Where are the voices of American priests?
According to Tom Heneghan reporting today for Reuters, “dissident Austrian priests” defying their archbishop with calls for married clergy, women priests, and other reforms are gaining increased support among Austrian Catholics.
Three-quarters of the people polled have backed an Austrian priests’ “Call to Disobedience,” a manifesto that Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn compares to a football team refusing to play by the rules.
The Call to Disobedience, openly supported now by about 400 priests, threatens a split in the Austrian Church weeks before Pope Benedict’s September 22 to 25 visit to neighboring Germany. Pope Benedict, 84, grew up in Bavarian villages close to the Austrian border.
Rather than simply appealing for reforms, the Austrian priests declared they will bypass Church rules by giving communion to Protestants and remarried divorced Catholics; and they will allow lay people to preach and head parishes..
Schoenborn — who many believe could succeed Pope Benedict — 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.”
Call to Disobedience leader Fr. Helmut Schueller, who as Vienna vicar general was Cardinal Schoenborn’s deputy from 1995 to 1999 and who once led the Austrian chapter of the international Catholic charity Caritas, has said he has no intention of giving up. Schueller 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 eight per cent of Austrian priests have supported his movement.
Reformist Austrian Catholics have repeatedly challenged the conservative policies of Pope Benedict and his predecessor Pope John Paul, creating grassroots protest movements and advocating changes the Vatican refuses to make.
A survey published this week by the Oekonsult polling group showed 76 per cent of ,Austrians queried supported Schueller and his colleagues. Some 85 per cent said the Church should not do anything to drive away its reform-minded members. Schueller is now a parish priest and university chaplain in Vienna. If he is dismissed, 97 per cent 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.
This side of the Atlantic, The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) has issued its strong support for the Austrain reform movement.
ARCC president Patrick Edgar has issued the following statement:
The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) stands in solidarity with the right of the priests of Austria to strongly voice what they believe are the needs of the people of the church regarding married clergy, women priests, Eucharistic hospitality, and other reforms.
These priests are prepared to face the consequences of the decisions they have made in conscience. The needs they express are echoed around the world. Rather than strict penalties being imposed, a response of open discussion and loving action is called for.
We encourage all faithful Catholics to think deeply on these matters, and to call their pastors and bishops to a responsive action which goes to the heart of true need.
For more information, contact
Patrick Edgar, DPA, President
Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC)
3150 Newgate Drive — Florissant, MO 63033
Phone: 1-877-700-ARCC (2722)