Cathedrals, monasteries and rituals have shaped communities over many centuries. Religious faith as well as superstitious beliefs are deeply engrained in the culture and daily life of the people living here. However, the rigidity of the Roman curia has left many frustrated, in particular after some scandals involving molestation and child abuse came to light. In the wake of that more than 150,000 Austrians left the Church in the past 2 years.
However almost everyone who grew up in this country feels a very curious sense of belonging to the sacraments, liturgical year and feast days. Even if many are critical or no longer go to church, traditions remain rooted firmly in the collective subconscious.
And so the split became more and more apparent. Of those who followed the rules and those who grudgingly found an unofficial compromise, which is also not uncommon even for those who officially left the Catholic Church.
Several years ago an initiative was started by a handful of courageous priests to defy the Catholic Church with calls for married clergy, women priests and other reforms. Three-quarters of the people backed the priests’ “Call to Disobedience,” a manifesto that Vienna Cardinal Schoenborn compares to a football team refusing to play by the rules.
Rev Helmut Schueller who is leading the initiative says many priests are already quietly breaking the rules anyway, often with the knowledge of their bishops, and his campaign aims to force the hierarchy to agree to change. About 8 percent of Austrian priests have supported his movement.
Rather than simply appealing for reforms, the dissidents declared they will break Church rules by giving communion to Protestants and remarried divorced Catholics or allowing lay people to preach and head parishes without a priest.
To me this initiative is giving much hope. Priests are standing up to change the structure so the system fits the people’s need and not vice versa. And for everyone being opposed to religious systems to begin with , I only can say – why throw out the baby with the bath water ? I much rather have a New Earth clergy having the guts to speak their truth than building a reformist movement based on a sense of having turned their back to the church and the community.
Because there are many ways to God.