Cardinal Schönborn laments exodus of Austrian Catholics

CNA 562e5810245f4 76996 Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, pictured in 2015. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has said that he regrets that an increasing number of people are leaving the Church in Austria. 

In an interview with Austrian Church newspapers, he said: "There is a phenomenon that affects the Church worldwide and especially us here in Austria: that is, those who silently turn their backs on the Church."

In Austria, the number of people leaving the Church rose by 14.9% in 2019 compared to the previous year. A total of 67,583 people left in 2019, while 58,807 left in 2018, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA's German language news partner.

Austria has a population of almost nine million, with around 4.98 million Catholics.

Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, lamented the exodus of Austrian Catholics. 

"But that is part of religious freedom," he said. "We are not a compulsory community. This is the freedom that God has given us." 

Schönborn has served as president of the Austrian bishops' conference since 1998. He was elected for another six years in 2016. 

But following his 75th birthday this January, he submitted his resignation as president. The election of his successor should have taken place in March but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. He continued to hold the office until June, when Archbishop Franz Lackner of Salzburg was elected bishops' conference president.

Schönborn, a Dominican friar descended from the Austrian nobility, tendered his resignation as archbishop of Vienna before his 75th birthday. 

Vienna archdiocese said January 21 that Pope Francis had declined the resignation, asking Schönborn to stay on for "an indefinite period."

In the interview, the cardinal also addressed conflicts within the Church, saying that they were "normal because people have different lifestyles, different basic cultural and religious habits." 

He suggested that a formal split in the Church was unlikely. For 50 years, he said, he had been hearing that the Church was on the verge of splitting, but "it did not come because the forces of unity are stronger."

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