The influential Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, has approved an openly gay man to be part of a parish council in a northern Austrian town. Schönborn's closeness, both personally and theologically, to Pope Benedict XVI, is sure to raise hope for Catholics seeking more rights for gays within the Church.

Florian Stangl, 26, who lives in a civil union with his partner, was elected by fellow congregants to serve on the official Church-certified lay board that oversees daily affairs for the parish of Stützenhofen, north of Vienna. Initially, the local parish priest had blocked Stangl from sitting on the council, but Schönborn overruled the priest after hosting Stangl and his partner for lunch over the weekend.

The Cardinal noted that "there are many members of the parish council whose lifestyles don't completely conform with the ideals of the Church. Schönborn said he appreciated the gay couple's "commitment to living a life of faith," adding that he was "profoundly impressed" by Stangl's faith as well as "by his humility and his dedication to the Church."

Schönborn noted that typically candidates for such parish councils must sign a declaration that they abide by the Church's faith and doctrine. Church teaching does not focus on gays themselves, but stipulates that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered," and opposes civil unions.

Schönborn is considered as one of the closest Catholic leaders to the Pope, having been a student of the future pontiff in the 1970s when he was just a theology professor known as Joseph Ratzinger. Schönborn is also on the short list of Cardinals considered as potential successors to the pontiff. Another influential Cardinal and Catholic theologian, former Milan Archbishop Carlo Maria Martini, recently wrote that the Church should reconsider its position regarding stable gay couples.

Read the original article in full by Andrea Tornielli

Photo – Th1979

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