Austrian Priests Defy Catholic Church Over Celibacy, Other Issues

Austrian Priests Defy Catholic Church Over Celibacy, Other Issues

Sep 05


By Tom Heneghan
August 31, 2011

Original Link

Dissident Austrian priests defying their Catholic Church with calls for married clergy, women priests and other reforms enjoy wide public support, according to a new poll on a dispute that could lead to their dismissal.

Three-quarters of people polled in the traditionally Catholic country backed the priests’ “Call to Disobedience,” a manifesto that Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn compares to a football team refusing to play by the rules.

The revolt, openly supported by 329 priests, threatens a split in the Austrian Church weeks before Pope Benedict’s Sept 22-25 visit to neighbouring Germany. Benedict, 84, grew up in Bavarian villages close to the Austrian border.

Rather than simply appealing for reforms, the dissidents declared they will break Church rules by giving communion to Protestants and remarried divorced Catholics or allowing lay people to preach and head parishes without a priest.

Schoenborn has hinted they would be disciplined if they do not back down in the coming weeks. “This cannot go on,” he told the Vienna daily Der Standard. “If someone has decided to go down the path of dissent, that has consequences.”

Dissident leader Rev Helmut Schueller, who as Vienna vicar general was Schoenborn’s deputy from 1995 to 1999 and once led the Austrian chapter of the international Catholic charity Caritas, has said he has no intention of giving up.

He says many priests are already quietly breaking the rules anyway, often with the knowledge of their bishops, and his campaign aims to force the hierarchy to agree to change. About 8 percent of Austrian priests have supported his movement.

Solid Support For Schueller

Reformist Austrian Catholics have repeatedly challenged the conservative policies of Benedict and his late predecessor Pope John Paul in recent decades, creating grass-roots protest movements and advocating changes the Vatican refuses to make.

Paul Zulehner, a leading Catholic theologian, said the Church must act urgently if it wants to avoid a confrontation. “It could come to a crash, to a split,” he told Austrian radio.

The survey published this week by the Oekonsult polling group showed 76 percent of Austrians queried supported Schueller and his colleagues. Some 85 percent said the Church should not do anything to drive away its reform-minded members.

While the poll was not limited to Catholics, 70 percent of the respondents said the Church and its leaders were “a very important moral authority” for them. Some 66 percent said they liked Schoenborn personally.

Schueller is now a parish priest and university chaplain in Vienna. If he is dismissed, 97 percent of those polled said, a “very large wave” of people leaving the Church would follow.

A record 87,000 Austrians left the Church in 2010, many in reaction to sexual abuse scandals there.

In the past year, over 800 people have registered complaints of molestation by priests after the sexual abuse scandals rocking the Church in Ireland, Belgium and other European countries also broke out in Austria.


Patsy McGarry
Irish Times
August 31, 2011

Original Link

An estimated 400 Austrian Catholic priests, or almost 10 per cent of the 4,200 in the country, are reported to support an “Appeal to Disobedience” which calls for significant reform of guidelines on celibacy, marriage and other areas of church authority.

The initiative was launched on Trinity Sunday, June 19th, and priests behind it said that “Roman refusal to take up long-needed reforms and the inaction of the bishops not only permits but demands that we follow our conscience and act independently”.

On their website, they called for the abolition of celibacy; for married clergy to be allowed; for shared Communion with remarried people and other Christians. They have also called for reform of the liturgy and introduction of the term “Priestless Eucharistic Celebration” for a liturgy of the Word with distribution of Communion.

“This is how the Sunday Mass obligation is fulfilled when priests are in short supply,” they said.

The initiative is led by Archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s former vicar general, Msgr Helmut Schüller.

The cardinal has expressed shock at the initiative and reminded priests that they had freely promised obedience to their bishop at ordination.

He said, “the one who gives up the principle of obedience dissolves unity”, but that he would meet with the priest leaders of the appeal to point out its “inconsistencies,” such as “priestless Eucharist”.

The meeting has yet to take place.

He also suggested that “those who truly in conscience believe that they must disobey the hierarchy, and that ‘Rome’ is on the wrong track [and] gravely contradicts the will of God”, ought to “travel the way no more with the Roman Catholic Church”.

Meanwhile, the results of a poll in Austria by the Oekonsult institute, published this week, found that 71.7 per cent of those polled found the appeal “fair and adequate”, with 64.7 per cent saying they would sign a “call for insurbodination”.

According to 73.8 per cent, pressure from the initiative could help the Austrian Catholic Church argue a case with the Vatican that reforms were unavoidable.

This initiative by Austrian priests shares many aspirations with the newly formed Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland.


1 comment

  1. Suzanne

    I fully support the Austrian priests who wish to make these changes and I hope the changes will find the way to change throughout the Roman Catholic hierarchy on down. Celebacy is a choice that should remain personal by individual and not as requirement to serve God or the church in any capacity. Obviously, celibacy does not honestly set apart the priests from the common man/woman who commit themselves to a life of faith even though married.

    Sharing in communion with faithful from all walks should also be allowed in my opinion. Transubstantiation is the main issue between the beliefs in communion, but it seems to be a devisive issue setting people apart whereas communion is meant to be a coming together at God’s table as His children to be fed by His grace through the gift of His Son Jesus Christ. The gift offered to all believers seems to have more than one interpretation, but is that really necessary? One could just as easily see the parallel of symbolism in this act of Jesus as is seen in other areas of his life teachings. Why should this be treated differently to mean only a literal translation of body and blood? Seems that consistency of the heart should be more important than words that have been changed throughout history given who wanted to decide was important.

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