Austrian Cardinal Defends Civil Marriage Equality, Affirms Goodness in Lesbian/Gay Relationships

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn

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 related news, an art exhibit hosted by the rectory of Vienna’s cathedral featured a photo of two women kissing on the steps of a church, reported

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

2 replies
  1. Sarasi
    Sarasi says:

    He may be more open and less cruel. Nonetheless, the endgame of the hierarchy is having people conform to teaching. In the 2015 article you cited here, Schönborn talked about a friend who was in a long-term relationship. He said: “It’s an improvement …. [Wow, do they ever say things like this about heterosexuals who have relationships before marriage?] They share a life, they share their joys and sufferings, they help one another. It must be recognised that this person took an important step for his own good and the good of others, even though it certainly is not a situation the Church can consider ‘regular.'”

    Then he goes on to say that pastoral accompaniment may be all nicey-nice but the point is to move the person “closer to a situation in compliance with Church teaching.”

    Again, he has just described a person in a long-term relationship. What does he wish to do? Break up the couple? Send them to Courage or conversion therapy? Impose celibacy on each one? Few options here. I guess not getting thrown out of Mass is a milestone to some people. To be clear, I think the group of German theologians who recently signed a statement asking for an overhaul of church doctrine on homosexuality in view of scientific developments are on a better path–at least they’re being candid about what needs to change. Being tolerated while being asked to conform to an inadequate and lopsided vision of what it means to be human … nah, that’s not on.


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