From ........ Religion Watch

October 1995


A dissenting movement is growing in European Catholicism that was ignited by Austrian Catholics demanding liberalization in the church, according to the Washington Post [September 13]. Although there have long been groups dissenting from official Catholic teachings, the dissenting movement gained momentum in Austria last spring following a scandal over allegations that Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, archbishop of Vienna, was involved in pedophilia at a Catholic school 20 years ago. Groer subsequently resigned, but not before a movement called the 'People of the Church' was formed by a few priests and high school religion teachers.

The movement -- which is based in the ski resort of Innsbruck -- circulated a petition throughout Austria calling for such reforms as women's ordination, local elections of bishops, and optional celibacy for priests. By the end of June, the drive had collected 505,154 signatures -- five times the hoped-for number. In a country of 8 million where only 17 percent regularly attend Mass, this turnout was seen as an affirmation of the movement's agenda, reports John Pomfret.

The 'People of the Church' movement is now spreading to Germany, Slovenia and Switzerland. Although observers doubt that the movement will have much chance of changing church teachings, Austrian church leaders are paying attention to the protests. Nearly all of the Austrian bishops have agreed to engage in dialogue with the 'People of the Church' movement. One holdout, Bishop Andrea Laun of Salzburg -- one of the youngest Catholic bishops in the country -- said that those who cannot follow Catholic teachings should be purged from the church.

The issue in the controversy in Austria is about money and international influence as much as theology. Catholics in Austria pay about $400 million yearly in taxes to the church. One reason why the new dissenting movement is spreading in German speaking and German influenced countries is because "Our way of thinking is that we want to make things clear. Catholics in Italy and France have the same problems, but there people nod and wink and get on with things. Here we want the rules and our lives to be the same," says one Austrian journalist.

European Catholic theology is also feeling the winds of dissent and unrest, according to a report in the Jesuit magazine America [September 30]. There is a "pervasive sense of darkness hovering over European theology at the present moment, reflective perhaps of the discouragement following the collapse of Communism and the outbreak of war in Bosnia," writes Paul G. Crowley who attended the recent congress of the European Society for Catholic Theology held in Germany. Crowley finds that much of the pessimism among European Catholic theologians is due to the "long shadow of Rome," as the Vatican continues to attempt to uproot theological dissent and promote orthodoxy.

Many such liberal Catholic theologians feel a "resentment toward current Roman rule," especially fueled by the Austrian Catholic protests and the "suppression of several theologians" by the Vatican. Crowley adds that the European Catholic theologians at the congress showed little interest and understanding about North American theological trends and its major figures. "This is especially true in the area of feminist theology.

While Western Europe has produced its own crop of feminist theology, there seems to be little acquaintance with the massive body of feminist theology that has emerged in the United States in recent years."

[ America 106, W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019]


Religion Watch

P.O. Box 652

North Bellmore, N.Y. 11710