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.

No comments:

Post a Comment