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Vatican diplomat Cardinal Koenig dead at 98

Austrian Cardinal Franz Koenig, who helped set Vatican policy toward other religions and postwar communist regimes, died in his sleep on Saturday morning.

The famed Pummerin bell in Vienna's downtown St. Stephen's Cathedral rang solemnly on Saturday morning in honour of the cardinal, who was widely revered in overwhelmingly Catholic Austria, even after his retirement in 1985.

Pope John Paul II sent a message of condolence praising Koenig for "his work for peace and reconciliation far beyond the borders of his homeland" and for showing "remarkable concern in supporting believers in eastern Europe during the unfortunate political division of the continent."

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the current leader of the Austrian church, said he felt "a great and deep sorrow" over Koenig's death.

"The many years of the presence and service of Cardinal Koenig were a gift for the church in Austria and around the world," Schoenborn told the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress.

"He was long a moral authority in our country, open to cooperation with all people of good will," President Thomas Klestil said Saturday. "He worked for Christian spiritual renewal in Europe and to build bridges with our neighbors. I have lost a fatherly counselor."

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel hailed Koenig for having worked "to overcome borders in the Christian spirit, long before this topic became a part of the European agenda."

Koenig twice was considered a candidate to become pope, first in 1963 and again in 1978.

Koenig is known to have facilitated the papal nomination of Polish-born Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II in 1978. At the time, he once recalled, Poland's top churchman voiced misgivings that the pontiff-to-be was "too young and too little-known."

Key Diplomat Cardinal Koenig Dead at 98 (The Guardian/Associated Press 14/3/04)

Austrian 'diplomat cardinal' dies (BBC 13/3/04)
Kardinal König hat aus der tiefen Quelle des Glaubens gelebt (Archdiocese of Vienna) | Kardinal Franz König ist gestorben
Cardinal Koenig, cardinal since 1958, dies (Catholic World News 12/3/04)
Cardinal Koenig, key player in Vatican renewal, dies in Vienna at 99 (Yahoo/AFP 13/3/04)
Franz Cardinal König (

15 Mar 2004