Some Catholic lay people in Austria are tired of waiting for their bishops to deal with the nation's priest shortage and are not only calling for the ordination of women and married men but also encouraging fellow Catholics, literally, to take matters into their own hands by assuming their baptismal priesthood and preaching and presiding at Eucharistic celebrations when an ordained priest is not available.
On Saturday November 5, 2011, Wir sind Kirche ("We Are Church"), together with the reform groups Laieninitiative, Pfarrer-Initiative, Priester ohne Amt and Taxhamer PGR-Initiative, met for a study day to discuss "The Eucharist at a time of shortage of priests". Dr. Franz Nikolasch, a professor of Liturgy, and Dr. Peter Trummer, professor of Biblical Studies, led this discussion and the group came up with the following manifesto (Note: this is an approximate translation since German is not one of my languages):
Concern for the Eucharist in the churches: seven theses
The priest shortage and the impending dissolution of parishes lead us to the following conclusions:
1. The community that gathered in the name of Jesus, was awarded the Eucharist. The commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ is entrusted to it as a local church; the Lord is in their midst (Mt 18:20). The community determines who directs it and presides at the Eucharist. Commissioning by the Bishop is necessary to maintain the unity of the Church.
2. At present, the line and the celebration of the Eucharist are dependent on the number of celibate priests. This is the wrong approach. Rather, the number of heads for church leadership and congregational celebration of the Eucharist must be adjusted to the number of communities.
3. The priest shortage has been artificially created by outdated requirements for the profession of priest in the official Church. While hundreds of priests have been removed from their positions due to marriage, the remaining priests must take on more and more communities. They can no longer offer adequate pastoral care and increasingly slide into burnout.
5. The New Testament abolished Jewish and pagan priests. Jesus Christ is the only priest of the New Covenant (Heb 9:10). All believers have a share in His Priesthood -- you are "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9). This priesthood is awarded at each baptism, without gender distinction (Gal 3:28).
6. There were women deacons (Romans 16:1) and apostles (Rom 16:7) in the early church; they spoke prophetically in worship (1 Cor 11:5). Later restrictions were adjustments to the limitations of patriarchal societies, which have now been effectively overcome in our society. The path to women's ordination should not be obstructed by papal bans on discussion of it.
7. Every community has the right to a head. If the Bishop does not fulfill his obligation to ensure this, the communities, appealing to the general priesthood, will assume responsibility for facilitating the celebration of the Eucharist as the summit, the font of power for the faith (Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 10).
Die katholischen Reformbewegungen [The Catholic Reform Movements], Linz, November 5, 2011
Hans Peter Hurka, head of Wir sind Kirche, told Reuters that a copy of the manifesto had been presented to the Austrian Bishops' Conference prior to their meeting this week. The bishops planned to discuss some of the church reform proposals and initiatives, along with other Church matters.