Tuesday, August 30, 2011

An Update On The Austrian Priest Movement

"Did I just read that some retired Brazilian Bishop is calling for a Vatican III?

The following article from Suddeutesche Zeitung gives an update on the goings on in Austria.  Lines are getting drawn in the sand.

An Open Clergy Rebellion In Austria’s Catholic Church 

By Michael Frank-SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG/Worldcrunch
VIENNA - There is open rebellion among the clergy of Austria’s Catholic Church. One highly placed man of the cloth has even warned about the risk of a coming schism, as significant numbers of priests are refusing obedience to the Pope and bishops for the first time in memory.

The 300-plus supporters of the “Priests’ Initiative” have had enough of what they call the Church’s “delaying” tactics, and they are advocating pushing ahead with policies that openly defy current practices. These include letting non-ordained people lead religious services and deliver sermons; making communion available to divorced people who have remarried; allowing women to become priests and to take on important positions in the hierarchy; and letting priests carry out pastoral functions even if, in defiance of Church rules, they have a wife and family.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Vienna’s Archbishop and head of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, has threatened the rebels with excommunication. Those involved in the initiative are not, incidentally, only low-profile members of the clergy. Indeed, it is being led by Helmut Schüller -- who was for many years Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Vienna and director of Caritas -- and the cathedral pastor in the Carinthian diocese of Gurk.

The issues that supporters of the initiative want addressed may be revolutionary, but they are by no means new: they constitute basic questions that have been around for a long time but have never been addressed by Church officials. (From the Vatican's point of view these have been addressed, and in that point of view, they are the only point of view that counts.)

Initiative supporters are demanding that parishes openly expose all things forbidden by the Church hierarchy, thus putting a stop to hypocrisy and allowing authenticity of belief and community life to emerge. The appeal for “more honesty“ made to the world’s youth by Pope Benedict XVI in Madrid last week left a sour taste in many mouths in Austria, where some say that honesty is a quality the Church hierarchy has more of a tendency to punish than reward. (It would be nice if authenticity was stressed instead of authority.  As it stands now the hierarchy treats these two very distinct concepts as synonymous.)

Open pressure and disobedience
Particularly affected are some 700 members of an association called "Priester ohne Amt" – loosely, priests without a job – who have a wife and children that they stand by, but wish in vain to practice their ministry. Priests who break ties with loved ones, on the other hand, are allowed to continue working. (I'm sure they find the married priests of the Anglican Ordinariate another blatant example of hypocrisy and hardly unifying.)

According to initiative founder Schüller, only openly disobedient priests and joint pressure from priests and laity alike can force the hierarchy to budge. Although the problems have been out there for decades, he says, the Church keeps putting off doing anything about them. Cardinal Schönborn stated that the critics would have to “give some thought to their path in the Church” or face unavoidable consequences. On the other hand, Anton Zulehner, a priest who is one of the most respected pastoral theologians in Austria, believes that this time the Church is not going to get away with diversionary tactics.

Twenty years ago, Austria, nominally at least, was 85% Catholic. Today, in the city of Vienna, Catholics account for less than half the population, and rural parishes are melting away. Various scandals have rocked the Church in Austria, among them child abuse charges against former Vienna Archbishop Hans-Hermann Groer, and the nomination of a series of reactionary priests to the rank of bishop.
Read the original article in German.


Now that Cardinal Schoborn is threatening excommunication, the slim hope for meaningful dialogue in Austria is circling the drain. As long as Benedict sits on the Throne of Peter, and treats it like a throne, there will be no dialogue in Roman Catholicism over any discipline impacting the exercise of the priesthood.  As for Cardinal Sconborn, he's been called to woodshed once for his remarks about Angelo Sodano and probably has another trip coming over his open support for Medjugorge-- depending on the outcome of the latest Vatican investigation of the phenomenon--so I'm not terribly surprised he pulled the excommunication card.  Certainly saddened though.

Father Shuller is correct in his assessment that it will take combined pressure from priests and laity to effect meaningful change.  I don't think this necessarily means the Vatican will suddenly cave in to outside pressure.  It could very well mean that priests and laity just stop listening to the Vatican and it's hierarchy and go their own way, forming their own systemic structure, parishes first and larger units from the parishes.  I wouldn't be surprised if this split didn't encompass religious orders like the Jesuits and many LCWR orders who are themselves in Vatican cross hairs.  (See this article in the NCR about the Jesuit theological journal Theological Studies and the Vatican's 'contribution'.)  Institutions can only put the hammer down for so long before folks stop looking at the hammer and start focusing on the hand the holds it.  Or as Father Zulehner says, this time the Vatican is not going to get away with diversionary tactics.

In a more positive vein there is this article from Mirada Global.com.  It's a treatise written by retired Bishop
Antonio Celso de Queirós of Sao Paulo, Brazil.  In it he calls for a Vatican III to address the following issues:
"The Church nowadays is living problems that were not addressed during the Council, or weren’t so clear, such as:
- Christians have abandoned the practice of faith and don’t refer to it in their lives;
- the permanent growth of new Christian religious faiths; the absence or scarce number of young people in ecclesial communities;
- the need for the practical recognition of the mission of the particular churches in the inculturation of faith and in the ecclesial organization and the evangelization of large urban populations;
- the decrease in the number of applicants for priesthood and religious life in countries that had a long-standing Catholic tradition as well as in other countries, and the concomitant population increase;
- the need to redefine the ministries and their fields; the widening of the field of the ministry of permanent deaconship; the opening of ministries to priests that have abandoned ordained ministry;
- the reality of ecclesial communities that lack Eucharist because of the shortage of ordained ministers;
- the issue of a new kind of priests who are not necessarily celibate, alongside others that assume celibacy;
- feminine priesthood;
- the relativization, or the simple practical ignorance of certain rules of the teachings (Sunday mass, keeping Sunday as a day of worship, abstinence and fast…, individual and numerical confession of one’s sins as the only form of the sacrament of penance);
- the “quiet” disagreement of married couples that participate in the Church of the orientations of its teachings in relation to certain rules regarding conjugal morale, second marriages, responsible paternity, the use of condoms as a means of preventing AIDS."
Bishop Celso de Quieros goes on to say this, and Cardinal Schonborn way over there in Austria needs to hear it: 
"....What is necessary is for the Church to open up and get deep into these issues through a serious and respectful dialogue; that the ecclesial structure changes its attitude, avoiding the simple prohibition of dealing with them, which only contributes to increase the risk of discredit and estrangement."

It's easy for some clerics like Australia's Cardinal Pell to blame the burgeoning discontent on mostly Anglo secularists in the Western democracies, but that is just another diversionary tactic.  The discontent is global and it's spreading. And it's spreading just as fast as parishes are being left without the Eucharist and other sacraments.  The Vatican's solution to this problem is not to open up ordination to more people, it's to force more people out of the Church in order to meet the number of priests and that is indicative of a very sick system.


  1. Wonderfully insightful closing:

    "The Vatican's solution to this problem is not to open up ordination to more people, it's to force more people out of the Church in order to meet the number of priests and that is indicative of a very sick system. "

    How do I become an Austrian Catholic?
    Less snarky comment: This is starting to look like round two of the Ultra Montain schsism after VCI. I think I'm ok with joining a schism that has a seriously considered progressive ethics and theology. It's time to grow up.

  2. Sorry, that first Annon was me. I mungged up the posting. Sue B

  3. Sue, I noticed someone on the NCR blog made a similar observation. I think there is a great deal of truth in this observation. In this case progressives would also be traditionalists.

  4. Which article was that? I'd be interested to read the thread. Thanks.

  5. I can't remember which article it was attached to. I know I read it over the weekend, but I read a lot of articles over the weekend.