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New head of Austrian bishops is ex-soldier who taught metaphysics
MARIAZELL, Austria (CNS) — Salzburg Archbishop Franz Lackner, 63, is the new president of the Austrian bishops’ conference, succeeding Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, 75, who held the office for 22 years.
Archbishop Lackner grew up on a small farm in Styria, a state in southern Austria, reported the German Catholic news agency KNA. After leaving school, he started an apprenticeship as an electrician.
His decision to become a priest evolved in Cyprus, where in 1978-79 he served as a soldier with Austrian troops supporting the United Nations.
He entered the Franciscan order in 1984 and took the religious name Franz, or Francis. He was ordained a priest in 1991. After studying theology and philosophy in Vienna and Rome, he taught metaphysics in Rome.
In 1999, he became superior of the Franciscan province of Vienna. He taught philosophy at the pontifical university in Heiligenkreuz.
In 2002, he was appointed auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Graz-Seckau. In November 2013, he was named archbishop of Salzburg.
He has been deputy president of the Austrian bishops’ conference since 2015.
The conference consists of 15 members, including nine diocesan bishops. About 5 million Catholics live in Austria, making up about 55% of the population.
Cardinal Schonborn took over as president of the bishops’ conference as the country was still reeling from the 1995 resignation of Vienna Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who was accused of having sexually abused minors. A 2004 sex scandal at a Catholic seminary added to his difficulties.
But many have given Cardinal Schonborn high marks for guiding a difficult dialogue with dissident groups and disaffected Catholics in the country. He worked with organized dissent from clergy and laity seeking church reforms, including admitting women to the priesthood.
In August 2001, Cardinal Schonborn said the ongoing discussions between Austria’s laity and church officials was a sign of diversity in the Catholic Church and not an indication of serious tensions.