Schönborn warns disobedient priests

Viennese Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schönborn is upping the pressure on Helmut Schüller’s Preachers’ Initiative.

Schönborn, the highest representative of the Austrian Catholic Church, told Italian newspaper La Stampa yesterday (Thurs): “Now is the time to clarify the various issues. We might take disciplinary measures, but I hope that this is not necessary.”

The conservative Conference of Austrian Bishops has engaged in what is developing into an intensifying war of words with the movement established by Schüller last summer. The Austrian Preachers’ Initiative – which consists of around 400 priests – is calling on the Austrian Church and Catholic priests who have not yet joined them to be disobedient towards the Vatican.

Schüller, who heads the parish of Probstdorf in Lower Austria, calls on the Vatican to allow married men to become priests. He said such reforms were needed to avoid a further increase of membership cancellations. Schüller is also in favour to abolish the celibate. Such reforms could make becoming priest a considerable option to young men, he claimed.

Schönborn – who criticised the initiative for using the term disobedience – told La Stampa: “We think the diagnose is correct: yes, there is a crisis. But we have a different opinion regarding the therapy.”

The Austrian Preachers’ Initiative received a boost last month when its organisers were awarded the Herbert Haag Prize. Hans Küng, a well-known critic of the conservative movements within the Church, praised the group around Schüller for refusing to shy away from controversy. Küng said during the award ceremony in the Swiss city of Lucerne that a well-argued appeal for disobedience was more credible and sensible than any kind of “pseudo-obedience”.

Graz priest Wolfgang Pucher said he supported the group of disobedient preachers too. Pucher, who strongly engages for homeless people in the Styrian capital, said in a Die Presse interview: “I have been actively considering most of their demands for some time.”

Pucher said he gave Holy Communion to divorced people and did not keep laymen – especially priests expelled after marrying – from holding sermons. Pucher’s approval followed revelations by Schüller that the number of disobedient preachers abroad who backed his initiative’s ideals was soaring. Catholics supporting the engagement for reforms from several European countries including Slovakia and Germany as well as priests working in Australia and the USA are reportedly interested in tightening their bounds with the Austrian movement.

The Roman Catholic Church is, despite the various conflicts and setbacks in reputation, still the biggest denomination of Austria. There are more than 3,000 parishes across the country. Most of them are situated in capital Vienna (660) and Upper Austria (474). More people than ever since the end of World War Two (WWII) left the Church in 2010 when 58,600 membership cancellations were registered. The figure decreased by 32 per cent last year.