Church in the World
Austrian priests call for disobedience Christa Pongratz-Lippitt - 9 July 2011
More than 250 priests have issued a direct challenge to church authority by unilaterally announcing a list of reforms that include giving Communion to non-Catholics and supporting the ordination of women and married men.
The Austrian Priests’ Initiative for church reform has set out its plans in an “Appeal to Disobedience”. The initiative is headed by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s former vicar general, Mgr Helmut Schüller, and has more than 300 members (317 priests and 52 deacons to date), roughly 15 per cent of Austrian priests.
“Rome’s refusal to take up long-needed reforms and our bishops’ inactivity not only allow but force us to obey our consciences and make ourselves independent,” the appeal says. It then lists the seven actions or “signs” the priests intend to adopt from now on. First, they say, they will follow the bidding prayer at each Mass with a prayer “that those responsible at all levels in the Church take people’s concerns and needs more seriously than the preservation of conventional laws and traditions”.
They then undertake “in principle not to refuse Communion to ‘people of goodwill’ – particularly remarried divorcees, members of other Christian Churches and, in certain cases, Catholics who have left the Church”. (This refers to Austrian Catholics who have officially signed out of the Church in order to stop paying compulsory church tax and have therefore been excommunicated.)
Third they say they will only celebrate one Mass or Service of the Word in any one parish on Sundays or holy days, and priests from outside the parish will not be called on to help out. “A Service of the Word arranged by ourselves is preferable to liturgical guest performances,” they say.
They go on to say they will in future consider a Service of the Word at which Communion is distributed as a “priestless Eucharist” and will announce it as such. This is the way in which we will fulfil our Sunday obligation in times when priests are scarce, they say.
Fifth, they will ignore the fact that “competent lay faithful and women RE teachers” are forbidden to preach, because “Especially in difficult times, it is imperative to proclaim the Word of God.”
They say they will “make every effort” to ensure every parish has its own moderator, “man or woman, single or married, fully employed or part-time” and thus pave the way for a “new model of priesthood” rather than merging parishes.
Finally, they say they will use every opportunity to speak out publicly for women’s and married men’s ordination, regarding such people as “welcome colleagues”.
The appeal then says that the members of the Priests’ Initiative are in full solidarity with their colleagues who have left the priesthood to marry and also with those priests who are continuing to serve as priests although they are “living in a relationship”.
Shortly after the appeal was published on Trinity Sunday, the deputy head of the Austrian bishops’ conference, Bishop Egon Kapellari of Graz-Seckau, published a statement saying, “This selective view of the present overall situation in the Austrian Church and the consequences drawn from it will seem plausible to many people but they seriously endanger the identity and unity of the Catholic Church. It is legitimate to express the concerns of the parishes but it is something quite different to call for disobedience and to endanger the character (“Gestalt”) of the World Church and onesidedly to revoke common obligations.” Underlining that he was “clearly and decidedly” against the appeal, Bishop Kapellari added that there was no state of emergency in Austria that would justify a special course for the Austrian Church.
Interviewed on Austrian state television’s weekly religious affairs programme Orientierung on 4 July, Mgr Schüller said no bishop had yet called him personally, but he had read Bishop Kapellari’s statement. He told the Austrian daily Der Standard that reaction in parishes to the appeal had been “for the most part positive but there has naturally also been negative criticism”.
Media coverage has been widespread and mixed, while there was surprise at the time of going to press that Cardinal Schönborn, who is not yet on holiday, had not then reacted.
While some of the members of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative have a record of advocating radical church reform, others have a significantly more conservative reputation.
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