Austrian priests call for disobedience – the bishop disagrees

The “Pastors’ Initiative” (Pfarrer-Initiative) in Austria numbers 313 priests and deacons. Pray Tell has mentioned them before. I see they are getting more feisty. (For the negative reaction of Bishop Kapellari, see below.)

On Trinity Sunday the Pastor’s Initiative issued an “Appeal to Disobedience.” The Roman refusal to take up long needed reforms, they say, and the inaction of the bishops, not only permit but demand that they follow their conscience and take action themselves. Their plans:

  1. In every liturgy they will include a petition for church reform.
  2. They will not deny Communion to faithful of good will, especially remarried people, members of other Christian churches, and in some cases those who have officially left the Catholic Church.
  3. As much as possible they will avoid celebrating multiple times on Sundays and feastdays, and avoid scheduling circuit rider priests unknown to the community. A locally-planned Liturgy of the Word is preferable.
  4. They will use the term “Priestless Eucharistic Celebration” for a Liturgy of the Word with distribution of Communion. This is how the Sunday Mass obligation is fulfilled when priests are in short supply.
  5. They will ignore the prohibition of preaching by competently trained laity, including female religion teachers. In difficult times, the Word of God must be proclaimed.
  6. They will advocate that every parish has a presiding leader – man or woman, married or unmarried, full-time or part time. Rather than consolidating parishes, they call for a new image of the priest.
  7. They will take every opportunity to speak up publicly for the admission of women and married people to the priesthood. These would be welcome colleagues in ministry.

They express solidarity with colleagues no longer permitted to exercise their ministry because they have married, and also with those in ministry who are in a permanent relationship.

*          *          *          *          *

Bishop Kapellari of Graz, vice president of the bishops’ conference, strongly rejects the “Appeal to Disobedience.” He stated yesterday that it endangers the unity of the Catholic Church. The Pope and bishops are aware of the pastoral needs of the Church; discussions have taken place and will continue. But there is no state of emergency justifying a special path for Austria apart from the universal Church. “The bond with the universal Church and the Pope is part of our irrevocable identity,” Kapellari stressed.

The Bishop sees “selective reading of the current situation of the Church in Austria as a whole.” Their demands may well seem plausible to many people, but they “endanger very seriously the identity and unity of the Catholic Church,” he emphasized. “It is legitimate to express the cares and concerns of parish communities openly. But it is something entirely different to call for disobedience, to endanger the commonly held character of the universal Church, and to renounce commonly held obligations one-sidedly.”

*          *          *          *          *

The Pastors’ Initiative is holding a generally assembly this November 6th in Linz.

awr

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56 comments

  1. Their demands are totally plauasible to me and theologically unobjectionable. Perhaps, as the bishop claims, the Austrian church does not need such “radical”measures: but I trust the pastors’ judgment; they know what it is like on the ground. Rome does not (think Groer).

  2. I think these same issues touch most of us in the “Home Mission” areas, and many communities without priests every weekend. As for the other pastoral issues, the need for compassion and good sense guides many pastors.

  3. What a bold and prophetic witness.

    Liturgically, I wonder what their “petition for church reform” will look like? Will it merely blend in with the announcements or will it detract from the overall flow of the liturgy? That would be my only concern in the statements.

  4. “This is how the Sunday Mass obligation is fulfilled when priests are in short supply.”

    If I’m not mistaken, the Sunday Mass obligation does not apply to Sunday worship without a priest. The operative principle here is that the law does not bind one to do what one *cannot* do, in this case, attend a Eucharistic celebration on the Sunday.

  5. I find the phrase “Priestless Eucharistic Celebration” (item 4 in the plans) to be contradictory. There may be a celebration without any person ordained to the ministerial priesthood, but where there is a gathering of disciples, the Lord Jesus is present, the Real Presence of Christ among his people, who share in the holy and royal priesthood of all the People of God. The Greek word “Laos”, as we see on banners from Athens in these days, means “People”. “Laity” includes all the People of God, not a sub-group, and certainly not a subordinate group. We need to find another phrase to describe a gathering of disciples on the Lord’s Day (or any other day) until such time as the pastors of our church 1) acknowledge that each community of disciples has the right and privilege of a full celebration in memory of Jesus, and 2) act accordingly.

  6. I notice these initiatives always concentrate on what’s ‘out there’, rather than what’s inside. There’s no mention here of a resolve to strive for personal holiness.

    1. This sounds like a diversion tactic. You don’t know from a distance whether or not they’re concerned about personal holiness. Both are important – personal holiness, and reform of inadequate structures. I hope you’re not suggesting that if we all get our personal holiness right, we can ignore any possible structural problems. That’s evasion.
      awr

  7. It sounds to me that they would be happier in the Anglican faith.
    It is tempting to be flippant: in reality one should be sympathetic to those who feel that their church is not right. Changing sides involves rejecting one’s past and losing friends. Then one may not be well received in the new faith as poor Fr Hunwicke has found.

    1. I guess we’d all be happier in the Anglican faith, but you should not be encouraging Catholics to quit the Church in which Providence has placed them and in which they exercise their Christian duties.

      1. As in finding happiness in a “popeless” church with a “priestless eucharistic celebration”? An awful lot
        of Catholic women seem to be to have found that happiness
        since our Church refuses to admit them to the
        priesthood.

      1. Thanks Joe and Mary
        No I would not encourage people to leave the faith. But if you are at odds with your church on so many things it may be better to be in another. So certain Anglicans are coming over to the Catholic church (they would argue, I suspect, that it is the Anglican church that is moving away from them) while these Austrian priests might find the reforms they seek in the Anglican church. If they think about the issue and decide to stay in the Catholic church (I hope so) they should be able to accept things as they are with less protest.

    2. I see this suggestion often, that those unhappy with some aspect of the current practice of Roman Catholicism should just go join the Anglican Church.

      I offer several responses;

      1. If we weren’t at heart Catholics, we’d already be gone. There is something deeper to being a Catholic than the points in dispute.

      2. If there is the slightest chance that the dissenters are right about the role of the Papacy, teachings on human sexuality, proper liturgy, mandatory priestly celibacy, role of women, etc., would they better serve God by trying to teach others or by simply walking away?

      3. If there is the slightest chance that the dissenters are right, would others better serve God by actually listening or by simply dismissing them?

  8. The other possibility is recognizing participation in the public celebration of major Divine Offices (morning prayer; evening prayer) for days of precept as fulfilling the precept.

    It’s wonderful that Catholics want to receive Holy Communion, after centuries of active and passive discouragement. But I do wonder if we are missing an opportunity to enlarge our view here by tying fulfillment of precept exclusively to the Mass.

    1. One could also reconsider the precept.
      It has always seemed strange to me, and perhaps a remnant of the identification of church and state, to require people to “attend” Mass rather than to teach the faith in such a way as to develop in people an internal motivation to participate in the Eucharist.

      Just for the sake of an itching curiosity, what would be the correct way to describe the relationship to the Mass with the Liturgy of the Word to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper if considered as a theological matter outside of liturgical and canon law?

  9. With regards to #3: why would a priest who has facilities to binate or trinate deny the need to offer Mass more than once on a feast day? It is his duty to make the grace of the sacrament abundantly available. Catholics need the opportunity to confess and communicate on feasts, especially if they have not confessed and received in a long time. As many Masses as possible should be offered by any priest that is available, circuit-rider or not, so that the greatest number of people may be strengthened by the Sacrament. A “liturgy of the Word” is not a sacrament. Mass, even Low Mass without preaching, is a sacrament which crucial for the nourishment of souls.

    salus animarum suprema lex. The Mass as Sacrifice and Paschal Mystery, celebrated according to the rubrics and in unity with the Church, rises far above subjective notions of “assembly” and “community”.

    1. “to make the grace of the sacrament abundantly available. ” would not be my preferred phrasing, but I think I am basically with Jordan on this point.

      JZ, on second thought, with actual grace in mind, do you think the following might be a bit overstated?
      “A “liturgy of the Word” is not a graced ceremony,”

      1. Yes, I’d agree Tom. That is a good point that clarifies my point #21. A “liturgy of the Word” obtains actual grace. The liturgical reading of the lectionary outside of Mass is not by itself an outward sign that bestows divine grace. That does not mean that a Liturgy of the Word is inappropriate. Lections are an integral part of the Mass. However, lections alone do not have the significance of a sacrament — the Eucharist is needed as well.

        Still, I would rather worship with canonical Orthodox if that were a possibility. I would more certainly do this in Greece or Russia, for example. Certainly, it seems better to attend an apostolic Eucharist than attend a Liturgy of the Word or recite the Office alone. Perhaps a canonist would disagree after a closer reading of CIC 1983 1248 §2. The English translation mangles the Latin conjunctions of the typical text (i.e. aut … aut does not mean vel by any means). Because of this, I am not sure what to make of the canon.

    2. Jordan – they are making a point. At the current rate, priests will only have time to say masses which comes close to making them “cultic” ministers. The church’s view of priestly, ordained ministry is much more than just saying mass. You missed their point.

      1. Which is more important? A feeling of community, or the objective presence of our Lord in the world? I would choose the most rushed low Mass over a preaching service any day. At least I will be ensured of receiving the saving Presence, or barring that, witness the very miracle that gives us life. Reading from the Lectionary, though important, is not a saving act. Neither is Morning Prayer strictly speaking — it is important to celebrate the Office in community. Still, the Office is not a sacrament of the Church, even if its celebration is very important to the life of the Church.

        Perhaps it would be reasonable for a bishop to permit low Mass without preaching on Sunday. The GIRM requirement for preaching and singing on Sunday impedes the necessity of the Sacrament in situations where priests are in short supply.

        Ordained ministry is more than Mass, but Mass is so vital that it pre-empts other forms of worship especially in times of need. I hope you would agree that the Masses said on the hoods of Jeeps in WW II were a most necessary sustinence (and perhaps viaticum) for the soldiers. I am certain there was no singing, and maybe a very brief sermon, at these very holy Masses. In a priest shortage, Mass may be brief but is nevertheless most sustaining.

    3. Would limiting the number of Masses possibly have the opposite effect and overemphasize the “cultic minister” aspect of the priesthood since it makes real Masses more rare? After all, a communion service/liturgy of the word isn’t a Mass and people are not obligated to attend one, so you can’t substitute one in when there is a priest available to celebrate Mass (even as a “circuit rider”) and act like it is just as good.

      In my city, pretty much all the churches have a bare minimum of three Sunday Masses, and I doubt there are any priests under 80 who do not celebrate at least two Masses per Sunday – almost all celebrate three. If they all decided to create a shortage of Masses by only choosing to celebrate once per Sunday/feast day, I think the laity would get mad. I imagine people would either think the slot where the priest shows up and celebrates a real Mass is the best one or they would resent the priest and think he is lazy – imagining him to be sleeping in or watching TV instead of doing his duty.

      I also wonder if having lay people preach and read the Gospel puts more of an emphasis on the cultic role of the priest since his primary role becomes consecrating the bread and wine so the whole thing is legit.

      1. Reply to Jack Wayne – #20

        “If they all decided to create a shortage of Masses by only choosing to celebrate once per Sunday/feast day, I think the laity would get mad.”

        We’re already seeing this in action with the closing of parishes in response to a shortage of priests. It is my impression that whenever a parish is closed, 40% of the people from the closed parish just walk away. No one in power seems to be interested in finding out where they go.

    4. That’s a recipe for mastitis. It can’t be good for the soul or the spirit of the priest to have to preside at so many massess. Far better to ordain a vir probatus, or a femina probata.

      Are you recommending a return to the model of the massing priests, who spent their day saying back to back masses so that mass stipends could be legitimately accepted as income for monasteries and so that grace could be made more abundantly available?

      1. I agree, Gerald, that we should not return to chantries. I also agree that preists should not be overworked. However, I also do not think it’s a good idea to equate a Liturgy of the Word with Mass, or even present a Liturgy of the Word as a salutary alternative to Mass. Apostolic tradition clearly demonstrates that the celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday is the norm. Cranmer and Luther agreed. The practice of Morning Prayer replacing Sunday Eucharist in early modern Lutheranism and Anglicanism often stemmed from the infrequency of lay communion and sometimes clerical shortages, but not theology.

        If I were a priest, I would provide “back to back” Masses to the limit prescribed by the bishop. I think Mass is that important for souls. I am most certain that actual priests would beg to differ with my assessment, as it takes a great hubris and ignorance for a layman to make a statement like that without having experienced ministry. Perhaps it would be better for me to pray that priests with the stamina of St. John Vianney arise among us.

      2. I don’t at all see why a layman’s opinion on this, or on any other subject is less valid because he has not been ordained. That would be the equivalent of cultic racism.

        Praying that priests have the stamina of John Vianney, to avoid having to face the option that women and married men ought to be ordained, so that the eucharist may be celebrated everywhere on Sunday, is, in my opinion, telling God how we want things to be. It would be better to see the shortage of male celibates offering themselves for the priesthood as a sign of the times, to be responded to with clarity, enthusiasm, magnanimity and common sense.

      3. One of the most frequent complaints made by Irish Catholics is that the Mass is boring. Why do we not take this seriously?

        Reduce the number of Masses and make each Mass a carefully prepared event. Supplement the Eucharist with other church events such as prayer services. It is almost as if we are afraid to encourage this.

  10. Let’s see, “2.They will not deny Communion to faithful of good will, especially remarried people, members of other Christian churches, and in some cases those who have officially left the Catholic Church.” – “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” (1Cor 11:27)

    Or how about this one, “3.As much as possible they will avoid celebrating multiple times on Sundays and feastdays, and avoid scheduling circuit rider priests unknown to the community. A locally-planned Liturgy of the Word is preferable.” – “This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and ordain presbyters in every town as I directed you.” (Titus 1:5)

    What about this one, “7.They will take every opportunity to speak up publicly for the admission of women and married people to the priesthood. These would be welcome colleagues in ministry.” – “Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife…” (1Tim 3:2) and I’m not opposed to discussing the possibility of married clergy. But, this other stuff is just plainly unbiblical.

  11. Well of course celibacy is unbiblical and it is true that bishops might be better man and pastors if they were married. But you cannot based church structure on bible verses cited at random.

    1. Joe, celibacy is not unbiblical. “and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” (Mat 19:12) It is a gift that Jesus and St. Paul lived faithfully. And it is more than likely that the rest of the apostles didn’t have relations with their wives while they were on the road doing the work of the kingdom.

      1. Where is the evidence for your claim that Saint Paul was celibate?

        As Joe pointed out to you, the method of applying scripture as proof texts to back up a point has long been discredited.

        For example, who is to say that there is any correlation between remarried people and people of other Christian churches receiving holy communion and receiving the eucharist unworthily?

  12. Fr. Steve Sanchez :

    Let’s see, “2.They will not deny Communion to faithful of good will, especially remarried people, members of other Christian churches, and in some cases those who have officially left the Catholic Church.” – “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” (1Cor 11:27)

    I dearly hope that you’re not suggesting all Protestants and Anglicans are unworthy, Fr. Sanchez?

    1. Not all, only those who receive communion in an unworthy manner. why, are you suggesting that all Protestants and Anglicans are adulturers?

  13. Why are we prooftexting to try to prove our point? I find it a poor argument strategy to pick one verse of scripture when at times we miss the whole point by finding the one piece that supports our argument.
    Also, as per the reform thing, someone has to not be afraid to stand up to abusive power when it shows itself. When leadership shows that it doesn’t care about the people, it’s up to the people to care for the common good. If pastoral issues, demands, and structures are hindering our ability to love like Jesus, then we should be able to raise potential ideas for reform. (Idea from Yves Congar’s True and False Reform). We have serious problems right now, and we need solutions, and a defensive/brainwashing mentality really isn’t serving anyone or helping people to love like Jesus and have interior conversion. Makes me wonder…

    1. “Prooftexting”? How about a biblical perspective? I find it tiresome that many Christians are wanting to look to prevailing culture for answers, but neglect the biblical foundations of their very own religion. It’s not a small thing that St. Paul considered early christian communities without a presbyterate as defective; nor that a good bishop should also, if he is married, be a good husband; which pressumes the bishop is male; nor that receiveing holy communion while living in a state of grave moral deficientcy, is toxic to the good of one’s soul and even one’s physical health. I think these are things we should be concerned about. We should also address the problem of abusive power, but we cannot do it by obliterating the biblical model that we have been given. Reform and conversion, yes; deform of the one subject Church, heck no.

      1. Fr Steve Sanchez, it is anachronistic to speak about a presbyterate at the time of Saint Paul, and to invest that word with meanings which it accrued subsequently. A presbuteros is simply an elder, literally and in fact. The term did not have the cultic and hieratic connotations which it developed at a later stage.

        Secondly, the last time I checked, very few scripture scholars held that the First Letter to Timothy was written by Paul. One of the main reasons for the rejection of Pauline authorship is that it reflects a christian community at a period of stabilisation, at a more advanced stage than the Pauline communities in Paul’s time. Like Bill, I too am wondering about the level of your education in biblical studies.

  14. The Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales issued a document in March 2001 which may prove apposite to the problem of priestless churches. The said document, in slightly different circumstances, opined that one could fulfill one’s Sunday Duty by attendance at a nearby Cof E, Methodist, Baptist, or whatever.

    Problem solved.

    1. Problem not solved!

      I hope the Bishops’ Conference of E&W said no such thing – if they did, it means that they have a completely wrong understanding of what Sunday Duty is, and apply a solution that is wholly inappropriate for a Catholic.

      A Catholic’s obligation on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation is to attend Mass or Divine Liturgy in a Catholic Rite. The obligation is NOT to receive the Eucharist — it is to go to Mass. If one is impeded from going, either by sickness (or caring for one who is sick) or weather or some other reason that makes it impossible to attend, then the obligation is waived. The Church does not intend to make obligations that are impossible to be fulfilled.

      Given these circumstances, it doesn’t make any sense to worship in a non-Catholic community (be they Protestant or even Orthodox) in order to “fulfill the Sunday Duty.” When there is a Catholic Church that can be attended, the obligation is to do so; when there isn’t a Catholic Church nearby, the obligation is not binding.

      If a Catholic in such a situation wishes to worship with a non-Catholic community as a means of keeping Sunday holy, that is an entirely different story – but it still doesn’t meet the Sunday Duty. That said, I would think such a situation would be a rarity for most people in E&W, as well as much of the West, because it is reasonably easy to travel somewhere where Mass is offered – even if it is quite some distance away.

    2. “The Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales issued a document in March 2001 which may prove apposite to the problem of priestless churches. The said document, in slightly different circumstances, opined that one could fulfill one’s Sunday Duty by attendance at a nearby Cof E, Methodist, Baptist, or whatever.”

      I’d be grateful for the specific identification of this interesting document please? I cannot track it on the catholic e-w site.

  15. Fr. – make my request again. What seminary trained you? Who were your teachers in biblical studies? Your approach is dated and too literal. You are picking and choosing verses out of context and applying them to situations and peoples/cultures 2000 years later. Not exactly a historical critical approach – so, what is your “biblical model”? You do realize that, like the models of the church, we have different biblical models. Your approach is simplistic.

    1. Bill, where I was trainned doesn’t matter. My biblical views can’t fully be expressed in a quick note on a blog, but I do take into account that the office of the presbyter developed from the role it had in the ancient Church. However, even in its primitive form it possessed the seeds that would later develop fully into the priestly office I hold today. Even in the epistle of James, I see that presbyters were called to pray over people and anoint them with oil. His prayer had the power to absolve from sins. That’s a priestly power. In the Jews it was only through the ministry of priests that sins were forgiven, and here the presbyters continued this priestly cultic ministry. Furthermore, at the Last Supper, Jesus entrusted to the apostles the vessel of the blood from the victim that would be poured out for the forgiveness of sins. We must remember that only a ministerial priest could touch the gold or silver bowls which contained the blood of the lamb that was later to be offered by them at the altar. Jesus gave them the power to do this, and thus instituted the ministerial priesthood. Here, in the Gospels, we see in seed form the cultic priesthood that Jesus established at the Last Supper. These apostles were the first presbyters and episcopos in the community. And if St. Paul considered their role in a primitive Christian community indispensable; surely this was considered more to be the case as the presbyteral office developed; not less so. I think the burden of proof lies in the person who is advocating a position different from the historical form that developed. We have a danger today of reading to much simplicity into the primitive Church that wrote for us such beautiful scriptures that are pregnant with meaning and edifiying doctrine. Why should we not consider the modern aggenda as way too simplistic?

  16. I’m wondering regarding #2 who gets to decide which of the faithful is gutwilligen. I’m guessing that what they mean is that anyone who presents himself or herself for communion will count as gutwilligen. I further wonder what they would say about the public scandal that was caused by Pope John Paul II giving communion to Augusto Pinochet and Robert Mugabe? Was he presuming that they were gutwilligen?

    It is probably as much a matter of temperament as it is a matter of principle, but I find these sorts of declarations tiresome. In all honesty, if I had a choice between going to a Mass where the priest was implementing this list and one where the priest was not, I’d choose the latter, even though I am not entirely unsympathetic to some of the points being made.

  17. “Where is the evidence for your claim that Saint Paul was celibate?”

    Er – what about 1 Cor. 7: 8?

    Or are we now going to kick 1 Corinthians out of the canon, too?

  18. Paul was celibate,but his fellow apostles had wives. There is nothing about clerical celibaacy in Scripture; quite the opposite. The Pastorals give advice on the married lives of bishops, priests, deacons — they sound more like Anglicans than Roman Catholics.

  19. Oh, I wasn’t arguing about the apostles’ wives: just pointing out that no one was ‘claiming’ St Paul was celibate but referring to (surely) one of the better-known passages of the Epistles – and implying that anyone who is ignorant of that passage would be better off refraining from posting on the topic until he had read it.

    1. If you take a closer look at 1 Cor 7.8 you’ll see that the text is not at all categorical. It may be translated literally thus:

      Now I say to the unmarried and to those who are widowed: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do.

      The most that we may conclude about Paul’s state in life from this verse is that he has chosen to remain as he is, and from the context, it is probable that he was either unmarried or widowed.

      So, Ms Sims, before you rush to judgement, a little more nuance would be helpful.

    1. Ageism, like sexism, should have no place in Christian communities. It is the validity or otherwise of their thoughts and opinions that matter not their age.

      1. My guess is that they are old and just don’t know any better. The young orthodox priests will eventually settle things by outliving the old ones.

    2. Touching faith in our angelic young priest who look so cute as they bandy their censers. Ages seasons, hardens, brings wisdom,

  20. In the northeast part of our Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, which is the largest diocese area wise east of the Mississippi River, there are numerous parishes and missions without a priest as the resident pastor. Many are administered by trained lay persons and some by religious. Every weekend priests travel many miles to celebrate the liturgy in Englsih and in Spanish for small communities, perhaps less than 50 persons in many cases. There is no lack of good will on my part to celebrate more than once, but the energy drain and effect of age, tiredness, and heat on enthusiasm is a factor. When I was 50 years old, I pastored a parish with three “missions” attached; celebrating 6 weekend Masses: three in Englsih, two in Spanish, and one in very poor Vietnamese. I cannot do anything like that now. By the time I am on the second Mass Sunday morning, the “limits of my energy” are showing, and certainly by the third Mass in early afternoon on Sunday it is even less. All of this is to say, over 80 or under 80 years is not the question. It is the human ability of fragil persons to do their best in presiding, and making the “sourse and summit” of our faith palpable. I think the Orthodox have a very, very good approach: one Divine Liturgy, one altar, one priest on Sunday…it is about pastoring and being present to the people and to God.
    Only comments with a full name will be approved

  21. Why not reduce the Mass to a once-monthly celebration? This would greatly reduce the perceived need for priests and encourage the laity to develop their own communal prayer life.

  22. As someone from outside Austria all this reads to me is Dissent ! Dissent ! It is OK you will get your way. This truly does fracture the Church and lead people to think that this is OK for us as well if Priests are in open rebellion to the Pope. It is extreme and sends the wrong message to many people. I guess those in dissenting positions would consider how I view this as simple collateral damage from their actions. What about the Austrians in their care who do not want this?

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