An Austrian cardinal has said that the Last Judgment will be about whether we have fed the hungry and clothed the naked, not about our sexual orientation.

Driving the news

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, made the declaration in an end-of-year interview with Austrian Catholic publication Die Furche.

Specifically, Schönborn was responding to criticisms over him allowing the Austrian capital’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral to be used for the third year running as a venue for a HIV/AIDS charity event, a gesture conservatives have read as overly gay-friendly.

The cardinal explained that more than a overture to the LGBT community, the concert was in fact a fundraiser for an Order of Malta hospice in South Africa for heterosexual AIDS patients.

Having said that, Schönborn did admit that “of course, homosexuality played a prominent role in making the subject of AIDS a big issue”.

“I am fully aware of the fact that the subject of the right approach to homosexuals is a big social and also Church issue”, the cardinal continued.

“I strongly advocate not to consider the question of sexual orientation first, but to look at a person’s human qualities”.

Schönborn added that the “first” question God will ask us at the Last Judgment – “not the only question, but the first one” – is how well we treated our brothers and sisters.

“And that… is how I see the AIDS charity concert in St Stephen’s”, Schönborn stressed.

Go deeper

In his extensive interview with Die Furche, the cardinal – who, although he will turn 75 on January 22, is expected to continue as Vienna archbishop for the foreseeable future – also spoke about the take-aways from last year’s Amazon Synod.

“For me, the central message is without doubt that the Amazon Region concerns the whole world – that is every one of us”, Schönborn revealed.

He added that the need to protect the Amazon, the lung of the planet, from climate change was “certainly” the reason the Pope called the special Synod.

On one of the Amazon Synod’s biggest controversies – the significance of the so-called ‘Pachamama’ statues present in events in the Vatican – Schönborn said, contrary to conservatives, he didn’t see any idolatry in the figures.

“The controversial Pachamama is, first of all, a very pregnant woman. […]

“As I told an American journalist, ‘you and I both came into the world in this way… As Mother Earth and the Mother of Life, she is an archetype and certainly has a place in Christianity'”.

Why it matters

On the subject of the clerical sex abuse crisis, Schönborn pointed to a facet of the scandal that still has not received the attention it deserves: the sex and power abuses against nuns.

The Vienna cardinal famously sat down on TV with former nun and abuse survivor Doris Wagner.

He said he believed Wagner’s tale that she had suffered the sexual aggressions of a priest in her order, even when the Vatican found he had no case to answer.

In that vein, Schönborn deplored the conclusion he had come to after speaking with many female religious who have survived the abuses of priests: that spiritual abuse in many cases facilitates sex abuse.

“I find it truly alarming that the founders of some of the New Movements have turned out to be guilty of extreme abuse.

“Inflated spiritual authority led to spiritual abuse, which then led to other forms of abuse. This is a problem that has become very, very clear in recent years”, the cardinal lamented.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.