Bishop Scheuer: “Since Francis One Can Breathe Easier”

Bishop Manfred Scheuer of Innsbruck, in an article in the Tyroler Tageszeitung, speaks openly of the contrast between Pope Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI, and of the change in relationship between the Vatican and diocesan bishops. Bishop Scheuer was among the Austrian bishops in Rome last week for their ad limina visit with the pope and curia officials.

At their 2005 visit to Rome, the Austrian bishops got reprimanded. But Bishop Scheuer characterized the new message like this: “You must bear responsibility for the local church and you must act with shrewdness and differentiation, the pope said to us.” According to Scheuer, “Previously there was a different tone, entirely concrete proposals came at us for how we must proceed.” He said of the change of culture in the Vatican, “One sees a different style which is more reserved, more respectful, and more alert.”

But Scheuer said that the pope had a clear message for the Austrian bishops: to take time, amidst all their administrative responsibilities, for prayer and proclamation of the Gospel, and to strive to be near to people and to show mercy. Francis models this, according to Scheuer: “He is reserved and does not put himself in the center. He criticizes most strongly clericalism and the positions of power tied to the office of priest.”

The “Pastors’ Initiative,” a manifesto of hundreds of rebellious Austrian priests calling for reforms such as women’s ordination, optional celibacy, and communion for remarried Catholics, was a topic in Rome. The word from the Congregation for Clergy and from Pope Francis was that the Austrian bishops had to bear responsibility for the situation. Scheuer openly admitted that in previous conversations there was talk of sanctions on these priests. “That is not gone, but today it is no longer in the foreground,” he said. In his diocese, Scheuer has entered into dialog with “Pastors’ Initiative” priests and has continued to appoint such priests to diocesan positions.

Bishop Scheuer said of the change in popes, “Since Francis is pope I have often asked myself whether I am now happier to be bishop.” Bishops repeatedly are pressured by various lobbying groups. “One feels powerless as bishop. Ultimately, one cannot act prudently when it’s under pressure.” But Scheuer has found recent months to be “easier breathing.” He said, “Although the pressure situation has not yet ended, the pope has brought about a change in atmosphere. One can breathe easier.”


  1. One can only hope that the US bishops will notice the new atmosphere and start asking their priests, religious, and ordinary parishioners questions like these: How do you think we can best deal with the impact of fewer priests on our parish communities? Two years ago we introduced some changes in the texts of the Mass. Are you happy with them? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? And here’s one they can ask the priests. How do you feel about having to remain on the job into your mid and late 70‘s? Is this causing greater stress related health problems? How can I help you? Just saying.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #1:
      Jack, I think your suggestions about possible Francis-like leadership initiatives are very constructive and actually do-able.

      Probably since Leo XIII condemned ‘Americanism’ the effect has been felt not just by the US episcopate but probably all the other English speaking Churches in countries with a democratic system of government. Papal autocratic absolutism neutered them and guaranteed supine and compliant.
      Popes and the Curia have dined out on this ever since.

      The suppression of the 1998 English liturgical translation was not only a cynical exhibition of power by mindless men but a calculated demonstration of Curial power. It is crystal clear that most of the European Catholic jurisdictions know exactly what makes the Curia tick and the games they play. They have adopted the tactics of selective deafness, shortage of proof readers, broken down printing presses or just plain, conscious, open non-compliance, eg the Germans on their new translation and secrecy about the pre synodal Survey.

      In my country, Australia, groups of mainly lay reform advocates have been lobbying our bishops for some time to have a national synod with a view to a national pastoral plan in consultation and conversation with the whole Catholic community. We’re talking here about the Sensus Fidelium which is conveniently pushed out to the boundaries by many bishops. The response that keeps coming back is, ‘It is not an opportune time for a national synod or even ecclesiastical province based synods.

      This is kind of treatment of the laity by their bishops is staggering given the facts that: the national participation rate is now around 10.6% of the Catholic population; within 3-5 years 50% of the priests on active parish duty will be foreigners, mainly Indians and Africans, brought here on temporary visas and other issues. One might think that the bishops would welcome the support, advice and encouragement of their loyal practising Catholic sisters and…

  2. “…more reserved, more respectful, more alert…”

    By almost any standard, that is leadership.

    I don’t know if in the end we are going to view Francis’ papacy as positively as some predict. But, I no longer feel that the Pope is a puppet being controlled by the Curia and interests within it. I’ve had that feeling since the last third of JPII through BXVI, so it’s a breath of fresh air, no doubt.

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