US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Austrian priests call for "disobedience"

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

As Pope Benedict's trip to Germany draws near, the next-door Austrian church is experiencing a bit of upheaval in preparation. More than 400 Austrian priests have signed on to a "disobedience" campaign to challenge the church's practice on celibacy, the treatment of gay and lesbian people, and communion for divorced and remarried people. Bishops, notably Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, are counseling caution. (More indepth coverage from Time magazine here.)

The U.K. Tablet's editorial on the topic points out the importance of the issues the priests are raising: the huge divergence between Catholic teaching on certain issues--divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, and attitudes about celibacy--and the pastoral reality. The editors of the Tablet worry about disunity in the church, but they acknowledge (rightly, to my mind), that the priests have a serious point: "They are right that what Catholics hunger for, and not just in Austria, is a Church of integrity, without hypocrisy, ­doublespeak or pathological denial," as the Tablet puts it. The "denial" is the fact that, pastorally speaking, the divorced and remarried tend to receive communion, gay and lesbian people are welcome in many parishes, and many Catholics would like to see optional celibacy.

Meghan Murphy-Gill blogged last week about a troublying disconnect between bishops and theologians, but the chasm between church teaching and pastoral practice must be addressed. There will have to be modifications to one or the other to achieve the kind of integrity the Tablet's editors are writing about. But which to choose: doctrinal certainty and consistency, or a more generous pastoral practice? Is there any way to have both?

Related: Austrian cardinal continues dialogue with priests calling for reform