Friday, November 30, 2012

Fr. Helmut Schüller to Rome: "This is not a tragedy to me"

The founder and leader of the Austrian priests' reform group Pfarrer-Intiative, which last year issued a Call to Disobedience, has been lightly disciplined by Rome. Fr. Helmut Schüller was instructed in a conversation with his superior, Vienna Cardinal Archbishop Christoph Schönborn, that he will no longer be able to use the title "Chaplain of His Holiness" or the honorific "Monsignor". A spokesman for the Vatican, Ciro Benedettini, called the Church's response understandable, given Schüller's dissidence. He indicated that the titles could be restored, were the situation to change.

Fr. Schüller responded with equanimity to the latest event. "Das ist für mich kein drama," the priest said. Whatever. "This is not a tragedy to me."

This response is also understandable, given the ongoing support for the movement. The November 2012 statistics from the Pfarrer-Initiative website show 506 priests and deacons (up from 463 in February) and 2908 lay people (up from 2097) supporting the Priests' Initiative. And a glance at the average age of the ordained clergy who are supporters of the Initiative -- 57 as opposed to 66 for the average Austrian priest -- gives a hint as to why Fr. Schüller continues to be a priest in good standing, only getting a mere slap on the wrist for his actions. The movement also recently received tacit support from the bishop emeritus of Innsbruck, Msgr. Reinhold Stecher, who decried the recent moves towards parish consolidation in his country, increasing the ratio of faithful to clergy to a level he feels is incompatible with providing adequate pastoral care. The bishop called it "equivalent to the suicide of the sacramental Church." So history and the future of the Austrian Church are on Fr. Schüller's side...and Rome knows it.

In a recent interview with Oberösterreichische Nachrichten, Fr. Schüller talked about his movement's plans for the future which include a 2013 international gathering of all priests' reform groups, perhaps in Germany. In addition to Austria, there are reform groups in Ireland, Germany, France, Australia, and the United States. Fr. Schüller said that "2013 will certainly be the year of internationalization" of the movement and that a meeting would demonstrate the "interconnectedness" of the groups and issues, showing that it's more than "just a few Austrian priests." He also said that the Pfarrer-Initiative plans to reach out more to Catholic lay people, "the Church citizens". "We invite you to think things through with us," the priest said.

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