Homosexual’s success scares off priest

A Catholic preacher plans to withdraw from his local parish after a gay man entered the community council.

Florian Stangl, a homosexual carer of disabled children, received a majority of votes in the recent Stützenhofen parish community council ballot. Viennese Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the highest representative of the Austrian Roman Catholic Church, gave the green light to Stangl’s engagement in the parish despite his sexual orientation. Schönborn said last week that he had been “impressed” by Stangl. Schönborn met with the 26-year-old social worker before making clear that he supported his nomination.

Now Gerhard Swierzek, the Catholic priest of the town of 110 residents, said he did not want to hold masses in Stützenhofen any longer. Swierzek explained he opposed the “sinful lifestyle” of some members of the local Catholic community. Swierzek added he planned to ask clerical leaders for a position in another parish due to recent occurrences.

Stangl refused to comment on Swierzek’s statements except stressing that a possible appeal for a job somewhere else was the priest’s “personal decision”. Other members of the Stützenhofen parish community council are less cautious with keeping their opinion to themselves. Local newspapers quote them as saying that Swierzek gambled away the chances for a mutual agreement. They told reporters that the priest was well advised to leave the village to help its Catholic community to regroup and get over the latest turmoil.

A visitor of an Easter mass in Stützenhofen told radio station Ö1 that he was surprised about the priest’s statements. The man said he expected Swierzek to accept Schönborn’s decision to ensure a peaceful coexistence. He claimed that Schönborn’s step was proof of the Austrian Church’s willingness to become more modern and open. Another mass attendant said he liked Stangl. He added that other residents of the town were supportive as well.

Experts on the denominations in Austria think that the diocese might not ask another priest to focus just on Stützenhofen after a possible resignation of Swierzek. Church leaders might rather assign the head of a neighbouring parish to take over from the conservative priest without neglecting the community he was currently in charge of.

Swierzek announced yesterday (Mon) he was disappointed by Schönborn for meeting with Stangl but failing to get in touch with him. A spokesman for the cardinal said today that Schönborn was currently abroad. The head of the Austrian Church would deal with the matter after his return, the diocese official added. He said there would not be any other comments on the dispute in Stützenhofen until Schönborn was back in the country.

Around 65 per cent of Austria’s populace were Catholics in 2010, down from around 90 per cent in the early 1960s. The members of the Austrian Catholic Church’s parish community councils are elected every five years. Around 4.5 million Austrians and Catholic foreigners residing in the country were asked to take part in last month’s ballot.

The parish community council members – who do not receive a financial compensation for their efforts – gather on a regular basis to debate the local parish’s general focus in times of decreasing interest in the Church, especially among young people. The committees are also engaged in organising pilgrimages and various events like concerts, fundraising markets and theatre performances for kids.