On Friday, June 7, 2002, Jerry Usher, host of the popular Catholic radio program Catholic Answers Live! came to Thomas Aquinas College to feature Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, on its live national talk radio program. The show was heard over 59 radio stations affiliated with the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. PDT across the country.
Following are some excerpts from the program, edited for the website edition:
USHER: Your Eminence, if you would begin by giving us a picture of the Church in Austria and across Europe. What's the state of the Church in your country and on your continent?
SCHÖNBORN: Well, Austria is a traditionally Catholic country. A large majority of the population is Catholic. It used to be 85 percent Catholic. It's now down to around 50 percent in Vienna where I'm Archbishop. The percentage of Catholics has decreased a lot in the last few years.
But there are also clear signs of new blossoming in our country. We have, of course, many beautiful churches, monasteries, Baroque buildings, and Baroque music - beautiful church music. Therefore, the liturgy is much cultivated in our country. And our Church life is still very much alive, even though religious practice, as compared to your country, is fairly low. I hope it will increase. It has slightly increased in the last two years and I hope it will continue to do so.
USHER: Pope John Paul II repeatedly refers to the need for a "new evangelization." What does he mean by that and how do you see this unfolding in the coming years.
SCHÖNBORN: I see it, first of all, on a very personal level. We are not born Christians; we become Christians through Baptism. We need, all our life, conversion, because the Gospel of Our Lord is a call to conversion and this is true for every Christian. So, the first element of the new evangelization is the need for my own conversion, of my own turning back to the Lord, coming back to His Gospel, and changing my heart, asking the Holy Spirit to change my heart.
And this is especially necessary, I think, in countries like Austria, where the Catholic faith has been the tradition, but where it also needs to be renewed. And not only on an individual level, but also on the level of a nation. I think Austria is a good example of a country that needs the new evangelization. And, in fact, we are trying to do it, for instance, through missions that will take place next year all over Vienna - promoting a new Catholic mission within an old Catholic place.
USHER: Your Eminence, I know that in your Diocese, there were some clergy abuse problems that seem to be well behind you now. But the faith of many Catholics in this country right now has been shaken because of some of the situations that have been going on. If you would, speak to this issue.
SCHÖNBORN: It is certainly a challenge for each of us to go through the kind of difficult times as you are going through in this country, as we had to go through in Austria some years ago. If it serves to convert our hearts, it's not up to me as a single person to judge my brother, my sister. Our Lord was very clear about that. He condemns sin, but never condemns the sinner. And He always encourages us to have compassion for those who failed.
On the other hand, what helped us a lot in our country was to make sure and clear that every single case of abuse is really taken very seriously, because it's such a deep wound for the victims, and so often a wound that is often for life and is so great that we Christians cannot comprehend how grave the consequences of such abuses really are.
And therefore, in our archdiocese we created an Ombudsman, a priest who has the trust of many people in our country, and who with a group of advisors, immediately investigates every single accusation and makes sure that victims are helped and that nothing is missed through negligence. You will overcome this crisis in your country, I'm sure, with God's help. But it must also be clear that this is certainly one of the worst forms of misconduct that can happen in the Church or anywhere.
USHER: Your Eminence, I want to get your thoughts on our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. He's arguably one of the most loved Popes in the history of the Church. He has at his disposal all the modern means of technology, travel, communication and so forth, and he has taken full advantage of that. Share for a couple of minutes from your heart what this Holy Father means to you.
SCHÖNBORN: Well, from the very beginning of his Pontificate, when he was elected, it was a great, great surprise that a Polish cardinal had been elected. It was an immense joy for me as an Austrian. His father had served in the Austrian army in the time of the monarchy. He has always had a very close link to Austria, a deep love for our country.
But in the many occasions I have had to meet the Holy Father, I have always most admired the depth of his prayer life. You cannot doubt this if you see this man, if you observe him during Mass, if you are close to him in different circumstances. You have the impression that this is a man who is plunged into God. He's living with Christ in such a deep way. And all he does stems from this deep union with Christ and with His Mother, with Mary, his deep trust in Mary. So, this is what impresses me, that he's a man of prayer as we rarely have seen a man, and, I think, that's the great source of his immense impact throughout the entire world.
USHER: It's my thought that it could be decades before we truly unpack what Pope John Paul II has given to the Church. What do you sense will be his legacy?
SCHÖNBORN: Yes, I think many of his writings are seeds that are sown in the soil of the Church today, and many of these seeds have already begun to grow. I think of all the institutions that are working to advance his sense of things. And I think, especially, of his teaching on the Gospel of Life, which is so dear to his heart, and which has been one of the main things he has emphasized during all these years of his Pontificate - the Gospel of Life in a world in which so much of the culture of death is at work. To announce, to believe, and to live the Gospel of Life, I think, that is one of the main inheritances we have received from him.
“It was at the College when I began to take my faith seriously. The community life, all the people, the faculty, the staff — and the Mass — all that really helped.”
– Br. Robert Nesbit, O.S.B. (’07)
“What you do here at this college is important not only for the individual salvation of your soul, but really as a witness to all of society.”
– Most Rev. Robert Francis Vasa
Bishop of Santa Rosa