Wednesday, May 02, 2012

To crack down? Or not to crack down? That is the question

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn was appointed archbishop of Vienna in 1995 (at the age of 50) “after the late Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër had to step down after being accused of sexually abusing a minor”.

Schönborn “ makes no secret of the fact that he is a conservative at heart and an adamant advocate of both mandatory priestly celibacy and of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae”.

And yet … The Roman Catholic system, which is a holdover from the ancient Roman empire, is, as it were “torn between two lovers”. On the one hand, there is the desire to hold an inquisition to bring everyone in the world back into line … on the other hand, there is that liberal faction which was given free reign at Vatican II, which still sees itself to be … faithful Roman Catholics.

“We priests usually give up when we are faced with complete incomprehension at what the church teaches about marriage and abstinence, proliferation and indissolubility. ... There is only one way, the way his disciples learned: get to know Jesus himself better, grow into his friendship,” Schönborn told his priests. Priests should learn to walk the tightrope between canon law and true mercy as Jesus practiced it by asking themselves what Jesus would have done in each problematic situation and then following in his footsteps, the cardinal said.

The sermon attracted much attention, especially in Austria, where the demands for church reform by the now 400-strong Austrian Priests’ Initiative, founded in 2006, culminated in an “Appeal to Disobedience” in June last year. In Msgr. Helmut Schüller, the founder of the initiative, Schönborn has met his match. Schönborn’s former vicar general and before that the director of Caritas Austria, Schüller is a well-known charismatic priest and media personality in Austria. And what is more, several of the reforms the initiative calls for, such as giving Communion to remarried divorced Catholics and to Catholics who have been excommunicated for not paying compulsory church tax, are widely practiced …

While making it quite clear that he could not allow an “appeal to disobedience” to stand -- as “whosoever renounces the principle of obedience, disrupts church unity” -- Schönborn gave the dissenting priests time to reflect and said he hoped for an “amicable” solution.

But the initiative continued to stand its ground. “Disobeying certain valid and strict church rulings and laws has for years been part of our life and work as priests,” Schüller told the press….

In March, the Austrian church once again hit world headlines and Schönborn had to face yet another difficult dilemma when an openly homosexual man was elected to the parish council of Stützenhofen in Lower Austria. Florian Stangl, a 26-year-old disability-care worker who lives in a registered same-sex partnership and who is a committed Catholic, received more votes in the parish council elections than any other candidate. The Vienna archdiocese’s statutes state that parish council members “must commit themselves to the Church’s doctrine and order.

In Schönborn’s absence (he was presiding over the bishops’ conference’s spring session in Carinthia), his spokesman recalled that active homosexuals were in a state of grave sin. On his return to Vienna, Schönborn met with Stangl and his partner for lunch and promised that a solution would be found that respected “both the dignity of all those concerned and of church rules,” with the result that Stangl has been allowed to remain on the parish council. The archdiocese would meanwhile look into revising the parish council statutes so that they express church law more clearly in future, Schönborn said.

In an interview on Austrian state television’s “Palm Sunday Press Hour,” Schönborn explained how he had arrived at his solution to this latest dilemma. “In all moral questions we must always first consider the individual human being. Jesus always considered the individual human person first and not the law,” he said, adding that he had been impressed by Stangl’s “deep Christianity” and active commitment to the church. The problem of allowing remarried divorced Catholics to receive the Eucharist is much the same, Schönborn said, and appealed to priests always to consider each individual case.

The squabble continues:

Schönborn welcomed as a sign of encouragement for the Austrian church Pope Benedict XVI’s criticism of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative in his homily during the April 5 chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican (see story)…

The next day, Good Friday, Schönborn publicly called on the Priests’ Initiative to take back the word “disobedience.”…

The Austrian Priests’ Initiative has, however, refused to take back the word “disobedience.”…

1 comment:

  1. The Church is in a pickle alright, and here in Austria it's foundering. In addition to the issues you mention, most Austrians disagree with the priesthood being restricted to men, and priests not being allowed to marry.

    The number of graduating priests has plummeted in recent years here. If the Church doesn't change, Catholics will soon become a minority in a country which was 95% Catholic when I first came here thirty years ago. Selber schuld- it's their own fault.