DAILY CATHOLIC     TUESDAY     June 23, 1998     vol. 9, no. 121

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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          How can the Church in Austria emerge from the current crisis-- a crisis brought on by widespread theological dissent, and aggravated by the sex-abuse scandal that brought down Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer? That question provided the main theme of the three-day trip to Austria by Pope John Paul II.

          The Holy Father pointed to the example of three Catholic heroes-- Fathers Jacob Kern and Anton Marie Schwartz, and Sister Restituta Kafka-- whose beatification he celebrated during the trip. These three newly beatified Austrians, he said, dramatically illustrate how true Christian witness differs from the example of those who are "Christians of pure convention."

          The credibility of the Christian message depends on the credibility of witnesses, the Pope said. "The new evangelization begins with us, and with our way of life," he said. "Despite the failings and shadows, there are always within the Church men and women whose lives shed new light on the credibility of the Gospel." He pointed in particular to Blessed Restituta Kafka, who was imprisoned and finally executed by the Nazi regime because she replace the crucifix mounted in each room of her hospital with pictures of Adolph Hitler; she explained that Jesus was her only "Fuhrer."

          After the public ceremony, the Pope had lunch with the Austrian bishops, and left them a message calling for unity. Saying that "episcopal authority may weigh heavily on your shoulders" during the present crisis, the Holy Father encouraged the bishops to remember that "you are not alone." Solidarity among the Austrian bishops, he said, should feed that sense that every bishop has the support of the universal Church.

          The Pope encouraged his brother bishops to enter into dialogue with dissident Catholics, but cautioned that "dialogue in the Church is never a matter simply of opening toward the world, nor superficial adaptation..." The process of dialogue cannot be pursued along "a horizontal dimension," he said; it must also involve the "vertical dimension, which leads to the Savior of the world."

          The Pope also issued a call for the European Union to admit the nations of Eastern Europe. That move would involve some sacrifices, the Holy Father conceded, but it might allay some of the skepticism and frustration that now inhibits the true unity of Europe.

          Any European Union, the Pope added, must be built on respect for human life in all of its forms. He said that "on of the goals of my pontificate" is the creation of a "culture of life" in opposition to "the culture of death" which is gaining influence around the world. He cited the legalization of abortion as the primary evidence that the "culture of death" is advancing.

          Despite predictions of a major confrontation, the Pope did not encounter many protesters when he traveled to Sankt Polten on Sunday. Only a few dozen protesters were on hand to express their dissatisfaction with the local Bishop Kurt Krenn, who has been one of the last public supporters of Cardinal Groer.

          The Holy Father did not dodge the protest, however. In his homily he encouraged the Catholics of Austria to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Rather than lament the shortage of priestly and religious vocations, he told them, they should pray that God would open the hearts of more young people to receive such vocations-- since the call to priestly or religious life can only come from God, not from any human programs.

          Too many Catholics have lost a clear sense of God the Father, the Pope said. He urged the Austrians to "teach the alphabet of the faith." In a press conference held on the day of the Pope's arrival, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna cautioned reporters against the belief that the current crisis exhausts all news about the Church in Austria. "The church is a community of sinners, which invites us to conversion, and in the Church our faith allows us to overcome our problems," he said. Acknowledging that the Groer affair had opened serious wounds, he nevertheless said that those wounds would eventually heal.

          Cardinal Schoenborn also elaborated on his relationship with Dialogue for Austria, a dissident Catholic group. He said that he planned to engage in dialogue with the group, which has collected thousands of signatures on petitions calling for changes in Church policy. But he also observed that the Church does not function on the basis of majority vote.

          In Austria, the cardinal said, the crisis has given the Church "the advantage of honesty"-- that is, disagreements are not being ignored or papered over. He added that the continuing devotion of many Austrians is evident in the fact that 17 percent of all Catholics attend Mass every Sunday, while 80 percent come to the Church for baptism, marriage, and burial.

          While saying that the Pope was "very happy" with the results of his trip, and that he had advanced the discussion among Austrian Catholics, spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls recognized that attendance at the papal ceremonies was somewhat disappointing. Church officials estimated the crowd for Sunday's beatifications at 30,000; police estimates gave a figure of only 15,000.

          The papal visit did not meet with the same clear success that John Paul has enjoyed on some other recent visits, such as his trip to Cuba early this year. On the other hand, Navarro-Valls noted that the protests which the Pope had encountered were relatively mild. They did not surprise the Holy Father, he said, since "he knows the situation in this country quite well." In fact the protesters represented only 2 or 3 percent of the population, he said.

Articles provided through Catholic World News Service.
CWN is not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provides this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

June 23, 1998       volume 9, no. 121


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