Asylum seekers in Austria who have become Lutherans or Calvinists are being asked “absurdly difficult” questions about their faith when examined by the state authorities processing their asylum applications, Karl Schiefermaier, a member of the Protestant High Consistory has said.
Converts are being asked increasingly difficult questions about the Trinity or the exact date on which the first woman was ordained a pastor in Austria, questions which 90 per cent of Austrian Protestants would not be able to answer, said Schiefermaier, whose role as Superintendant is equivalent to that of an auxiliary bishop in the Catholic Church. They were even being asked how many sacraments there were in the Free Churches in Austria which was ridiculous as there are five different Free Churches in Austria whose interpretations of the sacraments differ, he said in a statement published by the Austrian Protestant press service epdÖ.
If converts could not answer all the questions on their new religion, their applications for asylum were often rejected and they were accused of sham conversion in order to obtain asylum status, he said.
“This has now reached a stage which is most worrying”, Schiefermaier added. “The Church and not the State must decide whether or not a baptism is legitimate. Every pastor has the pastoral responsibility to examine and confirm the genuineness of an adult’s wish to be baptised.”
At the moment 780 asylum seekers are attending Protestant services. Two-thirds are already baptised and one third are preparing for baptism in a one-year instruction programme, according to the latest online poll conducted by the Austrian Protestant Church.
"The way in which the converts are being integrated [into churches] is most impressive”, Schiefermaier said, citing the fact that they were taking an active part in parish life, including contributing readings in their own languages, such as in Farsi.
In 2017 in Austria, 209 convert asylum seekers were baptised in the Protestant Church and 650 became Catholics.
PICTURE: Refugees head to their registration after arriving in a chartered train from Vienna, Austria, at the railway station in Freilassing, Germany, 20 September, 2015 ©PA