Rebel priest deplores Church’s ‘leadership crisis’

A Catholic preacher who established a group of “disobedient” priests reacted coolly to Viennese Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schönborn’s warnings.

Speaking to Italian daily La Stampa last week, Schönborn said regarding the Austrian Church’s reaction to the Preachers’ Initiative: “Now is the time to clarify the various issues. We might take disciplinary measures, but I hope that this is not necessary.”

Schüller, who founded the group in June 2011, announced: “We have to wait and see what these so-called disciplinary measures are. We will then consult our juridical advisors and discuss our reaction.”

Schüller heads the parish of Probstdorf, Lower Austria. The former Caritas Austria president said the Catholic Church in the alpine country was not in a general crisis – despite high membership cancellation figures and no end to reports about sexual abuse at churches and clerical boarding schools, especially in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

He claimed the domestic Church was experiencing a “crisis of leadership”. Schüller also said that some Austrian bishops were approving some of his initiative’s ideals and suggestions. He appealed on them to speak out and get connected.

The call of the Austrian Preachers’ Initiative to abolish the celibate has received wide acclaim by Catholic reform movements across the globe. Its feud with the leaders of the Austrian Church has caused negative reactions by conservative representatives of the World Church. The group said the Vatican should finally allow women and laymen to hold sermons.

Meanwhile, Schönborn has called for an “alliance of the wise and experienced” for Austria. Asked by the Salzburger Nachrichten what must happen to improve the reputation of Austrian politics, he said the country needed a “dialogue about the future in which many participate”.

Schönborn admitted fears that democracy “is going to the dogs” if morale values failed to matter more as of now in the state’s corruption scandal-stricken interior politics. He told the Salzburger Nachrichten that there must be more focus on taking care of democracy. Schönborn – the highest representative of the Austrian Catholic Church – said: “There is no discussion about issues which will really matter in the future. We speak about short-term saving packages. But what will be the perspective of our children?”

Around 58,600 people left the Austrian Church in 2010 – more than ever before in the country’s post-war history. The number of membership cancellations declined by 32 per cent in 2011. Sixty-five per cent of residents of Austria are Catholics. This is a significant decrease compared to the early 1960s when nine in 10 Austrians were members of the Church.