Austrian Priests Support the “Appeal to Disobedience” by a Wide Margin UPDATE 11-9

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.

Worldwide Interest

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.






37 responses to “Austrian Priests Support the “Appeal to Disobedience” by a Wide Margin UPDATE 11-9”

  1. Janet Darcy Avatar
    Janet Darcy

    We’ll see how bold they are when the love letter arrives on the cream colored stationary with the embossed coat of arms in the upper left hand corner by whatever equivalent they have for certified mail.

    Funny thing about the golden rule. Whey they are holding all of the gold….they make all of the rules!

    1. Dr. Dale Rodriguez Avatar
      Dr. Dale Rodriguez

      Janet, that’s the quote of the day!

  2. Mitch Powers Avatar
    Mitch Powers

    Interdict is still a valid option.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      But worse than useless unless it has sufficient support among the faithful at large. Venice, 1606-07, and all that.

      1. Joe O'Leary Avatar

        I would love to see the Vatican try an interdict — it would suddenly give exciting relevance to the huge amount of material in the Venice city library and bring the terrific figure of Paolo Sarpi back to life!

  3. Jan Baldwin Avatar
    Jan Baldwin

    According to Reuters, the actual number of priests involved in these dissident groups is about 10%. Looks like Austria is having its “Call to Action” moment.

    It will be interesting to see what Cardinal Schoenborn does with this. Members of the laity are said to be in wide agreement on political matters, however, we all know that such a thing usually doesn’t translate exactly as en-masse liturgical or devotional rebellion on the part of the laity. The dynamics of these sorts of effects have been among the most fascinating areas of the whole post-V2 phenomena.

    [In the US, the political business revolved around birth control, and it’s been ugly, but most laypeople are still not in open rebellion and I expect they won’t be. The great majority of them here actually never bought into the whole rebellion program because it didn’t make sense to them and it still doesn’t. Rebellion is not why they get up on Sunday morning, wrangle their kids into school clothes on their “day off” and come expectantly to their local parish.]

    1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
      Gerard Flynn

      “[In the US, the political business revolved around birth control, and it’s been ugly, but most laypeople are still not in open rebellion and I expect they won’t be.”

      On the issue of birth control and a string of others, people are voting with their feet.

  4. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

    It’s hard to know what this means without any information on the methodology.

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      It’s a solid, respected polling agency, and Fr. Zulehner is a university professor ermitus. The information is given in the original post (in German), but I didn’t think it necessary to translate this.

      1. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

        I don’t see anything in the German article about methodology other than the size of the sample and their saying that it was “random”. Am I missing it? In the U.S., for instance, I think it would be fairly ineffective to do a telephone poll of priests. So how were the respondents selected?

        It’s not even clear to me who is being polled. “the 500 priests are a representative sample of 3,500 Austrian priests”, by the way, suggests that there are 4,360 priests in Austria, not 3,500, though perhaps that number is out of date.

  5. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    This is really fascinating stuff. Thank you for translating the article, as we do not hear enough about this movement. And it’s in Austria, too! Never would I have thought that hide-bound Austria would be the home for this kind of initiative. An Austrian friend of mine who was visiting, however, brought their statement with her, and said it was being signed in her parish as well. They were all very excited and pleased. Movement forward on a number of these fronts has been long overdue, and the forthright manner of these priests has been respected and appreciated.

  6. Jan Baldwin Avatar
    Jan Baldwin

    Of course, the added dimension in Austria is the Church-funding piece. When people give up in disgust because of abuse, frustration or turmoil, they stop paying the “Catholic tax” and officially go on walkabout, getting a perk in the process.

    Common sense tells me that this should be at least as hurtful to the progressives as to the traditionalists, but maybe some people are willing to risk that to get what they want, whatever that is.

    BTW, there is no way to tax non-organized neo-paganism or secularism, so it’s not taxed under a system like this.

  7. Bill deHaas Avatar
    Bill deHaas

    Jan – your comment is based upon incomplete and partial information. Here is a more comprehensive explanation of the survey and study:

    – GfK said 68 per cent of Catholic priests see an “urgent need for reforms” of the Church. Around 65.1 per cent of Austria’s populace of 8.5 million were Catholics last year, down from 89 per cent in 1951. The share dwindled from 84 per cent in 1981 to nearly 74 per cent in 2001. The most recent declines have been linked with news that hundreds of former Catholic boarding school pupils informed officials that they were abused by clergymen in the past decades. Federal branches of the Catholic Church in other European countries like Germany and Ireland experienced similar developments in the past few years.

  8. Jan Baldwin Avatar
    Jan Baldwin

    Yes, but how many of those priests are actually officially involved in the recent statements as signatories, and how many are actually members in good standing of “We Are Church” and the affiliated groups taking a public stand with the statements?

    It is true that 87K Austrian Catholics left the Church in 2010 alone. However, that means that they are no longer either progressive Catholics or traditional ones. They are ex-Catholics and they are gone. Ex-Catholics also often bear a lot of animosity toward ALL Catholics and aren’t afraid to say so. Who wins when this happens? [Other than the person who no longer has to pay church tax, that is.]

    I know that the same thing has happened in Ireland and Germany. It’s a shame and it has hurt everyone.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      “However, that means that they are no longer either progressive Catholics or traditional ones.”

      That is not a valid conclusion.

      1. Jan Baldwin Avatar
        Jan Baldwin

        In what way, Karl?

        They see themselves as ex-Catholics and they are officially no longer members of the Church. They didn’t find an appropriate way to be Catholic with either side or the middle, and so they LEFT.

      2. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        No, Jan, you’re misinformed and you’re leaping to conclusions. Officially unregistering with the government doesn’t mean you can’t participate in the life of the Church. They’ve had guidelines for decades on issues such as giving Christian burial to those who have unregistered.

      3. Susan McCarthy, RDC Avatar
        Susan McCarthy, RDC

        @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #17:
        Can someone help me to get in touch with Msgr Schuller to thank him for his courage?

    2. Dr. Dale Rodriguez Avatar
      Dr. Dale Rodriguez

      Just because they left the church doesn’t mean they are ex Catholics or not Catholic any longer.
      You do not undo the sacrament of Baptism by leaving the Church. They are still Catholics, they just don’t attend church. You can only become an “ex Catholic” if you renounce the Church and your Baptism, then by canon law you are no longer Catholic. Like the 25 million US Catholics who do not attend anymore I think the Austrian counterparts are just waiting on the sidelines to see what happens.

      1. Jan Baldwin Avatar
        Jan Baldwin

        Dr. Dale,
        Do you really think that they’re “just waiting on the the sidelines to see what happens” for years and years? I’m not so sure. Do we know for sure whether they have moved on or not? I think some of them have. In fact, in the US, the Pew Report says that about half of them go on to join a Protestant congregation, and the other half either stay unaffiliated or go on to another faith entirely, such as Buddhism or Islam. Moreover, once they leave, they don’t tend to come back. More than 10% of Americans are now former Catholics.

        BTW, because of my background as an ex-Protestant, I am very aware of the typical Protestant attitude towards infant baptism. Converts to Protestant congregations from Catholicism are very, very likely to renounce their Catholic baptism and be re-baptised in their new Protestant faith. This is true particularly in the evangelical Churches which are not sacramental in nature, and incidentally these types of churches are the most likely destinations for ex-Catholics who convert to Protestantism, according to the Pew Report.

      2. Fr. Steve Sanchez Avatar
        Fr. Steve Sanchez

        And just because they have left the Church and want reform, it doesn’t mean that it’s liberal reform that they want. Nor does it prove that they are either progressive or conservative.

      3. Jan Baldwin Avatar
        Jan Baldwin

        Do you really think someone would leave the Church and then spend a lot of time and money to change it? I find that somewhat odd and perhaps more than a little pathological.

        I’m also not sure they’d be very effective outside as compared to inside.

        And in the final analysis, as I’ve already pointed out from Pew Report data, about half the people who leave the church go on to a Protestant church anyway. People who might engage in what has been suggested here can’t be very common–and I don’t think they are.

      4. Dr. Dale Rodriguez Avatar
        Dr. Dale Rodriguez

        I can only speak from personal experience.
        In my family at least about 70% no longer attend. They are just disgusted and feel alienated not so much because of the sex abuse scandal but the ensuing cover up. The trust is gone. They are waiting for trust to be restored and leadership that is not out of touch. They read the newspapers and see what is happening in Ireland, Austria, Bishop Finn et al.
        None have renounced their faith, by its bad behavior the church has left them, not the other way around. That is my opinion.

  9. Jan Baldwin Avatar
    Jan Baldwin

    So if this is the case, how does it change anything to file the papers, other than deciding to keep the money instead of giving it to the Church?

    1. Claire Mathieu Avatar
      Claire Mathieu

      They might not keep the money. They can decide to do all sorts of things with it. Give it directly to some lay-led Catholic charity or give it to some association for reform of the church (such as Call to Action), for example. It hurts church administrators, but if the governance of the church is judged to be dysfunctional, then one might reluctantly decide that it is necessary medicine. Tough love, if you will.

  10. Jan Baldwin Avatar
    Jan Baldwin

    I wonder how many people would do that, though.

    It seems rather unlikely to me that all those thousands of people who say they’re disgruntled over the clergy abuse scandals, and that’s why they unregistered, would come back volunteering to pay the legal costs by donating money to the Church they just bailed out of. I rather think they might go buy something else with the money.

    I think only a small percentage of people would unregister, with all the implications that entails, just to make a political point within the Church that they are now officially unregistered with. That’s more than a bit contradictory, and would imply heavy-duty motives that I simply don’t think most people have. Perhaps some people who are heavily invested in Church politics might do that, but I don’t think that most people would.

    The whole unregistering-as-a-protest thing might be pretty strange for someone acting in some sort of an official capacity in the church too. I’m really not sure how that would work, to be honest. I suspect it wouldn’t turn out well at all.

    1. crystal watson Avatar

      I’d be one of those – I don’t go to church anymore but still consider myself Catholic.

    2. Jan Baldwin Avatar
      Jan Baldwin

      Yeah, Crystal,

      But do you live in Austria, and unregister at the government office to protest, and then return the money to the Church even though you’ve unregistered? That’s the question here in this thread about the Austrian church.

      1. crystal watson Avatar

        Unregistering with the government just means you don’t financially support the church through taxes. To stop being a Catholic in the eyes of the church, I believe you actually have to appeal in writing to the church itself and sign out. Whether one decides to continue to support the church financially besides in taxes doesn’t seem to me to have any relevance to actually being a Catholic – you may just rahter give your charity money to non-religious organizations.

  11. Mitch Powers Avatar
    Mitch Powers

    So will Vienna or Innsbruck be the new seat of the Pope?

  12. Bill deHaas Avatar
    Bill deHaas

    Salzburg, Mitch so they can reminicse with the Trapp Family while listening to the Sound of Music.

  13. Jan Baldwin Avatar
    Jan Baldwin


  14. Claire Mathieu Avatar
    Claire Mathieu

    This is sure to hurt Cardinal Schoenborn’s chances to be the next pope. That’s not good.

    1. Dr. Dale Rodriguez Avatar
      Dr. Dale Rodriguez

      I don’t think so Claire (I hope not).
      He is considered one of the Germany’s/Austria’s finest, well educated and grounded. He received praise for taking on Sodano last year and to date has shown patience (translation: agrees with) toward the priests who support the “Appeal to Disobedience”. He fit’s the mold, I think, of conservative leaning but because of his age would be able to slowly reverse most of what Benedict has done or not done. I wouldn’t be surprised if celibacy becomes optional and the diaconate opened to women.

  15. John robert francis Avatar
    John robert francis

    Oh, but it is. You mistake your man or, that is, your cardinal.

  16. John robert francis Avatar
    John robert francis

    Cardinal Schoenborn also removed the priest who is leading this association from his position as vicar general of Vienna. It seems he was too much in the Cardinal Koenig mold.

    If the next pope is not an Italian (Angelo Scola?), he will likely be from outside Europe, probably Latin America.

  17. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood


    I think it’s important to distinguish between the Church Institutional and the Church Pastoral. Just because people leave the first doesn’t mean they leave the other too.

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