Cardinal Christopher Schönborn chaired the Austrian Episcopal Conference for 22 years. He was replaced in this post on June 16, 2020 by Msgr. Franz Lackner, Archbishop of Salzburg. On July 15, he gave an interview to Austrian Catholic newspapers.
Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, spoke of the harsh reality of “departures from the Church”: “There is a phenomenon which affects the Church all over the world and especially here in Austria: it is those who silently turn their backs on the Church.”
The crisis of the Church is intensifying in Europe, especially in the German-speaking world. A recent poll reveals that 30% of Catholics in Germany are considering leaving the Church. However, the number of Catholics is increasing slightly around the world, especially in Asia and Africa.
In Austria, 67,583 people left the Catholic Church in 2019. In 2018, their number stood at 58,807, an increase of 14% in one year. Currently 4.98 million Catholics live in Austria for a population of 8.86 million. Catholics therefore represent 56.2% of the population.
Cardinal Schönborn added: “But this is part of religious freedom. We are not a community where membership is imposed. This is the freedom that God has given us.”
This statement is contrary to gospel truth and to the doctrine of the Church. Of course, faith cannot be imposed nor consciences forced. But it is not a question of freedom. Our Lord was not afraid to declare: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned ”(Mk. 16:16).
So there is no religious freedom in this sense. The Church is not a shop that one enters or leaves at will. It is the place of salvation explicitly wanted by Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Of course, it is possible to save oneself outside the visible limits of the Church, for those who do not know her, or to whom she has not been presented and preached righteously. But this salvation is much more difficult to obtain, according to the constant teaching of Tradition.
As for the one who leaves the Church voluntarily, with full knowledge of the facts, he cannot do so without fault on his part, as much as he separates himself from Christ, the only Savior. Thus, there is no freedom to apostatize Christ as suggested by Cardinal Schönborn. With such principles, it is no wonder that Austrian pastors are emptying their churches. They will give an account of it before God.