VIENNA (ChurchMilitant.com) - The archbishop of Vienna is expressing disappointment that large numbers of Austrian Catholics are leaving the Church.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn described the defection as "those who silently turn their backs on the Church" in a recent interview with Austrian Church newspapers published by Catholic News Agency (CNA).
New analysis reveals a nearly 15% year-over-year increase of those turning their backs on the Church from 2018–2019. CNA reports a total of "67,583 people left in 2019, while 58,807 left in 2018."
Despite these figures, the cardinal played down the loss, saying: "But that is part of religious freedom," he said. "We are not a compulsory community. This is the freedom that God has given us."
He also did not express alarm about conflicts currently raging in the Church, saying they were "normal because people have different lifestyles, different basic cultural and religious habits," according to the interview.
Schönborn predicted a formal schism in the Church was unlikely, noting he has been hearing the Church is about to split for a half-century, but "it did not come because the forces of unity are stronger."
Critics are noting, however, that the cardinal's own policies — and his neglect of traditional Catholics among his flock — have fueled the decline in the number of Austrian Catholics.
For example, Schönborn is well-known for his pro-LGBT stance — typified by his support of drag queen performances inside Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral.
During one such event, the "Believe Together" AIDS benefit concert in November 2019, drag queen Conchita Wurst, also known as Tom Neuwirth, sang along with a choir, accompanied by the pipe organ at the event. Homosexual activist Gery Keszler, an organizer of the concert, claimed Schönborn privately invoked a blessing upon his relationship with his same-sex partner.
Many faithful Catholics were stunned by the event. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, for instance, reacted by calling it a "homoerotic and blasphemous provocation."
"We have seen idolatry penetrate the Temple of God and lay claim to the worship due exclusively to the living and true God," he said, connecting the "Believe Together" concert in St. Stephen cathedral with the Pachamama idol making appearances in churches during the Vatican's Amazonian Synod in October 2019.
Schönborn also disregarded the Church's teaching on homosexuality in 2018 at the World Meeting of Families, where he applauded active gay unions.
"[T]hey share their joys and sufferings, they help one another," he said. "It must be recognized that this person took an important step for his own good and the good of others," referring to a person's foray into homosexual life.
Schönborn also supports women's ordination in contradiction to Church teaching and Tradition.
Earlier this year the Austrian prelate brought the question of women's ordination and a female diaconate to the fore even while the Wuhan virus pandemic raged across the world.
In a March 22 press hour on Austrian national television, Schönborn said "the question of the role of women in the Church" remains "open," calling "women's invisibility in the Church" akin to a "wound."
The cardinal added he worries that men will dominate in all world religions, questioning what this could mean in view of global changes in society. "How will religions deal with this?" he asked. "We have to ask ourselves this question."
"The Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and ... this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful," wrote Pope St. John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in 1994.
The 75-year old Schönborn ends his 22-year term at the helm of the Austrian conference of Catholic bishops this year.
His successor, 63-year-old Abp. Franz Lackner of Salzburg, is expected to carry on Schönborn's radical departure from Church teaching and manage the Austrian Church's decline. Earlier this year, Lackner commissioned and published a book laying the foundation for an official "blessing" of same-sex couples.