Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Austrian Cardinal Presents Celibacy Petition to Pope

English-only readers are unfortunately stuck with the very limited Catholic News Service version of this encounter. Here is the translation of a more detailed article about it in French. It is refreshing when a Cardinal is willing to stand up for lay people and bring our concerns to the Pope, whether he wants to hear them or not.

VATICAN: The Cardinal of Vienna presents a petition against celibacy for priests

On the eve of the opening of the Year For Priests sought by Pope Benedict XVI, the question of priestly celibacy was again forcefully raised at the Vatican.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, one of the most influential cardinals of the Church, who is also a close collaborator of Pope Ratzinger, raised the issue. During the two days of meetings that the Pope and the most important representatives of the Roman Curia had on June 15-16 with the Archbishop of Vienna and other representatives of the Austrian Church, discussion was not limited to the case of Gerhard Marie Wagner, the ultra-conservative priest named auxiliary bishop of Linz and later forced to step down because of a revolt by priests and laity in the diocese.

At the Vatican, Cardinal Schönborn also presented a supposed “Lay Initiative” (Laieninitiativ), that is, a call launched at the beginning of the year by important Austrian Catholics, demanding the abolition of the celibacy requirement, the return to duty of married priests, opening the diaconate to women, and the ordination of so-called «viri probati».

Schönborn, who had met with the promoters of the initiative a few days before arriving in Rome, explained in an interview with Vatican Radio that “while not agreeing with any of its conclusions, as I have said several times”, he presented the “Memorandum” by the Austrian laity – accompanied by a note written by himself -- to Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, “asking him to read it attentively.”

“I think ,” he explained on the German language program of Vatican Radio, “that it is important for someone in Rome to know what some of our lay people are thinking about the problems of the Church.”

According to the official agency of the Austrian bishops, KAP, Schönborn, during his meeting with the promoters of the petition, promised them that he would present their motives and suggestions to Rome, as well as a detailed rendering of the consequences that the priest shortage has had in the 46 parishes, especially in the rural areas.

During this meeting, the Archbishop of Vienna expressed his “understanding of the concerns of the lay people”, because he also holds the “pastoral care of the parishes” in his heart, and more so at this time of crisis for families.

“Undoubtedly,” he added, “the lack of priests is linked to the growing number of people who are alienated from the Church and the faith.”

Naturally, the cardinal reaffirmed the “great tradition” of celibacy in the Church. “However,” he added, “as ordinary for the Byzantine rite Catholics in Austria, whose clergy are mostly married, I am comfortable with married priests.”

The promoters of the call, according to Schönborn, should look “not only at what, under current conditions, is desirable in the long term, but also what is definitely possible”, and he invited them to complete their initiative with encouragement to young men to choose the priesthood such as it is today. This invitation was quickly welcomed by the promoters, among whom are three eminent politicians of the Austrian Peoples’ Party: a former secretary-general, a former president of Parliament, and former Austrian chancellors. Therefore it wasn’t coincidental that, while not being the main subject, many of the themes raised by the Austrian lay people’s petition were brought up during the Vatican’s talks with the Austrian bishops.

According to Schönborn, Pope Benedict XVI at the beginning and the end of the two days of meetings forcefully reaffirmed the importance of priestly celibacy, linking it to the Year For Priests that will open tomorrow [sic – actually on Friday] at the Vatican.

“The Holy Father,” the Archbishop of Vienna explained, “said something that struck us with respect to the celibacy question, which in Austria and especially in the region of Linz, has naturally been a very “hot” subject. He said that the question deep down is whether or not we believe that it is possible and makes sense to live a life based simply and only on one thing -- God.”

During the interview with Vatican Radio, Schönborn also said that during the talks a great deal of time was devoted to the role of the lay people and that the case of the Linz Diocese – shaken, as is the Austrian Church, by “divisions” and “deep tensions” that it is pointless to deny because they are “facts” – is a positive example because of the large number of active lay people, as reflected for example in the Sunday Mass participation which is greater than the national average.

“There was agreement between the representatives of the Roman Church and the Austrians that it is an asset that there are so many committed lay people in the region…We have an urgent need for lay people to be an active part of society.”

After the Wagner case, in the Linz Diocese, several cases emerged of priests who had been living with a woman for years, which contributed to drawing the attention of Austrian public opinion to the priestly celibacy problem.

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