The head of the Austrian Preachers’ Initiative has reacted positively to the Pope’s criticism.
Pope Benedict XVI. said in his Maunday Thursday sermon held in Italian in the Vatican that disobedience was no solution. The Pope mentioned a “group of priests from a country in Europe” without directly referring to Helmut Schüller or his movement. He claimed that obedience was the only way to manage the challenges of the Church in the world of today. Pope Benedict XVI. took a clear stand against the Preachers’ Initiative’s appeal to stop women from becoming Catholic priests. He said that his predecessor John Paul II. determined that such a reform was unthinkable.
Schüller described the Pope’s criticism as “relatively cautious”. The Probstdorf parish priest admitted in a television interview yesterday evening (Thurs) that he was surprised about the leader of the Catholic Church to speak about the points his movement had raised. The former Caritas Austria head stressed he appreciated the Pope’s estimation regarding his initiative’s intention. Benedict XVI said it seemed to him that the group of preachers got active to change the Church for the better. He acknowledged the movement’s concerns about the Church’s future.
Schüller dismissed the Pope’s argumentation regarding the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church. The Austrian priest said that the Church’s doctrine constantly evolved. He suggested that the verdict of John Paul II should not be considered as final. Schüller emphasised that other clerical personalities used much harsher terms in criticising his initiative than the Pope. He pointed out that many conservative opinion leaders called on the Austrian Conference of Bishops and the Vatican to expel him and his fellow campaigners for a modernisation of the Austrian Catholic denomination.
Viennese Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the highest representative of the Austrian Roman Catholic Church, said he considered the Pope’s statements as “encouraging for the Church in Austria”. Schönborn claimed the Pope had proven how well informed he was about the situation in the country.
Schönborn previously criticised Schüller for choosing the term “disobedience” to describe their critical attitude. The archbishop labelled the word as utterly inappropriate. Newspapers report that the most recent meeting between Schüller and Schönborn dates back several months. The archbishop seemed not to have understood his plans to gather with representatives of the Preachers’ Initiative in the foreseeable future to debate the domestic denominations’ agenda and the chances for a settlement.
There are 3,032 Catholic parishes in Austria’s nine provinces. Vienna has the most with 660, followed by Upper Austria (474) and Lower Austria. More people than ever since the end of the war left the Austrian Church in 2010 when 58,600 membership cancellations were registered. The figure declined by 32 per cent in 2011. The number of marriages decreased as well. Around 36,300 marriage ceremonies took place in Austria last year, around three per cent fewer than in 2010.