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Franz König

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His Eminence 
Franz Konig
Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus of Vienna
Kardinal koenig.jpg
See Vienna (Emeritus)
Enthroned May 10, 1956
Reign ended September 16, 1985
Predecessor Theodor Innitzer
Successor Hans Hermann Groër
Ordination October 29, 1933
Consecration August 31, 1952
Created Cardinal December 15, 1958
Other Coadjutor Bishop of Sankt Pölten (1952-56)
Personal details
Born August 3, 1905(1905-08-03)
Sankt Pölten, Lower Austria, Austria
Died March 13, 2004 (aged 98)
Vienna, Austria
Styles of
Franz König
CardinalCoA PioM
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Vienna (Emeritus)

Franz König (August 3, 1905—March 13, 2004) was an Austrian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Vienna from 1956 to 1985, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1958. The last surviving cardinal elevated by Pope John XXIII, he was the second-oldest and longest-serving cardinal worldwide at the time of his death.

Early life and ministry

Franz König was born in Warth near Rabenstein, Lower Austria, as the oldest of the nine children of Franz and Maria König. He attended a Benedictine-run minor seminary in Melk (Stiftsgymnasium) and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he received his doctorate in philosophy on July 9, 1930 and then his doctorate in theology on January 21, 1936. He also studied at the Pontifical German-Hungarian College, the Pontifical Biblical Institute, where he specialized in old Persian languages and religion, and the Université Catholique de Lille.

Ordained as a priest on October 29, 1933 by Cardinal Francesco Marchetti-Selvaggiani, he originally served as a chaplain and teacher during World War II, his main concern at that time being youth ministry. Following this, König pursued an academic career, being appointed Privatdozent, later teaching religion at the College of Krems and the University of Vienna (1945-1948) and moral theology at the University of Salzburg (1948-1952).

On July 3, 1952, he was appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Sankt Pölten and Titular Bishop of Livias by Pope Pius XII. König received his episcopal consecration on the following August 31 from Bishop Michael Memelauer, with Bishops Leo Pietsch and Franz Zauner serving as co-consecrators.

Archbishop of Vienna

Remaining as Coadjutor Bishop for just under four years, he was named the fourteenth Archbishop of Vienna, succeeding Theodor Innitzer. König was created Cardinal Priest of Sant'Eusebio by Pope John XXIII in the consistory of December 15, 1958. This was an unexpected action on the part of John XXIII, who had been advised to withhold the red hat from König due the unclear legal situation of the Church in Austria: the Austrian coalition government, on the insistences of socialist ministers, refused to accept the concordat negotiated between the Holy See and Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss's Austrofascist government.

After meeting personally with König, John XXIII decided that, "I have a different opinion. I will put you on my list and you will find a solution". By 1958 the newly-appointed Cardinal König had managed to convince the authorities in Austria to recognise the earlier regulations in a new treaty, which was signed in 1961. In 1964 he founded the organization Pro Oriente, to promote the relationship between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

König was appointed Bishop for the Catholic military ordinariate of Austria on February 21, 1959, a position he resigned on June 27, 1980. He has also served as President of the Austrian Episcopal Conference.

Within the Church, König worked to ensure a diverse communion that was united despite the apparent differences. König, himself holding both conservative and liberal viewpoints.

He was an elector in three conclaves: 1963 and the two conclaves of 1978.


Ecumenism and Interfaith

He was mainly concerned with questions of ecumenism, however also serving as president of the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Believers (which in 1993 was united with the Pontifical Council for Culture) from April 6, 1965 until his resignation on June 27, 1980.

He was an advocate of reform at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), serving on its preparatory commissions and greatly contributing to its declaration on non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetate.

Communism and the Church

König swiftly made it his ambition to ensure that Communism and the Catholic Church were capable of co-existing peacefully. Quickly establishing himself as an important authority on the matter, he was often asked by the Vatican to make diplomatic trips to Communist countries, often establishing useful relationships with Communist authorities. So determined was König, that in the conclave of October 1978 he was instrumental in securing the election of Karol Wojtyła, who took the name John Paul II, seeing it as vitally important that a cardinal from Eastern Europe be put forward for election. [1] Using his authority, he was also able to convince the communist Romanian government to end the 11-year home imprisonment of Áron Márton, Transylvanian Bishop, in 1967.


He vehemently opposed Austrian legislation on abortion, whilst at the same time describing the publication of Pope Paul VI's encyclial condemning contraception, Humanae Vitae, as being a "tragic event".

Church in Hungary

The first Catholic prelate to visit Cardinal József Mindszenty at the American Embassy in Budapest, König afterwards visited the cardinal several times until Mindszenty's departure for Rome in 1971. He also convinced Mindszenty not to march out of the embassy after the American government began talks with the Hungarian government.

Relations with the Pope

Despite securing the election of John Paul II, his relations with the Holy See turned somewhat sour toward the end of König's tenure as Archbishop of Vienna. König criticized the Pope for refusing to engage with what he considered "the spirit of progress that the Second Vatican Council had developed" and disagreed with what he perceived to be an overly centralised Church and too much control in the hands of the Roman Curia. The Curia also appeared to display hostility toward König, refusing to back his suggested candidate for Archbishop of Vienna—Bishop Helmut Krätzl, an auxiliary bishop of Vienna. Instead he was ordered by the nuncio to add Hans Hermann Groër onto the terna, or list of candidates.

Relations with his successor

He resigned his post in Vienna on September 16, 1985 and was succeeded by Groër, whose appointment König had questioned. Groër, who became a cardinal, was later removed from office by John Paul II for sexual misconduct. After Groër's resignation, König once again pressed for Krätzl to be appointed Archbishop, however his advice was again ignored.


Until his death, Cardinal König was active in the Archdiocese of Vienna. Following his retirement from service as the Archbishop of Vienna, König stepped up his commitment to establishing peace, acting as International President of Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace promoting organisation, from 1990 to 1995.

Later life and death

In 1998, Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, whom König had befriended during his studies in Rome, was beatified. (Years earlier, König had been involved in a near fatal car accident while traveling to Cardinal Stepinac's funeral.)

In 2003, while on holiday, König had a bad fall and fractured his hip. However, after being operated on, he made a speedy recovery and a few months later celebrated Mass again, only supported by his bishop's staff.

König died in his sleep at around 3:00 a.m. on March 13 2004 in a Viennese convent, at age 98. He was buried on the following March 27 in the Bishops' Crypt of Cathedral of St. Stephen.


König was also an accomplished linguist, fluently speaking seven languages: German, English, Italian, French, Spanish, Russian and Latin. This proved to be an invaluable skill during the diplomatic missions he embarked on.

Further reading

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Theodor Innitzer
Archbishop of Vienna
1956– 1985
Succeeded by
Hans Hermann Groër
Preceded by
Luigi Bettazzi
International President of Pax Christi
1985– 1990
Succeeded by
Godfried Danneels


cs:Franz Königla:Franciscus Königno:Franz Königpt:Franz König ro:Franz König ru:Кёниг, Франц (кардинал) sv:Franz König

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