"Call to Disobedience" and Schönborn's Response

The leaders of the "pastors' initiative" of Vienna pubished a public "call to disobedience" on Trinity Sunday. Cardinal Schönborn this week in the summer edition of the staff magazine of the Archdiocese of Vienna made a response to this “call to disobedience” of the “pastors' initiative”, which, if not formally schismatic, is close to it. I translate both of them here.

If anything, the Cardinal's response could perhaps have been even stronger. Is one justified in going out of one's way not to lose those who in many ways do not share the mind of the Church, if this results in detriment to the visible christian identity, unity, and witness of the Church–and thus the loss of many who would otherwise be attracted to and find Christ in the Church? It does not seem so to me.


“Call to disobedience”

 Rome's refusal to make a long needed reform of the Church and the inactivity of the bishops not only allow us, but force us to follow our conscience and to ourselves take action:

 We priests in the time to come want to point the way ahead:

1. WE WILL in the future speak an intercession for reform of the Church. We take seriously the scriptural saying: Ask, and you shall receive. Before God there is freedom of speech.

2. WE WILL absolutely not refuse the Eucharist to believers of good will. This applies particularly to the divorced and remarried, to members of other christian churches, and in individual cases also those who have left the Church.

 3. WE WILL as far as possible avoid celebrating multiple times on Sundays and feastdays, or employing travelling priests who are unknown to the local community. A Liturgy of the Word that is done by the community itself is better than liturgical on tour.

 4. WE WILL in the future consider a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion as a “priesterless celebration of the Eucharist”, and will also name it such. Thus we fulfill our Sunday obligation in a time of few priests.

5. WE WILL disregard the prohibition of preaching for competently educated lay persons and teachers of religion. Precisely in a difficult time it is necessary to proclaim God's word.

 6. WE WILL do what we can to see to it that every parish has its own director: man or woman, married or unmarried, full-time or part-time. This is to be accomplished not by merging parishes, but by a new image of the priest.

7. WE WILL therefore use every opportunity to speak out publicly for the admission of women and married men to the priestly office. We see in them welcome colleagues in the office of pastoral care.

Finally we see ourselves in solidarity with those colleagues who are no longer permitted to exercise their office on account of a marriage, but also with those who, despite having a (sexual) partner, continue to fulfill their service as priests. Both groups with their decision follow their conscience – as we also do with our protest. We see in them just as much as in the pope and the bishops “our brothers”. What a “fellow brother” is supposed to be over and above that, we do not know. One alone is our master – while we are all brothers. “And sisters” – as it however should be said among christians. For this we desire to stand up, for this we desire to intervene, for this we desire to pray. Amen.


Christoph Cardinal Schönborn's response

Dear fellow workers!
Dear brothers and sisters!
And this time especially: dear fellow brothers in the priestly service!

The leaders of the “pastors' initiative” published a “call to disobedience” (www.pfarrer-initiative.at) on Trinity Sunday (June 19). I did not want to reacted immediately, lest I answer in the anger and sorrow that this call aroused in me. At the priestly ordination on June 24 I made indirect reference to it in my homily. The public call to disobedience shakes me deeply. How would it be for the families in our country, if disobedience were raised to a virtue? Many employees ask themselves how it is possible to propagate and practice disobedience in the Church, when they know that they would have long ago lost their jobs if they there made a call to disobedience. 

We priests at our ordination freely, forced by no one, put our hands in the bishop's to show “reverence and obedience” and before the whole community said loudly and clearly, “Yes, I do promise it.” Do you stand by this? Can I, can the communities have confidence in this? As a bishop I also promised faithful communion with and obedience to the pope. I shall stand by this, even if there have been moments wenn that was not easy.

Christian obedience is a school of freedom. It is a matter of the concrete expression in life of what we pray in every Our Father, when we pray to the Father that his will be done in heaven and on earth. This prayer receives its meaning and its power through the interior readiness of the one who prays to accept God's will also in those cases where it differs from what he would imagine for himself. This readiness also becomes concrete in ecclesial obedience to the pope and bishop. What this readiness demands can sometimes be painful.

In the “master plan” for our diocese, in the process “Acts of the Apostles” 2010 and in our plan of development for the diocese it is also a matter of God's will. What is God's will for us, for the archdiocese today, in a situation of great change? In prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist together, in contemplation of the Scriptures, in our looking at the development of our society, we strive to recognize God's will. The “master plan” should indeed be the plan of the Master, of the Lord.

Precisely here the “call to disobedience” takes up its position – but crosswise to the “master plan”. Since the reforms demanded by the initiators of the “pastors' initiative” have still not occurred, and since they bishops, as they see it, are inactive, they see themselves forced, “to follow their conscience and themselves take action.”

If it becomes a question of conscience, to be disobedient to the pope and bishop, then a new level is reached that urges a clear decision. For the conscience is always to be followed when it is a formed conscience that has examined itself critically. Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, in a solitary decision of his conscience, refused military service in Hitler's army, at the cost of his life. Blessed John Henry Newman came after many years of intense struggle to the certainty of conscience that the Anglican Church had deviated from the truth and that the Church of Jesus Christ lives on in the Catholic Church. Therefore one who in his examined conscience comes to the conviction that “Rome” is on a wrong track that gravely contradicts God's will, would in the ultimate case have to draw the conclusion, to no longer continue on the way with the Roman-Catholic Church. But I believe and hope that this ultimate case does not occur here.

I do not have to give interior assent to every decision of the Church, especially not in regard to disciplinary decisions, and I may honestly wish that the leadership of the Church would decide otherwise. But when the pope again and again – as in the case of the priestly ministry – gives clear guidelines and recalls the standing teaching, then the exhortation to disobedience in fact calls the ecclesial community into question. Ultimately every priest, and we ourselves must all decide whether or not we want to go the way with the pope, the bishop, and the universal Church. It is always difficulty to see one's own vision curtailed. But he who gives up the principle of obedience, dissolves unity.

In my pastoral letter I invited all to a common way together. I suggested a very concrete way: that we put mission in the first place, and direct everything to it, putting before all else the effort to become new and better disciples of Jesus. By this “the world” will recognize whether following Jesus is worth it, whether being the Church of Jesus Christ really brings something salvific. All efforts at structural reform have to be seen from this perspective.

I do not consider the “call to disobedience” to be a helpful step. I will at the next opportunity talk with the representatives of the “pastors' initiative”. I will particularly point out some inconsistencies in their “program of disobedience”, such as the formulation “priestless celebration of the Eucharist” or the disparaging remarks about the help of outside priests as “liturgical tours”. Only a style that is marked by mutual esteem helps us further along, as we had the happiness of experiencing in the three diocese assemblies.

In not long I will have been a bishop for 20 years. The bishop is at the service of unity, for his own diocese and with the pope and the universal Church. I perform this service with joy. I experience much that is beautiful, but also some painful wounds to unity. The “call to disobedience” is among these wounds. I call to unity, for which Jesus prayed to the Father (cf. John 17:21) and for which he give his life. May he help me in my service of preserving the bond of unity in love and true.

I wish you all a blessed summer time.


+ Christoph Cardinal Schönborn