Austrian clerics are pushing their bishops to petition the Vatican for male and female married priests.
– Recent Vatican instruction on parish life an “affront” to Church members trying “to react constructively to the lack of priests”
The Austrian Priests’ Initiative (Pfarrer-Initiative Österreich), made up of some 400 Austrian priests and deacons backed by thousands of laypeople in the country, made the plea to their pastors in a July 28 response to the recent instruction on parish reform published by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church”.
In its insistence on the supreme authority of the priest in the parish and on the subservience of laypeople, that Vatican instruction is nothing short of an “affront” to Austrian bishops and parishes “in their efforts to react constructively to the lack of priests”, the Austrian clerics’ collective denounced.
For that reason the Austrian priests and deacons said that they hoped that their bishops would come up with “suggestions and new regional regulations on how the ministry of those called to baptism and the ministry of the priest can be better combined”.
That creativity must also include “courageous petitions to Rome for a renewed ministry in the Church that is open to women and men, married and celibate”, the Austrian priests insisted.
– “If we were to lead our parishes with this monarchical clericalism, we would lose committed Catholics”
The Austrian priests did not bite their tongues in their criticisms of the Vatican document, deploring that the text contained “only a rudimentary analysis of the changed social and ecclesial situation only then to insist on canon law regulations which were already out of date at the time of their adoption 40 years ago”.
The priests added that the instruction falls short of the Church’s teaching at the Second Vatican Council in its demand “that parish councils have only an advisory function and that non-ordained people preaching during the celebration of Mass and the collegial leadership of priests and laity are forbidden”.
“If we were to lead our parishes with this monarchical clericalism, we would lose precisely those Christians who are co-responsible, those who are the salt and light of a parish community that is turned towards the people”, the Austrian priests warned.
– Priests and bishops may be driven to disobey Vatican “out of pastoral need”
Precisely out of the desire not to lose Catholics committed to their parishes, the Austrian clerics furthermore warned that the Vatican instruction was not only in direct contradiction with Pope Francis’ desire for more synodality in the Church but also raised the spectre of priests and bishops being “driven to ‘disobedience’ out of pastoral need”.
For that reason, the Austrian Priests’ Initiative decried that the Vatican text has the potential “to divide bishops, priests and parishes because of their non-acceptance of the situation” foreseen in the instruction.
“The great delusion of the instruction” was to think that “the Church could missionarily address the people of today without… fulfilling in its leadership the fundamental values of modern society and the Gospel, such as participation and the equal dignity of every person”, the priests went on.
“We also see that through the exaltation of the priesthood God himself, Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit are pushed out of the centre of Church life”, the Austrian Priests’ Initiative decried.
Ever since its publication July 20, the Congregation for the Clergy instruction on parish life and reform has brought forth a steady stream of criticism, above all from German bishops who described it as unrealistic, backward-looking and even a “reversion to clericalisation”.
Bishop of Basel in Switzerland and president of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, Felix Gmür, also criticised the Vatican document as “theologically deficient and clericalistically constricted”.
But the Vatican finally responded to the criticisms of the document July 28, with the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, inviting the German bishops to Rome to air their grievances and clear up any “doubts and perplexity” they may have over the instruction.