Cardinal Schönborn welcomes successor after 22 years at helm of bishops’ conference

Cardinal Schönborn welcomes successor after 22 years at helm of bishops’ conference

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn speaks at the launch of Amoris Laetitia at the Vatican April 8, 2016. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn speaks at the launch of Amoris Laetitia at the Vatican April 8, 2016. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

.- Austria’s bishops elected a new president Tuesday, ending Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s 22-year term at the helm of the country’s bishops’ conference.

In a vote June 16, the bishops chose Archbishop Franz Lackner of Salzburg as their new leader. The 63-year-old Franciscan succeeds Schönborn, who turned 75 in January.

They also elected Bishop Manfred Scheuer of Linz as vice-president of the conference. The 64-year-old will take over the role from Lackner, who served in the position for five years.

Lackner was elected vice-president of the Austrian bishops' conference in 2015. He chaired the bishops' liturgical commission, which garnered attention for commissioning a recent book that argues the blessing of homosexual unions could be "celebrated" in Catholic churches, an act that would run contrary to Catholic teaching on marriage, sexuality, and the family.

The bishop, who is a Franciscan, has the distinction of having been elected an archbishop: The Salzburg archdiocese is one of few remaining in the world in which a body of regional priests, the cathedral canons, have the right to elect the archbishop, and present their choice to the pope for confirmation. Lackner was elected in 2013.

The voting took place during the bishops’ plenary assembly at Mariazell, in the southeastern state of Styria, the Austrian bishops’ conference said Tuesday.

Speaking after the vote, Schönborn, a renowned theologian who helped edit the Catechism of the Catholic Church, said that his years in charge were at times “full of conflict and scandal,” but he was nevertheless grateful for the opportunity.  

“I am convinced it was the right time to hand over the reins,” he told the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress.

The archbishop of Vienna was elected president of the bishops’ conference in 1998 and continuously re-elected in the years that followed. In 2016, he was elected for another six-year term. 

But this March, two months after his 75th birthday, he submitted his resignation as president. The bishops were due to elect his successor later that month, but their assembly was postponed until June because of the coronavirus pandemic and he continued to serve as president. 

Schönborn, a Dominican friar descended from the Austrian nobility, tendered his resignation as archbishop of Vienna before his 75th birthday on January 22. 

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

In March 2019, Schönborn announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent surgery in May. In an interview in the December issue of the magazine Herder Korrespondenz, he said: “It looks as if the cancer has been defeated.”

He was admitted to the hospital in December 2019 due to an acute illness which the Vienna archdiocese said was unrelated to cancer. He was forced to cancel appointments, but resumed work in January this year. 

Tags: Catholic News, Catholic Church, Austria, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn

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