For a year now, Austrian Catholics debate obedience

National Catholic Reporter

Apr. 30, 2012
By Christa Pongratz-Lippitt


VIENNA, AUSTRIA — Cardinal Christoph Schönborn is an old hand by now at dealing with Austrian church crises. Appointed archbishop of Vienna in 1995 (at the age of 50), after the late Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër had to step down after being accused of sexually abusing a minor, Schönborn has had to cope with constant demands for church reform ever since — demands that have now become a perennial issue and frequently hit world headlines. And although he makes no secret of the fact that he is a conservative at heart and an adamant advocate of both mandatory priestly celibacy and of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, for example, he has often surprised Austrian Catholics and others by the courageous way he has tackled seemingly insolvable dilemmas. He has, moreover, never hesitated to criticize the Vatican when to his mind it was at fault or shared in the blame for crises in the Austrian church.

In his chrism Mass sermon on April 2, the Monday of Holy Week, he offered his own Jesus-solution on how priests can cope with three of the most problematic situations confronting them in their pastoral work today:

•The large number of people, including many young, conservative Catholics, who cohabit without being married;
•The large number of divorced people who remarry;
•The increasing number of same-sex partnerships.

“We priests usually give up when we are faced with complete incomprehension at what the church teaches about marriage and abstinence, proliferation and indissolubility. … There is only one way, the way his disciples learned: get to know Jesus himself better, grow into his friendship,” Schönborn told his priests. Priests should learn to walk the tightrope between canon law and true mercy as Jesus practiced it by asking themselves what Jesus would have done in each problematic situation and then following in his footsteps, the cardinal said.

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