The Austrian Church crisis began when more than 300 priests formed an organisation called Priests' Initiative. This group of dissident priests, which is under the leadership of the former Vicar General for Vienna, Mgr Helmut Schüller, has openly called for disobedience on such matters as priestly celibacy and Holy Communion for remarried divorcees and non-Catholics. It also supports women priests, lay preachers and the use of the term "Priestless Eucharists" for so-called services of the Word and Holy Communion. The Priests' Initiative would also like to see more of these lay-led services, claiming they might save parishes where Mass is rarely offered. The organisation appears to support homosexual unions, too, as well as the secularisation of the Church. In other words, these men seem to be little more than secular protestants, strange malcontents wanting both to hold onto their priestly ministry and change the Church to suit their anti-Catholic ideals.
Cardinal Schönborn has been completely ineffectual in dealing with this crisis so far. His attempts at trying to placate the dissidents by resorting to liberal outbursts - such as the recent "lasting gay relationships deserve respect" nonsense - already seem to have backfired. Maybe he didn't realise that rebellious churchmen can never be satisfied? It's also possible that this one-time orthodox defender of the faith and personal friend of Pope Benedict XVI has misplaced his copy of Pope St Pius X's Pascendi Dominici Gregis (On the Doctrines of the Modernists)? If he does find his a copy of this encyclical, though, he might like to read these lines from the holy pope, whose feast is celebrated today according to the traditional calendar, and who was spot on when he noted that dissenters and those in error prefer to be called "reformers": -
As Pope Pius X taught, bishops must deal quickly and decisively with such "enemies of the Church", in case "the medicine sometimes arrives too late, [and] the disease [takes] root during the delay". Sadly, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna failed to take swift action against these wicked men, preferring (at first) to collude with them instead. As the editorial in this week's Tablet - a periodical known for its support of ecclesiastical dissent - highlights, "leaders of the Priests’ Initiative must be careful not to place their cardinal – in many ways their friend – in an impossible position". Needless to say, the Tablet's editorial is also highly supportive of the Austrian rebels, and often refers to their manifesto as "true" and "right". The editor, showing her own inability to read the signs of the times even has the audacity to claim that what the rebels in Austria are calling for "is surely what the joyful young Catholics in Madrid were seeking too". Obviously, the Tablet's editor failed to notice that the young people who gathered for World Youth Day in Madrid where there because they support Pope Benedict XVI, not because they want women priests or were protesting against the "Roman refusal to take up long needed reform!" (cf The Priests' Initiative "Appeal to Disobedience").
The leader of the so-called Priests' Initiative, Mgr Schüller, is typical of those Modernists who have infected the Church, those who hijacked Vatican II by emphasising its so-called "spirit". During the Church's liberal hay-day, this man managed to work his way up the bureaucratic grease-poll of post-Conciliar Catholicism, ending up as the Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Vienna. He also, of course, supports those "charities" that claim to reflect the Church's social teaching - he was once head of the Austrian chapter of Caritas (the umbrella organisation that includes organisations such as CAFOD). According to his Wikipedia entry, Helmut Schüller is also the chairman of Austria's Fairtrade Association - which, if it's anything like the Fairtrade movement over here in the UK, is the type of self-righteous, middle-class and totally naive "justice movement" that ecclesiastical dissidents love to support. It seems, then, that as the reforms of Pope Benedict XVI are beginning to shape the Church, so-called liberal Catholics are being forced to show their true colours. They are definitely secular, they seem to be left-wing, they claim to be "reformers", and they also appear to hate Rome with a passion that even Protestants would be ashamed of. So, why exactly are they still members of the Catholic Church?
A few days ago, Reuters reported that "dissident Austrian priests defying their [sic] Catholic Church with calls for married clergy, women priests and other reforms enjoy wide public support". The article linked to a poll that claims three-quarters of Austrians support Schüller's "Call to Disobedience". I wouldn't be surprised, knowing how secularised the Church is in the UK, if many British Catholics might also be supportive of such rebellion - see below for a few examples of British dissent. But, as Pope Benedict XVI, writing for the Church as Cardinal Razinger, reminds us: -
"The Church, which has her origin in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a mystery of communion. In accordance with the will of her founder, she is organized around a hierarchy established for the service of the Gospel and the People of God who live by it. After the pattern of the members of the first community, all the baptized with their own proper charisms are to strive with sincere hearts for a harmonious unity in doctrine, life, and worship (cf. Acts 2:42). This is a rule which flows from the very being of the Church. For this reason, standards of conduct, appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy, cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church. Even less can relationships within the Church be inspired by the mentality of the world around it (cf. Rom 12:2). Polling public opinion to determine the proper thing to think or do, opposing the Magisterium by exerting the pressure of public opinion, making the excuse of a "consensus" among theologians, maintaining that the theologian is the prophetical spokesman of a "base" or autonomous community which would be the source of all truth, all this indicates a grave loss of the sense of truth and of the sense of the Church." (Donum Veritatis, 39)It might come as a shock to some Catholics, but the Church is not a democracy; and, as the above paragraph emphasises, truth does not depend upon public opinion - rather, it is a gift from God. If the majority of so-called Catholics in the West cannot accept the teachings of the Church, then they have two options: either learn to be humble and ask for the grace of conversion, or leave. Those who decide to leave might even have to come to the sad conclusion that they probably had not been real members of the Church for some time - to quote Pope Benedict XVI: "Among those 1.2 billion Catholics are many who are inwardly not there. Saint Augustine even said in his own day: There are many outside who seem to be inside, and there are many inside who seem to be outside" (Light of the World, Ignatius 2010, p 6).
It is also sad to see that dissent and open rebellion against the See of Rome is still flourishing here in the UK, as some of our bishops continue to look the other way. This weekend will see parishes begin to use the new English translation of the Roman Missal, but a few people are already planning to disrupt the implementation of this new, and better, text. Yet again, it seems that the Tablet is living up to its reputation as the seed-bed of dissent, as its leading article this week is by Michael G Ryan, the priest who began the "What if we said 'wait'?" campaign - the rebellious attempt to slow down (or stop?) the implementation of the new translation of the Mass. His article in the Tablet, entitled "Time to say 'yes'" begins by suggesting that he has had a change of heart, and is now willing to co-operate with the bishops. But his piece ends with this rather depressingly cynical call to arms against the Church: "But controversies aside, this coming Advent the new Missal will make its appearance in our parishes and all of us priests and people will be expected to get in line. But will we?... I am of the opinion that the Missal will in time – I’m guessing not a long time – be judged deficient, but an informed judgement will never be made if we priests, even for the best of motives, give our people not the new Missal but our version of it [i.e. what he assumes will be a more palatable - liberal - version]. So we should do whatever is necessary to prepare our people for the new Missal but not take on the responsibility for making it work by doctoring or diluting it."
Reflecting on the Priests' Initiative, the Queering the Church blog, which often appears blatant in its anti-Roman sentiments and also seems convinced that pro-homosexual public opinion polls will somehow force the Church to change her morality, compared Catholic dissidents to those who have recently overthrown Colonel Gaddafi! Terence Weldon, who writes the pro-homosexual blog, and who also "ministers" at the Church-sponsored "LGBT" Soho Masses, seemed to be threatening the Holy See with armed rebellion when he recently wrote: "This week, Libyan freedom fighters are on the verge of finally extinguishing the long dictatorship of Muamar Gaddafi, in another illustration that it is no longer possible to resist a popular movement for reform simply by clamping down on dissent. One after another, the tyrants of the Arab world have been forced to seek accommodation with the reformists – or been overthrown. When will the tyrants of the Vatican learn the obvious lesson?" My assumption is that he thinks that the 300 disobedient priests in Austria, as well as dissident Catholics here in the UK, are some kind of Marxist "freedom fighters", campaigning against the tyranny of Pope Benedict XVI! But no-one is forced to remain a Catholic. If people really do think that our Holy Father is a blood-thirsty tyrant, then I'd suggest they might be happier as Anabaptists or as members of some free-loving hippy sect. To paraphrase Pope St Pius X, there are enough anti-Catholics in the world, we don't need them inside the Church, too!
My sincere hope is that the men behind the Priests' Initiative will be given the grace to swallow their pride and come to accept the teachings of the Church they claim to serve. Somehow, though, I fear that this might not happen and that parts of the Austrian Church will in fact fall into schism. I also fear that some dissidents here in the UK, or in North America, will also eventually have to separate themselves from the Body of Christ rather than accept the authority of Rome. This will be sad for them, but will bode well for the Church - for she will be far more active and attractive when she is populated by those who actually do love her and her unchanging message.
The time has now come for the Pope and his bishops to stand up for the Catholic faith and root out the errors of Modernism that have recently weakened and infected the Church. Let us no longer be ashamed to call ourselves Catholic, and may our leaders be given the grace to impose a real loving discipline. And may those who are unhappy in the Church be given the courage to either reform themselves or leave for their own sakes as well as for the sake of the Gospel.
[Image: 1 Cardinal Christoph Schönborn; The author of this work, Th1979, has released this image into the public domain; source: Wikimedia Commons. 2 Pope St Pius X in the Vatican Gardens; This image is in the public domain as its copyright has expired; source: Wikimedia Commons]