Austrian Catholic Church nears schism

A highly influential abbot is of the view the divisions in the Austrian Catholic Church in Austria cannot be dampened nor the current conflict resolved by a meeting between the Archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schonboern and representatives of dissident priests.

Abbot Martin Felhofer of the Schlägl Abbey said that a threat of open schism looms in Austria.

“The lines are so hardened,” the Premonstratensian abbot said, that he wonders whether a solution can be found.

The Catholic Church in Austria has been in turmoil since more than 330 priests called for reform around

  • women and married people to be allowed to be ordained priests
  • an end to the celibacy rule
  • the right for lay people to preach
  • members of other Christian faiths to receive holy communion
  • remarried people also have the right to receive holy communion.

The call for reform is being led by Rev Helmut Schueller, who was Schönborn’s deputy from 1995 to 1999.

It has already received significant support from clerics and lay people and according to a survey by Oekonsult polling institute, in the three months since the call for reform was launched, 71.7% of Austrians backed the dissident priests’ call for disobedience.

The dissident priests said they will break Church rules by giving holy communion to protestants, re-married Catholics and allowing lay people to preach at Mass.

“At every mass, we will intercede in favour of a Church reform,” reads the first line of the priests’ “Call for Insubordination.”

Abbot Felhofer told the Tablet he is of the view the sitaution cannot be solved by Cardinal Schönborn alone.

“Everyone – bishops, abbots, Religious and representatives of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative – must sit down and the discuss the problems together.”


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