Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna © Paolo Galosi (KNA)
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn has already passed the age limit of 75 years old. But the formal resignation request has not yet been accepted by Pope Francis. There is already speculation in the media about Schonborn’s successor.
One year after the outbreak of the Corona pandemic, which put deadlines, appointments and even personnel decisions on the back burner in all areas of society, speculation about the successor to the popular Viennese Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (77) has resumed.
Names are mentioned that the responsible papal nuncio in Austria, Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, could have sent to Rome – and also a date: Already "around Pentecost Cardinal Schonborn’s wish for his well-deserved retirement could perhaps be fulfilled," oracles the "Tiroler Tageszeitung.
Eminently important post
This is an ecclesiastically eminently important post – because countless strands of church, ecumenical, political and cultural life come together at the Archbishop of Vienna as the hub of Central and Eastern Europe. In view of these and other networks, Viennese archbishops have in the past also acted as "pope makers" or "majority procurers" in the conclave.
Schonborn, whose term of office the Pope had extended "provisionally and indefinitely" when he reached the retirement age of 75, had himself pushed for a succession decision again a few weeks ago, the "Tiroler Tageszeitung" now reports. Thereupon the matter had been put into motion. And already in the past months the list of candidates in the nunciature has "condensed".
Among the proposals, Bishop Manfred Scheuer (66) of Linz is at the top of the list, the newspaper claims – and describes the previously long-serving Innsbruck chief pastor (2003-2015) thus: "calm and level-headed, in addition with a theological exclamation mark, undisputed in the domestic episcopacy". However, according to the analysis, Scheuer himself would be "anything but happy" about a career jump and thus a renewed departure from his episcopal city.
Other names on the list of the "Tageszeitung": the rector of the Innsbruck Jesuit College, Christian Marte (57), who, according to reports, would "perfectly" meet the requirements of Pope Francis; the Vorarlberg bishop Benno Elbs (61) and the Innsbruck bishop Hermann Glettler (56), who is repeatedly mentioned in "Viennese church circles" and who is being treated as the "representative of a new generation in the church.
Bishop agidius Zsifkovics (57) of Eisenstadt is said to have ambitions to move to the Archbishop’s Palace in Vienna, but he is "more of the conservative wing" of the church.
Will Schonborn remain in office longer?
Already in March the Viennese "Presse" had predicted something completely different: Schonborn would probably remain in office longer than many ame, despite having passed his age limit. The cardinal, who has recovered from a pulmonary infarction, is remarkably "active and agilely present," and it is noticeable in Vienna "that he makes decisions that have been postponed for years".
The author of the "Presse" also rumored about a surprising and "remarkable" call of Pope Francis to Schonborn a few weeks earlier, in which the head of the church had inquired about his condition. Schonborn had reported about it afterwards in a priests’ round.
The Vatican custom of allowing "cardinals of stature" to remain in office for years longer as a sign of esteem was also brought into play; Cardinal Franz Konig (1905-2004) only resigned in 1986, at the age of 82. In the meantime, the bishops have handed over the pastoral baton to Hans Hermann Groer.
The "Presse" lists a secret nuncio list, which had already been transmitted to the Vatican in the summer of 2020. In addition to Bishops Elbs, Glettler and Scheuer, the names of Bishop Wilhelm Krautwaschl (58) of Graz and Archbishop Franz Lackner (64) of Salzburg have also been circulated.
The newspaper was not alone in its assessment of an even longer Schonborn tenure: Archbishop Lackner, the Cardinal’s successor at the head of the Bishops’ Conference, also declared a few weeks ago in an interview with the Kathpress press agency that the Church "could not yet do without someone like Schonborn.". Instead of going into speculations, Lackner clarified: "I am glad that he enjoys the best of health, that he is here and that he will stay longer."
Schonborn himself recently said on ORF that he had been able to recover from his illnesses during the "resting phase" of the pandemic, but still hopes to retire soon. He felt "no fatigue with office, but the need for a successor to be thought of really soon and quickly".