Catholic sceptics get Swiss accolade

A critical Catholic movement from Austria has received a renowned award in Switzerland.

The Austrian Preachers’ Initiative – which consists of 400 preachers – was decorated with this year’s Herbert Haag Prize. The presentation took place in the city of Lucerne. Hans Küng, one of Europe’s best-known critics of the Vatican, lauded the Austrian movement for calling on priests across Europe to be disobedient towards conservative Church leaders. Küng said a well-argued appeal for disobedience by people who had trust in the future of the Roman Catholic Church was more credible and sensible than any kind of “pseudo-obedience”.

Helmut Schüller, who founded the Preachers’ Initiative in June 2011, said Küng was one of the most influential voices of a critical theology with intentions to lead the Church into a bright future in our modern society. The Herbert Haag Prize features a donation of 10,000 Euros. Schüller said he had not yet decided about how to use the money.

Schüller also announced he planned to ask the Pope Benedict XVI. for a meeting in a letter. The Probstdorf priest’s movement is better known around the world after the Pope’s recent Maunday Thursday sermon. Benedict XVI. addressed a “group of priests from a country in Europe” who opted for disobedience without mentioning the movement’s name nor the country it was based in. Benedict XVI. said he had strong doubts whether a strategy as chosen by the initiative could solve the Church’s current problems.

Schüller admitted having been surprised by the Pope’s decision to indirectly mention his group’s demands. The Preachers’ Initiative wants the Vatican to allow married men to become priests. It also calls for a right for preachers to get married and for women to hold sermons.

Schüller announced he wanted to speak to the Pope about how to go on before Federico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See press office, told Austrian journalists that conflicts as caused by the Preachers’ Initiative were something the leaders of the individual nationwide Churches had to sort out. Lombardi claimed that the Pope had no interest in meeting Schüller.

The Probstdorf priest rejected Lombardi’s statements. He said that the press department chief’s points of view had nothing to do with the Pope’s thoughts and plans. Schüller refused to consider Lombardi’s announcements as official statements by the Vatican.

Graz Diocese Bishop Egon Kapellari called Schüller’s reaction “superficial” while Viennese Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schönborn claimed the Pope’s decision to speak about the matter in his Maunday Thursday sermon were “encouraging for the Church in Austria”. Kapellari and Schönborn represent the Conference of Austrian Bishops. All of its members reject Schüller’s ideas.