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Christoph Schoenborn of Austria

Advocate for Uniting Christendom

Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page A40


Uniting Christendom's myriad sects was a major goal of Pope John Paul II, and if the cardinals gathering in Rome to replace the late pontiff continue to see it as a major mission, Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn will be a strong candidate.

Schoenborn actively promotes rapprochement with the Eastern churches in particular -- Vienna has long been a geographical bridge to the Orthodox Christian world.

Archbishop Christoph Schoenborn
Archbishop Christoph Schoenborn
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn (Ronald Zak - AP)

He is one of the few top Catholic officials to have met privately with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II.

Schoenborn took office in 1995 to clean up a sexual abuse scandal that had rocked the Vienna diocese.

His predecessor, the late Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, had been accused of having molested young men in the 1970s.

Schoenborn apologized to Viennese Catholics long before the Vatican openly acknowledged such problems.

"As a bishop of this diocese, I apologize for everything by which my predecessor and other church dignitaries have wronged people," he said.

Such blunt talk drew criticism from fellow Austrian bishops at the time and may not appeal to all the voting cardinals, some of whom have called the church's many sexual abuse scandals exaggerated.

Schoenborn has also criticized what, in his view, is the marginal status of Christianity on his home continent.

The Catholic Church failed to persuade the European Union to recognize Europe's Christian roots in the preamble of a proposed E.U. constitution.

Schoenborn contends that European secular society looks on Christianity with a "hostile, rejecting attitude."

"We are increasingly regarded as foreign bodies, disturbing the peace in a neo-pagan society," he said in 2003.

Schoenborn comes from a long line of high-ranking Catholic clerics -- 19 ancestors have been archbishops, bishops or priests. He is 60 years old, relatively youthful among cardinals.

But he won't be in the running if the electors decide against someone who might last as long as John Paul II, who reigned for more than a quarter-century.

-- Daniel Williams

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