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Cardinal Schönborn during last Synod on the FamilyJohn-Henry Westen/LifeSite

VIENNA, Austria, February 14, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Austria’s bishops, led by Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, are indignant over a retired bishop’s passionate defense of Catholic teaching in opposing Church “blessings” for homosexual unions.

After Bishop Andreas Laun, the retired Auxiliary Bishop of Salzburg, Austria, published Monday his strong rebuke of the German bishops for proposing to bless homosexual couples, there has been an intense reaction against him on the side of more progressive-leaning Austrian prelates.

Cardinal Schönborn, President of the Austrian Bishops' Conference and papal spokesman on Amoris Laetitia, issued a statement Tuesday in Kathpress, the Austrian bishops' news agency that is supervised by Schönborn himself.

“It certainly is not acceptable to mention the value of same-sex relationships at the same time as mentioning the mafia or concentration camps, as it now unfortunately has happened,” said Schönborn. “These things are not to be compared. To talk like this is unacceptable.”

Additionally, Cardinal Schönborn declared helplessness in light of the “marriage for all.”

“The 'marriage-for-all' poses for us as Church some challenges for which we do not have sure formulas,” he said. “We have to find careful answers to these questions which keep the dignity and the salvation of the souls of the concerned in view.”

Archbishop Franz Lackner of Salzburg, Austria, the Vice President of the Austrian Bishops' Conference, also distanced himself from his former Auxiliary Bishop. “The statement of the retired Auxiliary Bishop Laun is saddening. The choice of words and the comparison are utterly inappropriate,” Lackner told Kathpress. “It is and remains incomprehensible how one could make in any way a connection between systematic crimes against humanity with same-sex forms of living.”

The head of the Evangelical Church in Austria, Thomas Hennefeld, also expressed his indignation and said he is considering taking legal action against Bishop Laun for “inciting hatred.” Representatives from political parties and LGBT organizations demanded an apology from Bishop Laun.

Bishop Laun himself immediately responded with an apology, which he published on the Austrian Catholic website He says that there are “once more” people who “think that I have somehow insulted them. I did not do it and never intended to do it.” If someone would now feel that way, Bishop Laun says, “I am sorry for it and in this sense I can also apologize for it.” Laun then sums up his line of argument, saying that he used “some drastic examples,” adding:

The common denominator [of these examples] is only: that it is against God's Commandments, therefore the Church cannot bless it, neither smaller nor bigger sins.

Laun explains that most people understood well what he meant “and also thank me for it.” He prefers also “not to reduce people to their own sexual orientation.” Each person, foremost of all, is “a son or a daughter of God.” The Austrian prelate insists: “I do not disrespect a person who has homosexual inclinations” and points to the fact that a childhood friend of his had been homosexual.

To those “who do not simply act out of a hatred against the Church” but who truly feel wounded by his words, Bishop Laun repeats his apology. Then he concludes his text with the request: “When reading it [Laun's original commentary], enter into the recognizable sense of the thought and remember: I am happy to bless you, only God's Commandment sets a limit.”

One Catholic journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, comments: “The cardinal [Schönborn] sees fit to criticize Laun, but where is his criticism of Marx?”

Observers of this controversy in Austria comment either with approval or disapproval. One person said that “Bishop Laun had no need to apologize” and points out that this is a “typical example of a witch hunt” with quotes taken out of context. Another observer commented:

Homosexual acts are always mortal sins that cry to heaven. Who dies in such a mortal sin – that is to say, does not repent for that mortal sin – cannot enter Heaven but will be lost forever. Everyone who denies this teaching, even if he calls himself a bishop, cannot be in communion with Christ. This is and remains Catholic teaching!

It is not known that either Cardinal Schönborn or Archbishop Lackner have rejected in principle the idea of blessing homosexual unions as it has been proposed or discussed by Cardinal Marx and Bishop Bode in Germany. However, it is known that Cardinal Schönborn's own cathedral St. Stephen offered a while ago, in 2016, an article in its bulletin that showed two men and an adopted child, presenting them as a married couple.

A year earlier, during the 2015 Synod on the Family, the Austrian cardinal gave an interview in which he called for an acknowledgment of the “positive elements” of homosexual unions. He then said: “We can and we must respect the decision to form a union with a person of the same sex, [and] to seek means under civil law to protect their living together with laws to ensure such protection.”