Austrian priests to disobey pope

More than 250 Catholic priests in Austria are ready to disobey the pope and allow women to preach, the head of a progressive clergy platform confirmed on Wednesday.

Helmut Schueller said the Priests’ Initiative he leads has been pushing for admitting women and married men into the clergy for years, without results.

The movement published a manifesto earlier this month, and its members have let trained laymen and female religion teachers preach.

They have also defied the Vatican by administering the sacrament of Holy Communion to divorcees and to people who have left the church.

“I think we will create a forward thrust in the Church by making these practices visible,” Schueller said.

The platform’s views are shared by a majority of the clergy, according to a poll conducted one year ago. It showed that 80% of Austria’s priests would like to end the marriage ban for their profession, and 51% would like to admit women in their ranks.

The Catholic Church, however, has reacted sharply to the priests’ initiative.

The Vatican is aware that there are not enough priests and it is legitimate to voice concerns, said Bishop Egon Kapellari, the deputy head of the conference of Austrian bishops.

“But it is something else entirely to call for disobedience, to threaten the unity of the global Church and to revoke common obligations,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

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no theological reasons for excluding women from the priesthood

There will be women a priest «when God wills», for the moment it is better «not to raise the issue». But there is «no fundamental obstacle», from «a theological perspective», for women to say mass on the altar. It is, instead, a «tradition» that dates back from the time of Jesus. This was said by Cardinal Jose da Cruz Policarpo, seventy-five year old Patriarch of Lisbon, who has just been confirmed for another two years at the head of the diocese of the Portuguese capital.

Polycarpo released a lengthy interview to the monthly «OA», the magazine of the Portuguese Order of Attorneys. He explained that with respect to women priests «the position of the Catholic Church is very much based on the Gospel, it does not have the independence of a political party or a government. It is based on fidelity to the Gospel, to the person of Jesus and to a very strong tradition received from the Apostles».

«John Paul II – continued Polycarp – at one point seemed to settle the matter». Reference is in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), one of the shortest documents of John Paul II, with which the Pope, after the decision of the Anglican Communion to open to women priests, reaffirmed that the Catholic Church would never do so.

«I think – said Cardinal Polycarp – that the matter cannot be resolved like this. Theologically there is no fundamental obstacle (to women priests, ed.), let’s just say that there’s this tradition: it has never been done otherwise».

When asked by the interviewer, curious of the affirmation made by the cardinal that there are theological reasons against women priests, Polycarpo replied: «I think that there is no fundamental obstacle. It is a fundamental equality of all members of the Church. The problem is a strong tradition that comes from Jesus and the ease with which the Reformed churches have granted priesthood to women».

The Patriarch of Lisbon also explained that he believed the demand for women priests is a «false problem», because the same girls that pose the question, when he retorts if they would be willing to become priests, shake their head.

The statements made by the Portuguese Cardinal are intended to cause discussions. A year after the letter of John Paul II a question was in fact posed (dubium) to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and secretary Tarcisio Bertone.

He wondered whether «the doctrine according to which the Church has no authority to confer priestly ordination on women, proposed in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, was to be considered permanent, to be regarded as belonging to the deposit of fait». The answer, approved by Pope John Paul II, was «yes».

The Congregation explained that «this teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded in the Word of God written and constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church from the beginning, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium», and therefore «must always be kept, everywhere and by all the faithful, because it belongs to the deposit of faith».

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