ROME (RNS) Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, a close ally of Pope Francis, is trying to clarify a provocative warning he made that Europe is at risk of an “Islamic conquest” because it has squandered its Christian heritage.
The archbishop of Vienna made headlines when he used the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks to refer to the triumph of Christians over the Muslim-led Ottoman Empire in a famous battle in Vienna in 1683.
“On this day, 333 years ago, Vienna was saved,” he said in a homily at Mass in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. “Will there now be a third attempt at an Islamic conquest of Europe? Many Muslims think so and long for it and say: This Europe is at an end.”
But in an update posted on the archdiocesan website on Thursday (Sept. 15) — in English as well as German — the Austrian cardinal said his comments were in no way an attack on Muslims or refugees.
“One must not take my homily to be a call to defend ourselves against the refugees, this was not at all my intention,” he said.
Schönborn’s comments came off as a sharp contrast to the pope’s, who since his election three years ago has repeatedly urged greater compassion for the thousands of immigrants arriving in Europe from Africa and the Middle East.
In a bid to clarify his position, Schönborn said Europe’s Christian legacy was “in danger,” but that it was a self-inflicted problem.
“We Europeans have squandered it,” he said. “That has absolutely nothing to do with Islam nor with the refugees. It is clear that many Islamists would like to take advantage of our weakness, but they are not responsible for it. We are.”
Austria has adopted a hard line on migrants and the government is considering a state of emergency decree that would impose strict measures against asylum seekers including expulsion.
According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, nearly 300,000 migrants have arrived in Italy and Greece by sea since January this year and many have resettled throughout Europe.
(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)