], and Eleonore Schönborn. He is a member of the princely House of Schönborn whose members have historically borne 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.

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

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

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Cardinal Schönborn at the consecration of the papal cross at Danube Park, Vienna, 2012
Kondukt in Wien (215)
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.

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.

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.

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.

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 had a close relationship with Pope Benedict XVI, whom he knew for decades, and has been referred to as Benedict's "spiritual son".


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.

Interfaith dialogue

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

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."

Same-sex relationships

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.

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

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.

Health and retirement plans

Coat of arms of Christoph Schönborn
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. 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

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

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Christoph Schönborn para niños

  • House of Schönborn
  • Community of the Lamb
  • Austrian Order of the Golden Fleece
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