Kapellari fears clerical split

An end to the feud between the Austrian Church’s leaders and a “disobedient” group of preachers seems out of reach.

Graz Diocese Bishop Egon Kapellari warned from a splitting of the country’s Catholic Church if the Preachers’ Initiative failed to stop its activities. Kapellari appealed on the association of parish priests – which was established by former Caritas Austria head Helmut Schüller last year – to “slow down.”

Schüller’s movement wants the Vatican to scrap the celibate too help stop the decline of the number of young men interested in becoming priests. The Preachers Initiative also said priests should be allowed to give Holy Communion to people who married a second time at registry offices after getting divorced following church weddings. The group, which officially declared itself disobedient, furthermore called on the Conference of Austrian Bishops to act more independently from the Vatican. It said there should be no barriers to women interested in holding sermons.

Kapellari said yesterday (Weds) the Preachers’ Initiative was wrong to assume it had the green light to take the denomination’s steering wheel autonomously. Schüller reacted to Kapellari’s criticism instantly. The Probstdorf parish priest said the Federal Church’s leadership should be concerned about a possible division between them and members. Asked whether he could imagine meeting the bishops for talks about how the intensifying conflict could be achieved, Schüller said: “We need reforms, not a family therapy session.”

Schüller claimed many members of the Church had the feeling that the clerical institution was moving into the wrong direction. A recent poll seems to confirm his estimation. Research group Oekonsult announced last month that, with 87 percent, almost nine in ten Austrians welcomed the Preachers’ Initiative’s plan to go international.

The survey was conducted shortly after Schüller said his initiative – which was around 400 members – registered strong support from Catholic priests from all over the world. He said there was an immense interest in cooperating.

The Austrian Church registered a post-war record of 58,600 membership cancellations in 2010. The figure dropped by 32 percent in 2011. Wedding numbers declined too, according to recently presented statistics. There were around 36,300 marriages in Austria in 2011, that is a drop of 3.1 percent from the previous year.

In related news, the members of a parish in Upper Austria decided to place a job advertisement in newspapers after experiencing difficulties in finding a new preacher. The current priest will soon leave to settle at another parish while an increasing number of preachers are asked to hold masses at more than one church.

Residents of Taufkirchen decided to team up in trying to successfully end the search for a new priest by spending 2,000 Euros on newspaper insertions. The employment ad underlines the local parish’s “contemporary infrastructure.” The Diocese of Linz said it was the first time that a local parish became active this way. A spokesman said that the diocese generally welcomed the decision and had no plans to interfere.