Among Europe's cardinals, he is one of the few whose name is also known on other continents. In Austria, he is simply "the cardinal": Vienna Archbishop Christoph Schonborn is 70 years old.
The number of world church governing authorities in the Vatican, of which Christoph Schonborn is a member: half a dozen. The lists of honorary doctorates he has been awarded and languages he is fluent in are even longer.
But when the cardinal, who comes from an old noble family, celebrates his 70th birthday on Thursday, he will be one of the few cardinals in Europe. As he celebrates his 70th birthday, there are two merits in particular that stand out in retrospect. One is the contribution of the Dominican, who received his doctorate in Paris, to the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" – the official exposition of Rome's teachings in book form that is still valid today. Through his hands passed the final editing of the work, with which Pope John Paul II. three decades after the upheavals of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), wanted to make binding what Catholics had learned at the end of the 20th century. Century believed.
Guarantor of credibility
His other lasting achievement is that he saved the Church in Austria from sinking into a quagmire of untrustworthiness, into which it had fallen as a result of the embarrassing seminarian sex scandal of his predecessor Hans Hermann Groer (1986-1995).
With a bold stroke of liberation, the successor at the time, in a sense representing Groer, who had taken refuge in public silence, made a confession of guilt – and ensured that the Catholic Church regained its footing in one of its central European heartlands.
Two decades have passed since then, but it has never become quiet around Schonborn. He became known worldwide for his contribution to the debate on the theory of evolution. In a 2005 op-ed in the New York Times, Schoenborn criticized classical Darwinism, which interprets the results of evolution as mere products of chance. The cardinal countered this with the notion of a "design" by the Creator that could be seen in these results.
Always good for surprises
In the U.S. in particular, this was interpreted as taking sides with the Bible-believing "creationists," who also speak of "intelligent design," i.e., a blueprint of the Creator that is realized in the course of evolution. In his replies, Schonborn managed to avoid the fundamentalism trap and suggested a middle way between creationism and Darwinism.
At the turn of 2009/2010, Schonborn once again caused an international stir. This time it was a private pilgrimage to the officially unrecognized Marian shrine of Medjugorje. Ignoring his status as a cardinal, he traveled to Bosnia-Herzegovina to see for himself the Marian devotion practiced there. In interviews, he later justified his excursion by saying that he wanted to see with his own eyes the positive "fruits" of Medjugorje. Conservative-charismatic circles cheered.
Not assignable to any camp
The episode shows that Schoenborn is always good for surprises and difficult to fit into rigid categories. Left critics regard him as a conservative who comes along in the guise of a worldly intellectual. Others criticize him from the right because he has recently betrayed the catechism he co-authored and, like Cardinal Walter Kasper, sings the high song of mercy too loudly when it comes to how the church should deal with those who do not adhere to the church's moral teachings.
When Austrian singer Thomas Neuwirth won the European Song Contest in May 2014 under the artificial name Conchita Wurst, Schonborn commented that there was "a colorful diversity in the colorful garden of God". And further: "Not all who were born male feel like men … As human beings, they deserve the respect to which we are all entitled."For these remarks, he won praise from the liberal "Huffington Post" – and caustic criticism from traditionalist blogs. Birthday wishes from this end of the church spectrum are likely to be low-key this time around.