VIENNA (CWN) - The retired bishop of Innsbruck sent a private letter virulently attacking a new Vatican document to his brother bishops in Austria last week, and the missive was then leaked to the media where it was widely published.

      Bishop Reinhold Stecher took issue with a new document that reaffirms the separate roles of clergy and lay workers, defining areas where laity have usurped clerical duties. Bishop Stecher charged that the decree is limited to the defense of "clerical authority, splendor, and professional rights." He also criticized the Church hierarchy for its lack of leadership. "The truly dismaying aspect of all of this ... involves the astonishing theological and pastoral inadequacy of current Church leadership," he said. Addressing the specific directives of the Vatican decree, the bishop said the decreasing numbers of priests requires the laity to play an increasing role in the Church, including preaching homilies during Communion services and administering sacraments such as the Anointing of the Sick.

      Bishop Stecher also singled out Pope John Paul for criticism, saying the Holy Father should be criticized for failing to welcome home priests who have abandoned their vows to be married. He added that the Pontiff has shown a lack of mercy and forgiveness. "All of those who emphasize their love for the Pope and let themselves be praised for their loyalty to the Pope," he said, "should they not be terrified by the words of the Judge of the Worlds when a Pope dies with thousands of rejected applications and petitions for reconciliation?"

      The bishop's letter was obtained by Austrian state television ORF and made public last Friday. Bishop Stecher said the communication was not meant to be made public, but that he stands by his statements. The Holy Father is due to visit Austria next June.

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December 22, 1997 volume 8, no. 57          DAILY CATHOLIC