A survey on the “Appeal to Disobedience” (Pray Tell reported here) gives explosive results: more than 70% of Austrian priests support, at least in part, the demands of the “Pastors’ Initiative.” For another report on this story, see here.
Two-thirds of the priests in Austria see a “dangerous stalling out of reform” in the Catholic Church and a “dramatic gulf” between the Church and modern culture. More than 70 percent of them have a fundamentally positive view of the priests’ initiative for disobedience initiated by Fr. Helmut Schüller and see it as a stimulus for necessary reform. This is the main outcome of a recent study of over 500 priests in Austria.
Since the middle of June, the “Appeal to Disobedience” of the Austrian “Pastors’ Initiative” has enjoyed great interest in the media. The priests no longer address “desires for reform” to the Church leadership, but rather announce that they themselves will implement reforms by immediate action. They will practice “disobedience” like this: not to deny Communion to divorced and remarried, to allow laity to preach as Sunday Mass, and in effect to transfer leadership of communities to laity. The rebellious priests wish to utilize “every opportunity” to speak up publicly for the admission of women and married men to ordained ministry – despite the Vatican prohibition.
Priests Think like the Wider Population
… Because the 500 priests are a representative sample of 3,500 Austrian priests, the survey results give trustworthy information on how Austrian clergymen view the “Appeal to Disobedience.” … When [another study] showed already at the end of August that over 70 percent of the Austrian population as a whole share the concerns of the Pastors’ Initiative, it was a clear sign of majority support for the demands of the rebellious priests. It will certainly give the bishops much to talk about at their plenary assembly that the attitude of the entire clergy obviously mirrors the earlier survey. Because of this study, one will no longer be able to write off the initiative as the project of just a few people.
72% Are “Reformers”
Project director Fr. Paul M. Zulehner, in his book about the study to appear in January, places 72% of the priests in the category of “reformers.” 31% of these are so-called “radical reformers” who agree with the Pastor’s Initiative with virtually no reservations. 41% are moderate reformers or, as Zulehner labels them, “unpackers” who sympathize fundamentally with the appeal, but wish to discuss each demand separately. Only 28% of those polled spoke out against the “Appeal to Disobedience.”
“Gulf” between Contemporary Life and Gospel/Church
… 39% of the priests are of the opinion that “there is a dramatically deep gulf between the contemporary life situation of people today and the Gospel.” Significantly more (67%) feel that “there is a dramatic gulf between the contemporary life situation of people today and the Catholic Church.” Zulehner takes this to mean “that, in the viewpoint of priests, the Gospel is closer to modern people than the Catholic Church is.” In the analysis of priests, some of the gap between the Catholic Church and modern life seems not to be justified by the Gospel. In conversation with the religion department of Austrian Public Radio the project director explained, “Obviously the Church is perceived as being removed from the Gospel. The reform demands could thus be understood as an effort to reform the Church on the basis of the Gospel and to lead the Church back to the Gospel.”
Big Difference between Celibacy and Women’s Ordination
Regarding individual demands of the Pastors’ Initiative, the call for admission of divorced and remarried to the sacraments experienced the broadest support. 76% are fundamentally in favor, and even 86% in individual cases. The two most-discussed reform demands, abolishment of mandatory celibacy and ordination of women, are evaluated very differently by the priests. While 71% would see “married fellow priests with their own family as an enrichment,” only 55% are of the opinion that “the demand to admit women to ordained ministry is in harmony with the Gospel.”
Striking Age Differences
Among the many results offered by the study, the age differentiation stands out as a common theme running through the responses. Older priests are much more open to reform than their younger colleagues. While only 17 percent of those in their 60s are opponents, the number of opponents among those under 40 reaches 51 percent. Zulehner sees two reasons for this. On the one hand, “celibacy functions as a filter.” Only those who already have a certain aversion to liberal position would even consider the priesthood today, he believes. On the other hand, Zulehner views young, conservative priests within a larger societal context: a general rightward movement among youth, their increased attachment to authoritarianism and subordination, is also widely represented among young priests.
Source: Austrian Public Radio (ORF), tr. awr.