Alois Kothgasser, the archbishop of the Diocese of Salzburg, has decided to apply for retirement.
Kothgasser announced yesterday (Weds) that he informed Pope Benedict XVI. about his wish in a letter. Kothgasser, 75, added he hoped for a private conversation with the Pope to discuss who could succeed him. A decision is expected for autumn.
Kothgasser is regarded as one of the Austrian Church’s leaders who try to ensure a healthy balance of the influence of members with a modern approach and the clergy’s conservative circles. News that he wants to resign due to his age hits the Church in the midst of what some analysts think could lead to a cross-country rebellion.
Former Caritas Austria President Helmut Schüller’s Preachers’ Initiative received a promotional boost earlier this month when the Pope mentioned it in his Maunday Thursday sermon. Benedict XVI. spoke of a “group of priests from a country in Europe” who opted for disobedience. He raised the question whether such a strategy could be a solution without revealing his personal opinion. But it is understood that the Pope is strictly against modernist movements such as the Austrian Preachers’ Initiative which currently consists of 400 parish priests.
Schüller’s group of priests call for the right to give Holy Communion to people who married a second time at registry offices after getting divorced following church weddings. The priests – who declared themselves disobedient towards the Vatican last year – also want the celibate to be abolished. Schüller thinks that reforms as these could help to make the position of parish priest more interesting to young men. An increasing number of Austrian preachers are in charge of more parishes than one due to a lack of young staff.
Now Federico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See press office, announced that Austria’s bishops must handle the matter. Lombardi said earlier this week that issues such as internal conflicts like the one caused by Schüller’s movement was something the domestic Churches were in charge of. He underlined that it was not the responsibility of the Pope – who turned 85 last Monday – to settle the dispute.
Graz Diocese Bishop Egon Kapellari criticised Schüller for signalising interest in meeting the Pope. Schüller said he would like to discuss the many open questions of the ongoing conflict with the Holy Father. Kapellari branded Schüller’s reaction to the Pope’s words as “superficial”.
Kapellari made clear that he was not in support of the Preachers’ Initiative’s programme. The Graz Diocese bishop also condemned a Styrian parish priest for calling homosexuals “sick and dangerous”. Kapellari said he would keep speaking out against both kinds of movements – modernist ones like the initiative of Schüller as well as ultra-conservative groups.
Catholic groups from the United States, Australia, Slovakia and other countries are reportedly interested in creating alliances with the Austrian Preachers’ Initiative. Schüller announced that 2012 would be his movement’s year of going international.