Clergy in German speaking countries divided over “Call to Disobedience”
An open war is going on in the German speaking Catholic world between liberals and conservatives, with numerous appeals and counter-appealsALESSANDRO ALVIANIBERLIN
The conflict between liberal and conservative currents in the German speaking Catholic world has led to “an open split” within the clergy. This is according to the latest issue of the German news magazine Der Spiegel. A communiqué published last week by the Network of Catholic Priests, a conservative group made up of approximately 500 parish priests, caused the clash that has been going on for months now to escalate. The communiqué, signed by Fathers Guido Rodheudt, Hendrick Jolie and Uwe Winkel as well as German, Austrian and Swiss priests, launches a harsh attack on the “Call to Disobedience” which was published last summer by the Priests’ Initiative, a liberal movement with roots in Austria, that is asking for a review of the Church’s stance on homosexuality, celibacy and women’s access to the priesthood. “The Priests’ Initiative is yet another sad symptom of the de facto schism that has existed under the bishop’s noses in German speaking territories,” the communiqué said. This schism “does not separate lay people from the clergy, or German speaking Countries from the Roman Curia,” but rather, those who accept the Church’s doctrine and system from those who are on the path towards “creating a Church of their own.”
The document strongly criticises the reaction of bishops to the Call to Disobedience amongst other things. The impression is that “bishops are afraid to speak frankly and prefer to look on as the Pope’s authority as pastor of the whole Church is undermined.” In German speaking Countries today, “those who draw attention to forms of liturgical and doctrinal disobedience are branded as “disloyal”, whilst those who launch appeals in favour of disobedience are courted” and receive more attention. This leads one to draw conclusions as to “the mental attitude of those who are responsible for German speaking dioceses.”
The document ends with an appeal to bishops to “intervene in a determined manner against the dubious “reform efforts” of the Priests’ Initiative”: those who limit themselves to watching “sin against the unity of the Church. Time is running out.”
Last June, the Priests’ Initiative, which has approximately 400 members, sent out an appeal, asking for women and married people to be allowed into the priesthood amongst other things. Its authors announced they wanted to administer the Eucharist to faithful that have divorced and remarried, to members of other Christian churches and, in some cases, even to those who have abandoned the Church. The appeal expressed its support to priests who are no longer able to exercise their ministry because they chose to marry. The appeal that was launched by Fr. HelmutSchüller remains very popular in Austria: according to a survey published in by Die Presse on 20 February, two out of three Austrians (68%) are adamant that the Initiative will not give up that easily. Indeed, 82% believe “it can no longer be stopped.” 89% of people interviewed are convinced that women should also be able to enter the priesthood while 60% believes obedience is not a Catholic obligation.
The new appeal sent out by the Initiative in January was also met with overwhelming approval. It took the form of a list of five “No’s“ that ended with the slogan: “Say NO to a canonical law that pronounces sentences that are too harsh and merciless towards divorced individuals who wish to remarry, towards same-sex couples, towards priests who leave celibacy to enter relationships and towards people who obey their conscience rather than a man-made law.“ According to the survey published by Die Presse, this appeal is supported by 67% of Austrians.
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