Church in the World
Austrian priests refuse to revoke their call to disobedienceChrista Pongratz-Lippitt and Sarah Mac Donald - 8 October 2011
Members of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, led by Vienna’s former vicar general Mgr Helmut Schüller, have said they cannot revoke the “Call to Disobedience” that they issued on 19 June. In their latest newsletter (which you can find on www.thetablet.co.uk), the 407 priests and deacons say: “We have been asked to revoke our ‘Call to Disobedience’ but cannot do so in good conscience as we continue to stand by its contents.”
The priests are demanding reform or dialogue on the issues of priestly celibacy, women Communion for the divorced and remarried. They also want an enhanced role for the laity in the Church.
“Disobeying certain valid and strict church rulings and laws has for years been part of our life and work as priests. If we were to profess publicly that we did not think or act in this way that would only further exacerbate the discord in the Church and its pastoral work,” they said in their letter. They were fully aware that the word “disobedience” could be inflammatory, but insisted: “We do not mean general disobedience for contradiction’s sake, but that graduated obedience which we first owe to God, then to our consciences and in the final instance to church law.”
Speaking this week in Dublin, where he was addressing a meeting of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests (ACP),
Mgr Schüller told The Tablet that when he became vicar general in Vienna in 1995 – a post he held until 1999, working under Archbishop Christoph Schönborn – he had hoped for change in the Church in line with what was permitted by the Second Vatican Council. “But now we have the suspicion that the Vatican wants the Church to go backwards,” he said. To see the Church as a “fortress against the world and against the secular world” was not the way that the Second Vatican Council started out, he argued.
One key issue today pertained to the role of baptised lay people – who are “not only buyers in some shop but … stones of the building of the Church”. They should grow in influence and in participation in the decisions of the Church, he said, “because of their plentiful experience of life”. He said the Church was “afraid of lay people because they see them as infected with secularisation and with relativism”. The Initiative’s concerns about the priesthood, he said, were based on rights recognised by the UN for men to marry, and the equal rights of women recognised by the secular world but not, he said, by the Church.
In their newsletter the priests said they had been advised to discuss some of the “simpler” reforms they demand with Cardinal Schönborn but they were concerned to avoid “just a few higher-ranking clergy”discussing reforms that concerned all the faithful with “a few lower-ranking clergy”.
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