An Open Clergy Rebellion In Austria’s Catholic Church

There is open rebellion among the clergy of Austria’s Catholic Church.

One highly placed man of the cloth has even warned about the risk of a coming schism, as significant numbers of priests are refusing obedience to the Pope and bishops for the first time in memory.

The 300-plus supporters of the “Priests’ Initiative” have had enough of what they call the Church’s “delaying” tactics, and they are advocating pushing ahead with policies that openly defy current practices.

These include letting non-ordained people lead religious services and deliver sermons; making communion available to divorced people who have remarried; allowing women to become priests and to take on important positions in the hierarchy; and letting priests carry out pastoral functions even if, in defiance of Church rules, they have a wife and family.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Vienna’s Archbishop and head of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, has threatened the rebels with excommunication.

Those involved in the initiative are not, incidentally, only low-profile members of the clergy.

Indeed, it is being led by Helmut Schüller — who was for many years Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Vienna and director of Caritas — and the cathedral pastor in the Carinthian diocese of Gurk.

The issues that supporters of the initiative want addressed may be revolutionary, but they are by no means new: they constitute basic questions that have been around for a long time but have never been addressed by Church officials.

Initiative supporters are demanding that parishes openly expose all things forbidden by the Church hierarchy, thus putting a stop to hypocrisy and allowing authenticity of belief and community life to emerge.

The appeal for “more honesty“ made to the world’s youth by Pope Benedict XVI in Madrid last week left a sour taste in many mouths in Austria, where some say that honesty is a quality the Church hierarchy has more of a tendency to punish than reward.

Open pressure and disobedience

Particularly affected are some 700 members of an association called “Priester ohne Amt” – loosely, priests without a job – who have a wife and children that they stand by, but wish in vain to practice their ministry.

Priests who break ties with loved ones, on the other hand, are allowed to continue working.

According to initiative founder Schüller, only openly disobedient priests and joint pressure from priests and laity alike can force the hierarchy to budge.

Although the problems have been out there for decades, he says, the Church keeps putting off doing anything about them. Cardinal Schönborn stated that the critics would have to “give some thought to their path in the Church” or face unavoidable consequences.

On the other hand, Anton Zulehner, a priest who is one of the most respected pastoral theologians in Austria, believes that this time the Church is not going to get away with diversionary tactics.

Twenty years ago, Austria, nominally at least, was 85% Catholic.

Today, in the city of Vienna, Catholics account for less than half the population, and rural parishes are melting away.

Various scandals have rocked the Church in Austria, among them child abuse charges against former Vienna Archbishop Hans-Hermann Groer, and the nomination of a series of reactionary priests to the rank of bishop.

Presbyterian church moves to avert schism

A schism is brewing in the Presbyterian church over the ordination of openly practicing, sexually active gays and lesbians as clergy. The matter is being discussed at a conference of the Fellowship of Presbyterians, attended by over 2,000 ministers and laity.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – The Presbyterian church has suffered declining membership and internal division over theological issues, Biblical interpretations, increasing bureaucracy, and the controversial ordination of practicing homosexuals. By attempting to be as “inclusive” as possible, some of the church leadership believe it has doomed itself to division.

Church leaders are wary of schism, and are trying to avert such a move. However, many members, and leaders, are uncomfortable with what they feel is a departure from strict Biblical prohibitions against active homosexuality. The Presbyterian church is one of the few Christian organizations that ordains openly homosexual ministers.

One of the proposed possibilities is to divide the church, creating a new “reformed” body and allowing individual presbyteries to vote on which side of the issue they prefer to stay. The two bodies of the church, traditional and reformed, would remain under a single bureaucratic umbrella.

Perils of a theological democracy

The Presbyterian Church is governed by a constitution that was changed in May to allow for ordination of practicing homosexuals. The change did not compel churches to ordain gay ministers, but removed barriers to ordination, leaving the issue up to individual churches.

The heart of the problem is the church’s operation as a quasi-democratic institution. Many prefer the an all-inclusive interpretation of the Gospels which allows anyone to participate as clergy. Others adhere to an orthodox interpretation which emphasizes sexual morality and excludes active homosexuals and lesbians. The Presbyterian church allows churches and individuals to choose their interpretations of some scriptures.

Church leaders believe they can weather the controversy and preserve the church from schism. They have called upon God in prayer to guide their decisions, to provide vision and unity. How those prayers will be answered remains an open question.

Professor says church suppressed child abuse report

A LEADING child protection expert has urged the Victorian government to hold a public inquiry into the handling of child-sex cases by a Catholic religious order after the Catholic Church suppressed a report it asked him to write.

Sydney University law professor Patrick Parkinson wrote yesterday to the Victorian Attorney-General, Robert Clark, and Police Minister, Peter Ryan, seeking an inquiry into the behaviour of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

In his letter, Professor Parkinson says the church’s actions have cast doubt on its commitment to protect children before it protects itself.
Advertisement: Story continues below

Professor Parkinson, who chaired a review of child protection laws in NSW and twice helped the church review its system for dealing with abuse complaints, said he wrote the report for the church’s professional standards committee on condition it be made public. But more than a year later this had not happened, due to strong lobbying to suppress it by the Australian head of the Salesians, Father Frank Moloney.

Professor Parkinson told the Herald the issue was no longer his report but the protection by the Salesians of three priests – Fathers Frank Klep, Jack Ayers and Julian Fox – which could be resolved only by a public inquiry.

The Salesians moved Father Klep to Samoa in 1998 just before he was to face court on five charges of indecent assault, having served nine months doing community work in 1994. He returned to Australia in 2004 and was jailed in 2006 for five years and 10 months.

In 2000, the order made a settlement with a Melbourne man who said Father Fox – a former Australian head of the order – abused him at the Salesian College in Rupertswood, Sunbury, in 1978-79.

A later Australian head wanted Father Fox, now in Rome and still a Salesian priest, to return to Australia to face questions at the request of Victoria Police, but he was overruled.

The same year, the Salesians paid to settle a complaint from a Melbourne man who said he was abused at Rupertswood in 1967-68. Father Ayers, who has lived for many years in Samoa, is still a Salesian priest.

In his letter, Professor Parkinson said the cases raised questions about the responsibility of religious orders to co-operate with police and about conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

“What has taken place in seeking to suppress this report since August 2010 has raised further serious concerns in my mind about the commitment of the church to place the protection of children above the protection of itself,” he said.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said Professor Parkinson was engaged to review its Towards Healing abuse protocol, and inquired into the Salesian cases as part of that on his own initiative.

Professor Parkinson and the Salesians tried to reach an agreed understanding of what happened, but “unfortunately Professor Parkinson insisted on maintaining positions which the Salesians claim were incorrect”.

Chicago Archdiocese to release priest sex abuse files under settlement with victims

Angel Santiago doesn’t want to see other children molested by a Catholic priest.

So Santiago, along with 11 other abuse victims, insisted a safeguard be written into a legal settlement with the Chicago Archdiocese that resulted in the creation of a system in which the Archdiocese is required to release the files of certain priests accused of sex abuse.

“As soon as a priest is determined to be credibly accused by the archdiocese … word goes out to the priest that they are subject to this protocol,” said lawyer Jeff Anderson, who represents the victims.

“Then they have the opportunity to object. … If they don’t respond, the process goes forward. If they get their own lawyer and fight, we’ll see further delays and uncertainties, but we will be aggressive and fight hard,” said Anderson.

The Archdiocese will have 60-day window to raise any concerns about releasing files.

The disclosure requirement is part of an agreement finalized on Friday. It also includes an undisclosed financial settlement to be divided among the 12 victims.

The new protocol for releasing files will be applied retroactively, but only to other priests Anderson’s law firm has brought cases against.

“We’ve brought cases against 35 of the 65 priests on the archdiocese website who are credibly accused of abuse dating back to the 1950s,” said Anderson.

“Our hope is to broaden that, but for now this is what it is, there are limitations with what we can require the Archdiocese to do,” he said.

Santiago’s accused tormentor, former priest Joseph Fitzharris, who currently lives in Chicago, will receive a letter. Fitzharris has not been charged in the Santiago case, but the archdiocese has found abuse accusations against him to be credible.

“I’m not afraid anymore,” said Santiago, 44, who said he was abused as a 12-year-old at his Northwest Side parish.

Fitzharris could not be reached for comment.

Anderson, who noted that few of the accused priests were ever prosecuted because of statute of limitations laws, hopes to post newly disclosed files within 60 days on his website,

The Archdiocese issued a statement saying: “The settlement announced today confirms that this process works, and that attorneys need not put their clients through the ordeal of litigation.”