Austrian Bishop: People Call for Married Priests and Female Deacons

Bishop Manfred Scheuer. Credit: Diocese of Linz / Hermann Wakolbinger
Bishop Manfred Scheuer. Credit: Diocese of Linz / Hermann Wakolbinger

According to the diocesan website, Bishop Manfred Scheuer of Linz (Austria) has written a letter to Pope Francis informing him of people’s expectations for the future of ordained ministry. With regards to the Eucharist as the font, center, and summit of the life of the church, three changes are called for:

  • Viri probati (married men with a certain life experience) should be admitted to priesthood;
  • priests should be permitted to remain in office even when they want to marry;
  • women should be ordained to diaconate.

Bishop Scheuer speaks of a “distinct rumble” among the people, and notes that that the time is short for substantial changes. He spoke about the letter at a diocesan meeting under the title “Kirche weit denken” (“broadly thinking (about) the church”).

The letter itself has not been published. It seems that Bishop Scheuer does not explicitly make the people’s positions his own. But in recent years he has repeatedly shown that he tends to be in favor of all these ideas.

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18 comments

  1. I really wish certain bishops would stop playing this “people’s expectations” game with regards to contentious issues like this. All it will do is needlessly create resentment among the people when more than likely nothing will come of these proposals, like what happened after many bishops carelessly got people’s hopes up in the run-up to Humanae Vitae. As I’ve said before, there are better arguments to be made for these proposals than some sort of backhanded threat of a popular revolt (at least that’s how I read it, maybe I’m wrong).

  2. Marian Davey
    What a cowardly approach this bishop has when presenting such basic solutions to the urgent need for change at leadership level
    He completely edits himself out of the picture by referring to the “rumblings ” among the laity (perhaps he means the peasants will revolt
    The lairy are not “rumbling” but rather flagging up in a very articulate and coherent manner the urgency with which the current problems faced by the church need to be dealt with–no more kicking the problems into the long grass —
    Where is this bishops service of leadership in the current context –he’s obviously arrived at some of the answers in advance –now he needs to take a leap of faith and sign up to facing 5 he questions along with his parishoners

    1. But I suspect the laity proposing these things see their bishop as one of the good guys on their side. He isn’t blockading their proposals, he is articulating and advancing them.

      1. I must say that +Scheuer’s letter draws skepticism from me, as he doesn’t give any actual evidence of a “distinct rumble” among the people. Maybe the laity should come forward themselves…

        Even if the laity are proposing these things, I certainly don’t see either of these things happening in the near future. Hopefully the Holy See realizes that the Church doesn’t need any more controversy at the moment…

      2. Your demand for evidence is out of line, I think. Do YOU have evidence that he is lying and the laypeople are not calling for these things? I would assume that the bishops’ statement is factually accurate and he knows what’s going on in his own diocese.

      3. No it isn’t, not when the claim is so uncontroversial and so utterly unlikely to be false. (I don’t mean the proposals of the progressive lay people – of course they are very controversial.)

        The bishop claims that people expressed particular positions. If you have so little trust that you think a bishop would make this up (as if he would get away with it and it would not become a huge news story!), then no reasonable discussion in the church is possible. I hope we haven’t arrived at that dreary state.

        I get it that some people disagree with the progressive lay people in this diocese. I get it that some people wish the bishop would not acknowledge these progressive positions but counteract them. Fine – then say that.

        But to counter a progressive position by haggling about whether anyone really holds that position, whether anyone really stated that position, whether a bishop is being honest about what he heard people say – all this is irresponsible and intellectually dishonestly.

        It’s also trolling, tbh.

        awr

      4. I don’t think one needs to look far for evidence of this “distinct rumble.” A vocal group of Catholics has been advocating for such ideas since at least the middle of the last century. They aren’t always particularly numerous depending on where you are, but they do exist. If you did a poll at your local parish you’d probably find some.

        The challenge for bishops, as I’ve said earlier, is advocating for their flock while maintaining unity and reasonable expectations (and catechising as to why), especially since despite some apparent overtures from Pope Francis at times, nothing is likely to change on this front anytime soon. It’s a tough job, and I don’t envy any bishop in Western Europe right now (or here in the U.S. for that matter).

  3. I don’t want to get into the woods of whether any of what he proposes is “legal” – I admit I am not qualified to do that, so let’s assume there is an issue there.

    That said, why does this come up? To me, the main answer is that unmarried males are not getting the job done, at least not well enough. Far too many priests these days – especially among the newly ordained – give me the impression that they view the priesthood as more of a career than a vocation, and they seem more comfortable being middle managers, branch managers, zone managers, etc. than being shepherds. If the Church can’t solve that issue, they need to find a way to find some shepherds, and that may mean some or all of the things Bishop Scheuer is suggesting.

    1. FWIW, I was at visiting a parish this one Saturday for scheduled confession hours with an older but active priest. He honestly sounded as if I was holding him up, even though I was the only one there; he didn’t even bother to say the prayer of absolution or give a penance (even after I politely prompted him). I only bring this up to contrast with this 30-something parochial vicar at my previous parish who would always offer to hear “after-hours” confessions after every mass he said, sometimes lasting up to a half hour after mass ended.

  4. They are actually calling for women priests as well, but I assume the Bishop is cautiously taking this one step at a time.

    1. It may well be that some of the same people calling for women deacons and married priests have also called for women priests elsewhere. But I don’t see any mention of that in this story, do you?
      awr

    2. Pardon my impatience here …

      At the same time, we should cautiously concede none of these three changes impact either faith or morals. They are all a matter of governance and discipline. Important things, but not the most important.

      As for what constitutes a “rumble,” would that include parishioners lacking a resident priest who neither picket ordinations nor frequent women’s ordination conferences who simply want someone available more than two Sundays a month for Mass or an anointing at the need of the sick person rather than the availability of a priest.

      While I agree that movement on these issues would tear at church unity, my suggestion for those who wring their hands over these proposals need to take a leave of absence from their big city job or their big city parish and spend some months in mission territory. The mandate from the King of the Universe is to go and make disciples. Not perpetuate a medieval hierarchy. The insistence on a celibate all-male priesthood may well be as unfaithful as those who press too far too fast as a countermeasure.

  5. How about some rigorous honesty? The question is really about who is impacted by the discipline that governs the qualifications for priestly ministry? If it were just the bishops, then it’s their problem. But the bishops are far from the only ones impacted. All of us are. I’m 77 and I’m still shepherding a flock because so far I have the energy and the desire to do so. There are a number of other priests in their 70’s or mid to late 60’s who are still on the job. We could use some help. The people we serve know that but are powerless to do anything about it. Thank God for their love and support. I have a number of vir probati in the parish who may well be open to discerning a vocation to priestly ministry but no one is asking the priests of the people as to what recommendations they may have. Too many bishops and priests want to maintain the status quo so they don’t ask anyone for input. This is not about an assault on the discipline of celibate chastity for those actually called to it. It’s about how does the flock of Christ get adequately served. Does anyone believe that the lay faithful, after all the fallout from the scandals and coverups, really wants to maintain the status quo on how decisions get made in the church?

    1. Well spoken. And thank you for your ministry.. I can’t imagine trying to keep up the demands you face at your age and I’m 7 yrs younger!

  6. There are no theological issues with ordaining married men, and I suspect this will happen sooner rather than later. That said, even with an influx of married men, the laity who remain in the Church are going to have to adjust to a changing climate where worshipping communities are going to resemble Orthodox Jewish and Orthodox Christian communities. Many will have fewer and fewer options on when and where to attend mass. And travel distances will increase. People will have to decide if they want to be closer to work or their house of worship.

    This would already be impacting mainline and Episcopal denominations except that if an episcopal parish closes, people will usually just attend another protestsnt denomination.
    I predict a viscious cycle where as more laity leave the Church, it will cause more effort in those who remain to participate in the sacramental life, which in turn will cause even more to people to leave.

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