Austria’s top church official has defended civil marriage equality and affirmed there can be goodness in same-gender relationships, though maintained that the Church’s understanding of marriage remains heteronormative.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna made his affirming remarks in an interview with Stern magazine. Asked for his thoughts on “marriage for all,” the cardinal replied:
“Personally, I find it touching that at a time when marriage is losing its radiance, couples who feel and live homosexuality want that ultimate form of partnership.”
Schönborn added that “we have long accepted” the state allowing for civil marriage equality which recognizes same-gender couples in law, and agreed that, “if a parliamentary majority wants it, the state should do it that way.” He was clear, however, that the Church’s position on marriage is that it only exists between a man and a woman.
These comments are a partial reversal of August 2017 comments where Schönborn said marriage equality “ultimately harms everyone,” even while he called for the Church to welcome and support all families wherever they are, including same-gender couples. He has previously expressed support for civil unions and recognized at least partial goodness in same-gender relationships. In 2015, Schönborn described a close friend’s same-gender relationship as “an improvement” given the couple shares a life together, even if the union is considered irregular by the church. At the 2014 Synod on the Family, he spoke about a same-gender couple that “was saintly” because of their love and care for one another.
Overall, the cardinal’s record on LGBT issues generally has been positive. Schönborn has been involved with HIV/AIDS advocacy, leading a World AIDS Day memorial service in 2017, and previously acknowledging his friendship with a gay HIV/AIDS activist had “melted away” prejudices against lesbian and gay people. After the 2015 Synod on the Family, Schönborn admitted LGBT advocates were likely “disappointed” by final report, but said “cultural differences must be respected.” In 2012, he reinstated a gay man to a parish council after the local pastor had rejected him. He has also expressed an openness to transgender people.
In the recent Stern interview, Schönborn has voiced what many Catholics have known for years: the pursuit of marriage equality by lesbian and gay people and their allies was never about undermining marriage, but is about affirming marriage as a cherished institution in which people seek to participate. It seems likely that, once again, the cardinal’s personal relationships with LGBT people have continued to grow his pastoral awareness and sensitivity. Let us hope more church leaders will have such continued encounters, widening their minds and growing their hearts on LGBT inclusion.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 8, 2019