Radical priest calls for new ways of parish leadership

A former vicar-general in Vienna says the Church is at a crossroads in terms of lay parish leadership because of the shortage of priests.

Fr Helmut Schüller said merging independent parishes into vast, impersonal parish associations is “pretty much the most unimaginative thing one can do”.

In the long run, the Church will not be able to avoid issues such as women’s ordination and who can take over the leadership of priestless communities, Fr Schüller told Austria’s Salzburger Nachrichten.

Fr Schüller founded the Austrian Priests’ Initiative for church reform in 2006.

The initiative wants to pave the way for a new model of priesthood rather than merging parishes.

In 2011, Fr Schüller initiated a “Call to Disobedience”, which pushed for distribution of Communion to all people of good will, without waiting for Church reforms.

Asked about lay leadership of parishes, Fr Schüller replied: “The Catholic Church is standing at a crossroads on this question.”

“Either it succeeds in providing its communities with priests or it must begin to develop new forms of community leadership.

“Latin American communities are reacting to the situation very pragmatically.

“As far as we know, that is exactly how early Christian communities reacted. Community leadership was developed simultaneously in different forms.”

But despite the crisis in parish leadership, bishops’ conferences agendas have hardly changed, the priest said.

They are keeping to their defensive administrative strategy of merging independent parishes into vast, impersonal parish associations.

“I think many bishops are above all determined not to do anything wrong at the present moment because if this Pope does not come out on top, they could expect little good from those in leading positions in Rome,” Fr Schüller said.

In a 2013 speaking tour in the United States, Fr Schüller was banned from speaking in Catholic churches in Detroit and Boston.


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