Christoph Schönborn: Cardinal and archbishop of Vienna (1945-) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Christoph Schönborn
Cardinal and archbishop of Vienna

Christoph Schönborn

Christoph Schönborn
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Cardinal and archbishop of Vienna
Is Religious scholar Theologian Writer Educator Priest
From Austria
Field Academia Literature Religion
Gender male
Birth 22 January 1945, Czechoslovakia
Age 78 years
Christoph Schönborn
The details (from wikipedia)


Christoph Maria Michael Hugo Damian Peter Adalbert, Count of Schönborn, O.P. (German: Christoph Maria Michael Hugo Damian Peter Adalbert, Graf von 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.
Schönborn has for several years been seen as a leading future candidate for the papacy because he is conservative, albeit a "balanced reformer" who is well liked by all factions of the church and noted for his tolerant views, diplomatic skills and openness to dialogue. In particular, he is recognized for his ability to mediate between the conservative and reformist wings of the Church. Schönborn has travelled widely and is well known in the Catholic Church globally for editing the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He is a former student of Pope Benedict XVI and a close confidant, ally and long-time friend, who has been called Benedict's "spiritual son." According to John L. Allen, Schönborn was among the "kingmakers" when Benedict was elected Pope in 2005. Born in Skalken in Bohemia and growing up in Schruns next to the Swiss border, he has German Bohemian, Czech, Austrian, Hungarian, Italian and Irish ancestry. He descends from many prominent families of Bohemia as well as royal families such as the House of Savoy-Carignano. Schönborn studied in France, was a professor for several years in Fribourg, Switzerland, and speaks six languages beside his native German: English, Italian, Spanish, French, Czech and Latin.

Family and early life

His birthplace and ancestral castle, Skalka Castle in modern Vlastislav
Lady Selina Meade (1797–1872), who married the Count of Clam-Martinic, painted by Thomas Lawrence in Vienna in 1819 (Schönborn's ancestress)

Schönborn was born at Skalka Castle, west of Litoměřice in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), the second son of Maria Hugo Damian Adalbert Josef Hubertus, Graf von Schönborn-Buchheim, and Baroness Eleonore Ottilie Hilda Maria von Doblhoff. He is a member of the princely House of Schönborn whose members bear the title of Count and the style of Illustrious Highness. 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-Krakowski, Schwarzenberg, Thun und Hohenstein and Clam-Martinic (z Martinicz, supposed to be descended from the Vršovci family and ultimately from the Přemyslid dynasty in the male line). He also descends from Hungarian families such as Széchenyi and Batthyány, and from royal houses such as Savoy-Carignano and Hohenzollern-Hechingen. The counts of Schönborn became lords of the lordship of Skalken in Bohemia in 1796 and were owners of the lordship until a land reform in 1923. The Schönborn family continued to live in the local castle until 1945. His family spoke German as their primary language and Czech as a secondary language; in Skalken around half of the population were native German speakers and the other half native Czech speakers and most people spoke both languages. 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 when Christoph Schönborn was nine months old. His parents divorced in 1959. He has two brothers and one sister; his brother Michael Schönborn is an actor. 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. His legal birth name is Christoph (Maria Michael Hugo Damian Peter Adalbert) Graf von Schönborn, the name under which he is still often referred to, while Austrian authorities registered him under the name "Christoph Schönborn." 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. Parts of his family live in France.

Schönborn also descends from the astronomers Joseph Johann Littrow and Karl L. Littrow, and the feminist pioneer Auguste von Littrow. He also 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. He descends from Princess Gabrielle of Savoy-Carignano (1748–1828), a daughter of Louis Victor, Prince of Carignano and a member of the family which in 1861 became the Italian royal house.

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 also speaks Czech. He lived for several years in France and French-speaking Switzerland, and speaks French at a near-native level.

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. 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 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.

Cardinal Schörnborn (with crosier) walking in the Otto von Habsburg funeral procession (the other bishop is Peter Zurbriggen

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.

On Tuesday, 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 is the highest-ranked Catholic Church official to visit Iran after 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 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. 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 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 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". Archbishop 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.

2015 interview

In an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica he noted 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.


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

Interfaith dialogue

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

Islam and Catholicism

Schönborn favours dialogue between Catholicism and Islam. However, he warns of an 'Islamic conquest of Europe' http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/13/austrian-cardinal-tipped-to-be-the-next-pope-warns-of-an-islamic/

Catholic-Orthodox dialogue

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.

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 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 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.

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" and by Catholic physicist Stephen Barr in the Catholic periodical First Things, to which Schönborn in turn replied.

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".

Coat of arms

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 styles

  • 1945–1970 Christoph Graf von Schönborn
  • 1970–1991 His Reverend Christoph Graf von Schönborn
  • 1991–1995 His Most Reverend Excellency Christoph Graf von Schönborn, Titular Bishop of Sutri, Auxiliary Bishop of Vienna
  • 1995–1998 His Most Reverend Excellency Christoph Graf von Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna
  • 1998– His Most Reverend Eminence Christoph Cardinal Graf von Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal-Priest of Gesù Divin Lavoratore


  • Order of the Golden Fleece


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