Catholic Cardinal: Don’t Judge Trump Hastily; People Were Initially Doubtful About Reagan

By Patrick Goodenough | January 4, 2017 | 4:10 AM EST

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna has been president of the Austrian bishops’ conference since 1998 (AP Photo, File)

( – The archbishop of Vienna, a forthright cardinal sometimes tipped as a possible future pope, has cautioned against judging President-elect Donald Trump hastily, recalling that people were skeptical about President Ronald Reagan at the outset, too.

In a wide ranging New Year interview (in German) with Austria’s Kronen Zeitung daily, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn also mused on terrorism in the name of religion, the Islamization of Europe, and competition between faiths.

Asked his views about Trump’s victory in last November’s election, Schönborn said, “I don’t know whether Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton would really have been the better solution, and I don’t know whether Mr. Trump is the great calamity.”

“Many people also shook their heads when Ronald Reagan was elected: ‘For God’s sake, an actor from California!’ But Reagan was certainly one of the best presidents that U.S. ever had.’

“So you should not judge rashly,” he added. “That applies to Trump and it applies to everything.”

Schönborn, a 71-year-old with a reputation for outspokenness, is archbishop of Vienna and head of the Austrian conference of Catholic bishops. He has been a cardinal since 1998, and took part in the conclaves that elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and Pope Francis in 2013.

In the interview, he spoke about an age-old competition between faiths. He did not blame Muslims if they wanted Europe to become Islamic, he said – he wished the Middle East and North Africa would return to their pre-Islamic Christian roots.

“As a Christian, I would like the Middle East to become Christian again as it once was, or North Africa – North Africa was completely Christianized. Of course, I wish this because I believe that Christianity is not only my personal religion, but a religion that is a good religion despite all the mistakes that have happened. So I cannot blame the Muslims if they want Europe to become Islamic.”

That religions were in competition with each other, he said, was as old as the world.

“I am pleased that Muslims can freely exercise their religion among us, but I also wish that the same applied for Christians in Saudi Arabia or in other Islamic countries.”

Schönborn said that Christians who are unhappy with the Islamization of Europe should ask themselves what they were doing to promote their own faith.

“Fear of the Islamization of Europe is absurd if one does not contribute something to ensuring that Europe remains Christian,” he said.

“If a church is sold in the Netherlands and transformed into a supermarket – when supermarkets are more important to us than the Christian roots of Europe, we must not be surprised that Europe is becoming dechristianized.”

The cardinal said Austrians and Europeans should be asking questions about the importance of religious education in schools, and of having churches as places of prayer, not simply museums for tourists.

“When we see that the mosques are well-visited and the churches are poorly visited, we cannot blame Muslims for wanting to Islamize Europe. But we must reproach ourselves for not doing enough to maintain a Christian Europe.”

On the subject of terrorism being carried out in the name of religion, Schönborn said it was a reality that most attacks in recent times have been “associated with the call ‘Allah is great.’”

“That’s a problem,” he said, although he added that religions are always in danger of having terror committed in their name, pointing to Northern Ireland’s history of Catholic-Protestant bloodshed.

Towards the end of the interview, Schönborn was asked about the fact that he is often characterized as a possible future pope.

He responded that the “papabile” – an Italian term for cardinals thought likely or possible candidates for the papacy – are designated as such “by journalists.”

“But the pope is elected by the cardinals and that is a big difference,” he said, recalling that at the most recent conclave, when Pope Francis was chosen in 2013, cardinals “made a different choice.”

He predicted the same would happen in the future.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow