Monday, July 29, 2013

Helmut Schuller in Cincinnati

Father Helmut Schüller, a co-founder of the Austrian Pfarrer-Initiative, spoke in Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon, July 27, 2013, to a gathering of about 300 concerning the history and goals of the Austrian Priests Initiative.

The session was held at the Fairview-Clifton German Language School and was part of Schüller's three-week, fifteen-city tour (July 16 - August 7), sponsored by a coalition of ten Church reform-minded organizations.

Under the title of  "Catholic Tipping Point Tour," Schüller recalled the start of the Initiative in 2006 as a response to several issues facing the Church in Austria and in the world at large, such as the decline in the number of priests, the closing of parishes, the failure to allow the laity greater sharing of responsibility for the Church's mission and ministry.

After efforts at dialog with Austrian bishops and less than successful meetings with Church officials in Rome, the members of the Initiative decided to make a bold appeal for disobedience of specific Church disciplines, including the prohibition against talking about ordination of women and of married men to the priesthood.

Other areas of concern are the prohibition of preaching by competent lay people as well as the refusal of communion to members of Christian churches, to divorced-remarried people, and to those who have officially left the Church.

Inclusion of a petition for church reform in every liturgy, refusal by priests to travel from parish to parish to parish to offer multiple Masses on Sundays and feast days, and advocating the appointment of a "presiding leader" in every parish (a re-imaging of the priesthood) as an antidote against closing or consolidating parishes are other issues promoted by the Initiative.

In his Cincinnati talk, Schüller described himself as "a common priest, not a rebel,"  as one of many pastors who are trying to lead "the Church into a very uncertain future." He added, "We have to be advocates of the people of the Church."

Schuller, though dubbed by some of his critics as "ein unruhestifter" (a trouble-maker), comes across as a mild mannered, soft-spoken advocate, out-going and yet as eager to listen as to talk.

His remarks were occasionally punctuated by applause from his Cincinnati audience, the majority of whom were women, and most of them senior citizens. (He noted that according to a newspaper item, 80% of the Church's services in the USA are offered by women.)

Schuller was born in Austria on December 24, 1952. He was ordained in 1977, and has served in several positions in the Vienna diocese, including for four years as Vicar General for Cardinal Christoph Schőnborn, who dismissed him from that office for his differing opinions.

He remains today pastor of St. Stephen Church in the village of Probstdorf, serving also as university chaplain at the Catholic University of Vienna and as a youth minister at a Catholic high school.

In November of 2012 the Vatican withdrew from him the title of Monsignor though no reasons were given for the retraction.

Addressing the appeal to disobedience and the reaction it has garnered, Schüller based the Initiative's bold statement on the grounds that in  many cases the hierarchy's expectation of obedience is a means to stifle reform and their use of "obedience" itself lacks control and accountability.

Further, Schüller explained, the members of the Initiative realize there are many cases of silent disobedience every day (e.g., lay persons preaching, or priests' giving communion to non-Catholics) and so the call to disobedience simply articulates what is already happening.

Although the Austrian Priests-Initiative and Schüller in particular are irritants to Cardinal Schőnborn, the Austrian hierarchs are reluctant to stifle or retaliate in light of the overwhelming support the Initiative has garnered among Austrian Catholics.

About 15% of the Austrian priests are publicly members of the Initiative, and some 80% of the laity are judged to support its objectives.

One powerful motivating force energizing the Initiative is the lingering spirit of the Second Vatican Council, especially the Council's teaching on the Church as communio and the recognition of the sensus fidelium.

The Council, Schüller said, was a gift to the Church, not a danger. He also warned against the possible connotation attached to the English term "lay," since in the language of many the term "lay" implies one is uninformed, unprofessional, or even incompetent.

On the evening of his public talk, Schüller also met with a group of Cincinnati-area priests to discuss the Initiative and to affirm that "Wir sind eine Kirche bewegung" (We are a Church movement).

There are approximately 45 priests in the Cincinnati area who are members of the US version of the Initiative, that is, the Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP). There are similar associations of priests in Ireland, Australia, England, and Germany.

Though some US hierarchs have forbidden Schüller to speak in church-owned buildings during his tour, his audiences have numbered some 250 in New York, 500 in Boston, 350 in Philadelphia, 500 in Chicago, and the 300 in Cincinnati.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Pastoring By The Book?

Many parishes have  priests who are pastoring by the book.

Upon receiving their new assignments they undertake a ministry of correction. Their first foray is usually a reaction to liturgical practices which they deem contrary to the standards of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM).

The old pastor, in their estimation, was lackadaisical about rubrics and unresponsive to directions from the Curia or the diocesan Liturgy Office. His sloppy rule-keeping has diminished respect for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

He has even allowed the laity to participate in roles that are reserved to the clergy.

The new pastor must now come in and clean up the mess, often in the face of misunderstanding, opposition or even hostility from parishioners.

He is, however, willing to endure the tensions that follow from his corrective measures for the sake of doing it right, of getting things back to the way they should be.

He quotes documents in support of his changes. He is simply asking parish members to respect his office, accede to his education, accept his sincere efforts to establish a liturgy and a parish that is united in its uniformity to the directives and decrees. He can justify by the book what he says and does.

This pastoring by the book, however, is only one side of a pastor's role. The  late theologian Bernard Häring, C.SS. R., in his book Priesthood Imperiled balances the picture.

Häring advises priests to "concentrate all your attention and energies on becoming, as it were, a kind of sacrament, a visible and convincing sign of healing, forgiveness, and nonviolence as much as is possible!"

He continues, "The priesthood is not at all a step upward on the social ladder, but rather a particular commitment to descend, in humility and service, to where the people are..."

Priests who govern by the book, however, may cringe at Häring's reservations about ritualism: "Some fifty years ago, ritualism was one of the major plagues in the Church...Ritualism in any form can simultaneously become a humbling and self-exalting sickness...Even though extreme cases of ritual scrupulosity and mean-spirited control have greatly diminished, ritualism still remains a most serious obstacle to inculturation and liturgical spontaneity."

Häring did not oppose laws or rituals. He was, after all, the author of the groundbreaking The Law of Christ  (1966, English edition), a three-volume work on moral theology for priests and laity. Two decades later he issued a new three-volume comprehensive presentation on Catholic moral theology titled Free and Faithful in Christ.

No, Häring proposed a balanced approach to morality and to priesthood, but he would suggest that those who choose to "do it by the book" must include the Scriptures as the balancing book in their arsenal of pastoral practices.

"Priests," Häring insisted, "can never meditate enough on the four songs of the Servant [Is 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12], considered by Jesus to be his program for life and service, and, therefore, also the plan for his followers."

Pastoring by the book is only half the practice. The Gospel and Jesus' style of pastoring are equally if not more essential guides for being faithful to the role of priest/pastor.

We priests cannot pastor by the book --we can justify what we say and do only by the books!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

AUSCP Meeting: Agenda and Votes

About 200 priests from across the country assembled in Seattle, Washington, June 24-27, for the second annual assembly of the Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP).

Key-note speakers addressed issues related to the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.

Among the assembly's agenda was consideration of 15 proposals offered by members as potential resolutions from the AUSCP.

The pattern of acceptance and rejection of the proposals suggests that the AUSCP is taking a moderate stand in its efforts to renew the Church and support Vatican II.

The association voted to accept a proposal to promote ongoing discussion of and support for changes in Canon Law which would allow the ordination of women to the order of the diaconate.

Membership, however, rejected the proposal calling for study of and open discussion for the ordination of women and married men to the priesthood.

The proposal to urge the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to encourage the re-introduction of general absolution (in reference to the Sacrament of Penance) in U. S. parishes was also passed.

Other proposals rejected included: asking the USCCB to appoint a bishop as liaison to the AUSCP; asking the pope to allow use of the former (1974) Sacramentary; asking that the selection of diocesan bishops become a more transparent process in which the local churches have a voice.

Discussions about the various proposals included highly nuanced argumentation, not necessarily opposed to some resolutions in principle but rejecting them as worded or with understanding that corollaries to the proposal may be misunderstood or misdirected.

Journalist Bob Kaiser, who was Time magazine's correspondent at the Council, offered anecdotes about his experiences and perceptions. He recalled the many times  he had seated around his dinner table some of the "stars" of the Council: bishops, theologians (Rahner, Kung, Congar), engaging them in assessing the struggles and direction set by the Council.

He said again and again, "The Council was a learning experience for the bishops."

The current Tablet journalist at the Vatican Bob Mickens spoke about the election of Pope Francis and the effect his unusual papal style is having on the Vatican bureaucracy and on bishops' conferences around the world.

He noted that some have criticized Papa Francesco for change only in style, but Mickens reminded the assembly that historian John O'Malley insists that after all is said and done style turns out to be substantive.

Theologian Catherine Clifford and canon lawyer Jim Coriden addressed issues rising from Lumen Gentium and the efforts of some people to restrict the aggiornamento Pope John XXIII sorely wanted for the Church.

Priest/pastor/author Pat Brennan was unable to speak to the assembly because of illness. Bishop Donald Trautman, former ordinary of the Erie diocese, substituted, urging the AUSCP to continue its efforts at renewal and to enter into dialogue with the episcopacy.

Among AUSCP's goals and objectives for 2013 is widening awareness that the AUSCP exists, building bridges between the AUSCP and religious men and women, raising funds to develop a support staff, and inviting brother priests to gatherings which engage the vision of Vatican II.

Common prayer, meals, discussions and recreation created a stronger bond among the nearly 200 who attended. Total membership is slightly less than 1000 priests.

AUSCP was founded in 2011.

The AUSCP website is