Statement of the Pastors’ Initiative Austria on the “Instruction on the Pastoral Conversion of Parishes at the Service of missionary mission of the Church”

Statement of the Pastors’ Initiative Austria

on the “Instruction on the Pastoral Conversion of Parishes at the Service of missionary mission of the Church” of the Roman Dicastery for the clergy.


The Instruction offers only a rudimentary analysis of the changed social and church situation, in order then to demand canonical regulations, which already at the time of their adoption 40 years ago were no longer up to date and in part have lagged behind Vatican II. With missionary zeal it is underlined that parish councils only have an advisory function, that all unordained persons are forbidden to preach during the celebration of Mass and a collegial leadership of priests and laypersons is forbidden.

If we were to lead our parishes with this exhorted monarchical clericalism we would be losing those Christians who are jointly responsible and who are the salt and the light of a parish that is turned towards the people. The Instruction conjures up a situation in which bishops and priests, out of pastoral need, are driven to “insubordination”. So the letter is based on not taking the situation seriously and dividing the bishops, priests and parishes.

The great illusion of the Instruction is to think that the Church can speak of a missionary approach today, without, as church leadership themselves accepting the fundamental values of modern society and of the Gospel, such as participation and the equal dignity of every person to realise themselves. (cf. Letter to the Galatians 3:26: For all of you through faith are sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus). We also see that through the exaltation of the priesthood that God, Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit are pushed out of the centre of church life.

Pope Francis has called for a more synodal Church with more decentralized structures. This instruction from church headquarters should be hit on the head by the Austrian bishops and the diocesan bodies in their efforts to constructively address the shortage of priests. Therefore, our hope is that they will find suggestions and new regional regulations, as to how the ministry of the baptized and the ministry of the priest can better work together. This also includes courageous suggestions to Rome for a renewed ministry in the Church, which is open for women and men, married and celibate.

The Board of the Pastors’ Initiative Austria

Translated by Colm Holmes from the original in German

Marschallplatz 6
1120 Wien

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  1. Roy Donovan says:

    It is obvious that those who put this Instruction together are seriously out of touch and living in a bubble. It feels like a last ‘hurrah’ to hold on to a celibate male priesthood at all costs. They don’t seem capable of dialogue, listening and learning. It’s all on their terms. This instruction poses a more serious question – can the Curia and the Vatican really be reformed? Maybe they have to be dismantled completely.

  2. Mary Vallely says:

    Thank God there is now an increasing awareness of the shameful history of how we have treated people whose skin colour was other than white and of how women were dismissed and denied opportunities to reach their full potential and of how painfully slow we have been to accept that there are different sexual orientations, and that these are perfectly normal. We are slow learners.

    However there is no equality in the Church. All men are not equal and ordained celibate men are much more equal than others. Women are merely a PR exercise as in the recent appointment by Pope Francis of a few women to help oversee the incredibly messy Vatican finances.

    You are a brave man, Roy Donovan, to even suggest that the Curia and the Vatican may be beyond reforming. I am beginning to agree with you. That is easier for me to declare as I have absolutely nothing to lose being non ordained and a woman but you are one courageous and honest priest to give voice to that thought. ( and thank you, Colm Holmes for the translation above.)

    The fundamental fact on which Christianity is founded is that all persons are created equal and are to be treated as such. This basic premise of equality before God is not accepted by the Magisterium and until that fact is accepted by each of the ordained and is followed through in all aspects of the Church’s life then the RCC is a failed entity. It is a false Church claiming to be something it isn’t. That hurts for me to write as I am still a member but wonder daily if I am just enabling discrimination and inequalities to continue never mind corruption and hypocrisy. Sure we are all human but an institution that does not allow transparency and full accountability and fora for discussion needs to be challenged.
    “For all of you through faith are sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus.”

  3. Eugene Sheehan says:

    To coin a phrase from former British Labour MP, Denis Healy, when referring to the Thatcher government, this Church “is not rotten TO the core – it is rotten FROM the core!”

  4. Phil Dunne says:

    I agree with Roy Donovan except for his use of the word maybe in speaking of The Vatican and The Curia. There is no maybe in my opinion, both need to be dismantled completely

  5. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Colm –
    Thanks for the translation.
    Can you give the direct link to the original document in German? I don’t see it on the home page of Pfarrer-initiative to which you give a link.

  6. Sean O'Conaill says:

    So much is revealed by the continuing failure to recognise the principle of the primacy of conscience – even though this failure was revealed as of huge danger in the deference to clergy that was indicted in the Ryan report of 2009 – as a major cause of the failure of the Irish Department of Education in relation to the 20th C. residential institutions.

    When it is implied in all of the Irish church’s output on conscience that only bishops can form conscience it is obviously still deference that is being called for as the sine qua non of Catholic loyalty.

    Does anyone know of any Irish bishop holding an open diocesan discussion with his people on deference and how it differs from both due respect to clergy and true loyalty to the church – in the wake of the Ryan report of 2009 or indeed any time subsequently? Even in the critical context of child safeguarding?

    Bishop Unaccountability = Unending Scandal. But when will they ever learn? There seems to be some kind of connection between ordination to bishop and historical oblivion.

  7. Phil Greene says:

    “Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”

    ― Barack Obama

    An article some years ago about Blind optimism in Finance that can be applied to any circumstance – and scroll down to “choose honesty”

  8. Colm Holmes says:

    @5 Pádraig McCarthy
    This is the original which I received by email. I also could not find it on their website which has not been updated for a while.
    Herzliche Grüsse,

    Stellungnahme der Pfarrer-Initiative Österreich
    zur “Instruktion zur pastoralen Umkehr der Pfarrgemeinden im Dienst an der missionarischen Sendung der Kirche” des römischen Dikasteriums für den Klerus.

    Die Instruktion bietet nur in Ansätzen eine Analyse der geänderten gesellschaftlichen und kirchlichen Situation, um dann kirchenrechtliche Regelungen einzufordern, die schon zur Zeit der Verabschiedung vor 40 Jahren nicht mehr auf der Höhe der Zeit waren und zum Teil hinter dem II. Vatikanische Konzil zurückgeblieben sind. Mit missionarischem Eifer wird eingeschärft, dass die Pfarrgemeinderäte nur beratenden Funktion hätten, allen Nichtgeweihten das Predigen bei der Messfeier sowie eine kollegiale Leitung von Priestern und Laien verboten sei.

    Würden wir unsere Pfarrgemeinden mit diesem angemahnten monarchischen Klerikalismus leiten, verlören wir gerade jene mitverantwortlichen Christinnen und Christen, die das Salz und das Licht einer den Menschen zugewandten Pfarrgemeinde sind. Die Instruktion beschwört eine Situation herauf, in der Bischöfe und Priester aus pastoraler Not zum „Ungehorsam“ getrieben werden. So ist das Schreiben dazu angetan auf Grund des nicht
    Ernstnehmens der Situation die Bischöfe, Priester und Pfarrgemeinden zu spalten.

    Die große Illusion der Instruktion ist es zu meinen, die Kirche könne die Menschen von heute missionarisch ansprechen, ohne als Kirchenleitung die grundlegende Werte der modernen Gesellschaft und des Evangeliums, wie Partizipation und die gleiche Würde jeder Person, selbst zu verwirklichen. (Vgl. Brief an die Galater 3,26: Denn alle seid ihr durch den Glauben Söhne und Töchter Gottes in Christus Jesus). Wir sehen auch, dass durch die Überhöhung des Priesteramtes Gott selbst, Jesus Christus und dem Wirken des Geistes aus der Mitte des kirchlichen Lebens gedrängt werden.

    Papst Franziskus hat eine synodalere Kirche mit dezentraleren Strukturen angemahnt. Diese Instruktion aus der Kirchenzentrale aber dürfte auch die österreichischen Bischöfe und die diözesanen Gremien in ihren Bemühungen, auf den Priestermangel konstruktiv zu reagieren, vor den Kopf stoßen. Deshalb richtet sich unsere Hoffnung darauf, dass sie Anregungen und neue regionale Regelungen finden, wie der Dienst der Taufberufenen und
    das Dienstamt des Priesters besser zusammengeführt werden können. Dazu gehören auch mutige Eingaben nach Rom für ein erneuertes Amt in der Kirche, das für Frauen und Männer, Verheiratet und Zölibatäre geöffnet wird.

    Der Vorstand der Pfarrer-Initiative Österreich

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    This response is from pastors working at the coalface who, by definition, know much more about the parish and its problems than the Vatican bureaucrats do. The unidirectional non-dialogical mode of communication that the Vatican seems unable to throw off is a bane of church life, and can only be corrected if the faithful write back. We see in the USA how catastrophically mismanaged a great country can be, even with all its democratic checks and balances. How much more is this the case with a great church where such checks and balances do not exist. Complacent authoritarianism is clearly a suicidal policy, but it is still the dominant attitude of the Vatican. The Vatican has fundamentally discouraged for many, many years any initiative or dialogue or thought or practical innovation coming from “below” and in doing so has disheartened huge numbers of Catholics and robbed them of motivation. The synods of bishops only slightly palliate this dysfunctional and paralyzed situation. What Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich called the “sleeping giant” (the laity) is still sleeping, narcotized by clericalism, and all the latent creative forces of the church worldwide are spectacularly underused. Hence the derisory presence of Catholicism in the culture and thought of the modern world, in contrast to the huge presence of Judaism despite vastly smaller numbers.

  10. Eddie Finnegan says:


    No doubt Roy Donovan@1 is spot on on the need to prick the bubbles in which Curia & Vatican exist, and indeed on the probable irreformability of the miasma from which such bubbles of bad air still regularly arise. Preferable, perhaps, to let the better placed Pfarrer-Initiative attend to draining the Roman swamp while ACP reformers continue to prick bubbles from stagnant bogholes of the home patch.

    You must have noticed that 2020 is the Irish Catholic Church’s Year of Peak-Episcopacy while inching towards a Priestly-Nadir of ‘Lower Clergy’. I owe this intelligence to Sarah Mac Donald in Tuesday’s Independent who in turn was alerted to this goal’s attainment by Fr Paddy Byrne who, btw, at 46 must be wondering what he’s done wrong as he sees his K&L near-contemporary, Paul Dempsey, being turned and mitred for the cathedra of Achonry less than a fortnight from now. Anyway, there’s clearly no Vocations or Ordinations Crisis despite what you may have been told. It’s just that they’re ordaining, maybe, thrice as many bishops as priests these times.

    Peak-Episcopacy should not, of course, be confused with peak efficiency. The mills of God, and Nuncio Okolo, grind slow but they grind exceeding fine. It may well be that those of you who live to celebrate the millennium of Rathbreasail’s Synod in 2111 will finally see those 26 Irish dioceses recycled and retooled as a mere 10 or 12. In my more crazy dreams I imagine that’s what +Jude Thaddeus and some Curial bubble may have in mind for Armagh & Dromore, but then I wake up and wonder what’s +Michael Router really for? Does Michael know? Does Eamon know? And why do those other contiguous borderland entities, Clogher & Kilmore, need two new bishops? But the Nuncio assured us eighteen months ago that the great rationalisation is already in train. May we hope for a full report from the ACP’s Correspondent at the Rathbreasail Millennial Celebration 91 years from now? – always supposing that he or she can find where Rathbreasail actually was. Like Hy Breasail, it may have been a myth.

  11. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Thanks Joe for the link. I read the Fr Paddy Byrne story in a hard copy of the Independent, so I couldn’t share it. It seems Sean O’Conaill and Paddy Ferry prefer to read Sarah Mac Donald in the Tablet than Sarah Mac Donald in the I.Independent. Oh well, they miss our acute observations and allow the Tablet to confuse them !

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