Vatican faces revolt among Austrian flock

Third of churchgoers sign petition for women's ordination and an end to priestly celibacy

ANDREW BROWN

Religious Affairs Correspondent

The crisis in the Catholic Church in Austria will intensify today when the organisers of a petition in favour of women priests will announce that more than 400,000 people have signed it. That figure, equivalent to every third Mass-attending Catholic, represents an extraordinary rebellion by the laity in a traditionally conservative country.

The petition also calls for an end to compulsory priestly celibacy; a more relaxed attitude to questions of sexual discipline, including birth control and the acceptance of divorced and remarried people; and a greater local voice in the appointment of bishops.

A leading conservative bishop, Karl Krenn of St Poelten, further inflamed opinion last week when he compared those who signed the petition in favour of Church democracy to the Austrians who voted for union with Hitler's Germany in the referendum of 1938. It was immediately pointed out that the Catholic bishops of the day had unanimously and publicly urged their countrymen to vote for Hitler when they had the chance. Bishop Krenn has been attacked by fellow bishops and by the opposition Green Party, which has urged the Vatican to sack him.

Bishop Krenn is now one of the chief targets of the rebellion, but the crisis was started by another Vatican appointee, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Hans Hermann Groer.

Cardinal Groer was accused before Easter by former seminarians of sexually abusing them when they were in his care. He has refused to respond to these allegations at all. His silence has puzzled some church members and enraged many. The signals from the Vatican have been confusing: a coadjutor bishop with the right of succession to Cardinal Groer has been appointed, but the Cardinal appears to remain in good odour. He accompanied Pope John Paul II on his visit to Slovakia which ended yesterday.

The organisers of the petition in Austria had hoped for 100,000 signatures. It has been displayed outside churches in sympathetic dioceses (it is banned in Bishop Krenn's) for the past four weeks. Some newspapers have also offered readers a chance to write in, so supporters of the petition point out that not all who signed it will be devout Catholics. But they believe that about 95 per cent of the signatories are.

"There were all these little old women coming out of the churches saying they would never vote for women priests, but as the weeks went by and the silence from the Vatican went on and on, they just got angrier and angrier and finally they did sign up for women priests along with all the other things they really wanted," said one Catholic observer of the process.

Rumours that the Vatican will intervene decisively continue. A leading Austrian theologian, Professor Paul Zulehner, told Austrian radio yesterday that the Vatican was planning to remove both bishop Krenn and Archbishop Groer in the near future.

A lighter touch was added by Fr Leonhad Lechner, the parish priest of Schieblingkirchen, who told his congregation on Sunday that he was resigning to live with his mistress. "Celibacy was no longer a form of life which could keep him happy," according to a church source.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £15864.28 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Re...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Day In a Page

Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

Malaysian munchies

With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
10 best festival beauty

Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

A Different League

Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

Steve Bunce on Boxing

Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf