Austrian priests critical of Rome, want marriage allowed

June 29, 2010

The Catholic Church is stuck in the past and has handled the recent sexual abuse scandal poorly, according to a rare survey of 500 priests in Austria, which also showed a majority in favour of allowing them to marry and for women to become priests.

Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn was rebuked by the Vatican on Monday for accusing a top official of covering up sexual abuse, but it appears he is not the only Austrian to question how Rome has handled the issue.

Only 21 percent of Austrian priests think that the Vatican has done a good job in terms of dealing with the problem, the survey by researcher GFK Austria showed. Around half said they were at odds with many aspects of the Catholic leadership, and 48 percent agreed with a statement that the church leadership was “helpless” and “lacking vision.”

(Photo: Pope Benedict at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna on 9 Sept 2007/Miro Kuzmanovic)

The sexual abuse crisis has hit the United States and several European countries, including the pope’s native Germany. Five bishops in Europe have resigned — one has admitted sexual abuse, another is under investigation and three have stepped down over their handling of abuse cases.

It has also sparked a debate about celibacy of priests, a practice which dates back to the 12th century and which the pope has said must continue, warning that the Church must not succumb to “passing cultural fashions.”

Several senior prelates in German- speaking countries, including Schoenborn, have suggested a link between abuse and the priest’s vow of chastity and have called for more open discussion in the Church about celibacy and priests’ sexuality.

The Austrian survey, commissioned by state broadcaster ORF and published in daily Die Presse, showed nearly two-thirds were in favour of priests being allowed to marry and 40 percent said being able to father children could be a positive experience for a priest.

Just over half were also in favour of allowing women to become priests.

“The Church must take this dialogue seriously,” Catholic theologian Paul Zulehner said. He said if the Church ignored such trends, its leadership risked being out of touch.

“We must take the debate with the modern world, with modern culture, more seriously. At a time when the Church needs to be open…it cannot retreat into an outdated isolation,” he added.

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