Monday, November 21, 2011

In Austria Bishops Call For More Dialogue

Cardinal Schonborn with three of the Medjugorje visionaries.  Perhaps he should consult with them about the efficacy of lay led communities.

As reported elsewhere last week, the Austrian Bishops have decided to opt for more dialogue with their dissident faithful.  They say they will maintain a dialogue over possible changes in church life.  I was unable to find anything about which changes they are willing to dialogue.  I have no doubt they will eventually get that list from Rome--and it won't be very long and it won't include lay led services.  The following is an excerpt of an article from NCR.

.....The bishops said Austria's dioceses were "taking opportunities to innovate" in response to "real and serious problems," and were confident they would "find answers to the questions asked today."
However, the bishops added that the summons to disobedience had "triggered alarm and sadness," and "left many Catholics shaking their heads." (I suspect those answers will mostly start with 'no'.

"Some demands allied with this call for disobedience are simply unsustainable -- the call for a Eucharist without the Blessed Sacrament openly breaches the central truth of our Catholic faith," the bishops' conference said in their Nov. 10 reply. (It depends on one's definition of that central truth.)

The bishops also urged dissident priests and lay Catholics to "show goodwill and a sense of compromise," and to avoid demands that "contradict the church's identity and put its unity seriously at risk."

Hans Peter Hurka, chairman of We Are Church, told ENInews that recent opinion surveys suggested 80 percent now backed its demands.

"All of this is seen as irrelevant by the bishops -- they don't seem to realize the train has already left and they're still standing on the platform," said Hurka. "The situation is now beyond church control and the dangers of a schism are very real." 


As far as things go in Austria, that last sentence from Peter Hurka is probably true. When 80% of Austrian Catholics agree with the reforms being requested by We Are Church, the Austrian Bishops are facing a crisis of epic proportions.  What's a bishop to do?  So far it's to call for continued dialogue and remain adamant about the central importance of the celibate priesthood.  Oh yes, and express alarm and sadness and shake their heads.  In the meantime they overwork their remaining priests and close parishes for lack of same.

As reported on the blog Iglesia Descalza, We Are Church held a symposium a few days before the Austrian bishops met in conference.  At this symposium they formalized and released a letter entitled:  "Concern for the Eucharist in the churches: seven theses."  Here's a short synopsis of some of the more salient points.

 1.  Jesus instituted the Eucharist as a small community event.  The community is tasked with determining it's leadership with the Bishop commissioning that leader for the sake of unity.
 2.  The current system of the number of priests determining the number of parishes is backwards.  It should be the number of active communities which determines the number of Eucharistic celebrants.
 3.  The current priest shortage is an artificial one, caused because Rome refuses to let go of an outdated theology of the priesthood and maintaining this priesthood is forcing the closure of parishes and burning out those priests who are still left.
 4.  The New Testament abolished the idea of Jewish and Pagan priests substituting this idea of formal priesthood with the idea of Jesus as the only priest and all believers sharing in that priesthood as a result of baptism.
 5.   Our current priesthood is a product of historical development in which married male priests and women were banned from ordination for cultural rather than spiritual reasons.
 6.  When bishops fail to provide sacramental leadership for communities, the communities themselves have the right to provide for their own leadership and provision of the Eucharist.

I've maintained since I started this blog that if changes in the priesthood were not forthcoming that eventually lay Catholics would come to the conclusion they would have to take matters into their own hands.  They would have to call forth their own leaders.  I happen to think this process will be more effective than petitioning the current Vatican for married or women priests and is a much more sweeping and effective reform than tweaking the current clerical system.  I also think the majority of Austrian bishops, amongst a whole bunch of other bishops, are well aware they are playing with their own demise if they keep insisting on maintenance of the current clerical system. Their call for more dialogue would seem to be a plea for more time--time enough for another Papal election.  The trouble with that is there are no guarantees the current crop of Cardinals would actually vote for a reforming Pope.  

If it's true that 80% of Austrian Catholics would support the reforms of We Are Church and actually call forth their own leaders in order to preserve their communities, this would represent the Catholic version of change percolating up from the bottom.  That does seem to be the preferred organizational method at the moment if the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movements are truly indicative of real change in the how the world will conduct it's business.  There's really not much the Austrian bishops could do to stop such a movement because it's very existence negates any potency for their claimed authority. If people choose not to listen to or obey the bishops, then the reality is the bishops have no authority.  That's a reality the Vatican itself should start taking far more seriously because what happens in the West will eventually happen through out the entire ChurchIt's a sure bet this current Pope is incapable of assimilating that reality.  

In the meantime Benedict's theological protege, Cardinal Schonborn, is left with the unenviable task of attempting to keep the Austrian Church from imploding. Perhaps Cardinal Schonborn would do well to concentrate on the theology of the young Joseph Ratzinger as opposed to Ratzinger's later work.  Or maybe he can just ring up one of the seers from Medjugorje and get their take on things.  After all, Medjugorje is a very interesting example of a lay led community with a lot of Spirit.


  1. I thinks it's really only point number four that I have a serious problem with. Abolish the sacerdotal hiearchy by rendering the apostolic lineage irrelevant and we essentially have a Protestant ecclesiology where the dispensation of the Spirit is prized over the Incarnation. That the sacerdotal priesthood is a corruption of the original church has never been a belief we could call recognizably Catholic. This strikes rather near the heart of the Catholic notion of the Holy. I am, however, for the loosening up of controls and bureaucracy surrounding this absolutely essential of a sacrament.

  2. I guess I don't necessarily see that the idea of Apostolic lineage would be negated. Celebrants would be called by the community for the community and ordained or whatever, by a bishop chosen in a similar fashion. What this essentially replaces is the notion of self announced priestly candidates being vetted and trained by other similarly self announced priests.

    It's the Holy Spirit working through the community rather than just the ego of the individual which would theoretically drive the priesthood.

    I don't about striking near the heart of the Catholic notion of the Holy. You'd have to explain that more for me. It certainly does strike near the Catholic notion of personal piety.

  3. Once again the real meaning of Apostolic stems from baptism not the sacrament of ordination that was used much later in the Church history. The necessity of a consecrated priesthood by a Bishop is all a later version of Christ's Way. We are members of The Way of Christ not the methods of bishops.

    The implosion from the hierarchy continues It will not (can not) end with an authoritarian leadership.