Austrian priest Fr. Josef Friedl is back in the news again – for a different kind of love story. Two years ago, Fr. Friedl provided sanctuary to a teenage Albanian Muslim girl, Arigona Zogaj, who fled the Austrian government’s attempt to deport her and her family back to Kosovo. The family had come to Austria in 2002 and the girl said she would rather die than leave Austria. Fr. Friedl stated defiantly that he did not fear government prosecution, though his action earned him the epithet “Mullah Friedl” from some neighbors who were not as happy to embrace foreigners.
Thanks to Fr. Friedl's help, Zogaj is still in Austria, fighting for the reunification of her family.
However, Friedl may not be as successful in eluding prosecution by his Church for the latest love story, which emerged after Friedl and 30 other pastors in the Diocese of Linz opposed Pope Benedict XVI’s appointment of Rev. Gerhard Maria Wagner as auxilliary bishop of Linz. The appointment was also resisted by most Austrian Catholics. Rev. Wagner is known for his ultra conservative views, including that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for the sins of New Orleans and that homosexuality can be cured.
Faced with a firestorm of protest, the Vatican eventually rescinded Wagner’s promotion. Now Kath.net has revealed that Friedl told a public forum that he opposes the discipline of priestly celibacy and lives with his girlfriend. Friedl added that his parishioners have no objections and the Catholic Church Conservation blog gets to the bottom of the story with this translation of an article that appeared on Österreich/oe24.at:
He is a man of frank words- Ungenach’s priest Josef Friedl. Since Monday the country has been discussing his love-confession and the meaningfulness of celibacy. Now Arigona’s helper Friedl tells about his relationship for the first time:
The silver wedding is already behind him - if a church wedding were allowed for Catholic priests. Despite the celibacy requirement, Josef Friedl has lived for more than 25 years together with his Rosi. The pastor sees no reason to deny the relationship. "Why should I lie? Then my people in the parish would no longer believe," said the priest.
The couple came together through a stroke of fate: When the husband of Rosi K had fatal accident, the widow sought solace in the parish priest. "Then more came of it. This was not a story of just from today to tomorrow," says Friedl. The everyday organisation for them is like many other couples. Friedl goes to work in the rectory early, and in the evening he comes home to eat.
Rosi K is already retired. After the death of her husband, she trained as a religious teacher and taught in the elementary school of Ungenach. "She was very good. We will not get someone like that quickly again. This everyone confirms”. Friedl is proud of his partner. For the grandchildren of Rosi K, the pastor at her side is normal: they simply call him "Grandpa." In the parish there is therefore no problem, says the pastor. "On Sunday, many have congratulated me, because I was so open." And, in fact, in Ungenach no one is upset about the love life of the priest. Rosi K is very popular in the village and also active in the liturgy committee of the parish council.
Friedl as a priest is certainly not an isolated case. An estimated 1,400 priests are in permanent or temporary relationships. Most conceal them. For good reason: Some 500 priests have lost their posts because they wanted to marry, says Herbert Bartl from the association "Priester ohne Amt" [the Austrian married priests' association].
The church has ignored the situation, because the priest shortage is huge. Also, the bishops remain silent. No wonder: They are pleased that the recent church crisis is over. Furthermore, Bishop Ludwig Schwarz long ago knew about the relationship. "Friedl knows the rules. He must act in conformity with his conscience, " he said according to sources in Linz. The conservative website kath.net is responsible for the Friedl case now boiling over. They were the first to report the "affair". Observers see this as "an act of revenge" for the resistance of Friedl to the Almost Bishop Gerhard Wagner.
Thanks to the media attention, the diocese can no longer ignore the case. Father Friedl has been summoned to have a talk with Bishop Schwarz. He says he is not afraid of dismissal and will take the matter one step at a time. Stay tuned.
This story makes me wonder just how many other bishops are ignoring partnered priests precisely due to the priest shortage. I just love it when maintaining a face of silent hypocrisy is considered better than dealing with the fact mandatory celibacy is killing the priesthood and with it the laity's right to partake in the Sacraments.
The state of the priesthood seems to be this issue of this St. Patrick's day. Benedict gave a talk to the Congregation for the Clergy in which he announced a special year for priests to begin this June 19th. In this talk he said the following:
In conclusion, the Holy Father warned of the “dilution” of priestly ministry. He explained that the without priests, “there would be no Eucharist, no mission” or the Church.
“It is necessary then, to ensure that 'new structures' or pastoral organizations are not planned for a time in which it will be possible to 'do without' ordained ministry, on the basis of an erroneous interpretation of the promotion of the laity, because this would lay the foundations for a further dilution in priestly ministry, and any supposed 'solutions' would, in fact, dramatically coincide with the real causes of the problems currently affecting the ministry."
It's true there would be no Eucharist, no mission, and certainly not his vision of Roman Catholicism without an ordained and special priesthood. The problem is the demographics, and they indicate maintaining the current celibate male priesthood will eventually result in no Eucharist, no mission, and no Church for vast numbers of the laity. Catholicism will become a church of the bigger population centers and priests will become sacramental dispensers rather than pastors. Actually, this is true in many places already.
I wonder what would happen if the other 1400 or so estimated Austrian priests who are cohabiting were outed by conservative Catholics they way Fr. Friedl has been. Would Austrian Bishops be forced to fire them all, or would doing so cause a massive revolt in Austria? Would Benedict extend a fraternal hand in this case as he did on behalf of a far fewer number of SSPX priests, or would he, in the interests of not diluting the priesthood, let them all take a hike and lose a large chunk of the Austrian church?
Of course there is the option that all these other priests might come out of their phony closets in support of Fr. Friedl. That would be a heck of a statement. A sort of saying, we're done with forced hypocrisy and we're proud of our partners and here we are and now what are you going to do about it? Force us all out?
I can see where this situation deserves to be followed. The Austrian Catholic Church is in a rather snarly mood right now, and let's face it, celibacy is a joke in Africa and Benedict is on his way to Africa. This could be the perfect moment for the Southern and Northern branches of Catholicism to show some unity on a major issue confronting the priesthood and by extension the laity. Celibacy is a doctrinal issue, and the notion that somehow marriage dilutes the priesthood is pretty repugnant. If Benedict wants to keep the ordained priesthood viable, maybe it's time he extended his pastoral hand to married priests. Even Cardinal Egan agrees with that.