It’s time for the bishops and the ACP to talk
The Austrian bishops, led by Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna, recently went on their ‘ad limina’ visit to the Vatican, where they had what sounds like a fascinating discussion with Pope Francis. They brought with them the results of the Vatican survey, which they had taken very seriously and about which they had consulted widely. Among other findings was that 95% of Austrian Catholics believe that people who are divorced and remarried should be admitted to the sacraments. They seem to have had no fear bringing such findings to Rome, and neither was Francis shocked by them. Schonborn says that he responded by saying: “Don’t judge, but look closely and listen very carefully,”
In an interview afterwards, Schönborn said he regretted that the Austrian bishops haven’t dared to speak out openly on necessary church reforms in the past. They haven’t had the courage to address the need for greater decentralization and to strengthen local churches’ responsibilities, he said. “We were far too hesitant. I beat my own breast here. We certainly lacked the courage to speak out openly.”
The Austrian Priests Initiative, led by Helmut Schuller, has been the most outspoken and radical of the various priests’ movements around the world, much more so than the ACP here in Ireland. The Austrian bishops also discussed with the pope the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, which has called for the ordination of married men and women, and their “Call to Disobedience,” Schönborn said. The pope advised them that the most important thing for bishops is always to be in close contact with their priests, the cardinal said.
The message is obvious. Francis was telling the Austrian bishops to speak to their priests, to discuss the issues and concerns with them.
We here in Ireland, members of the ACP, have been consistently looking for some real discussion with our bishops ever since our beginning over three years ago, but without success. Clearly now there is a new reality. Pope Francis wishes real discussion and listening to go on at all levels in the Church. So it is now time for our bishops to sit down with us, the ACP, and for all of us to begin to talk openly and fearlessly with each other. The days of fear, of secrecy, of oppression are happily in the past. Beginning with a dialogue between bishops and priests, it can be broadened to include all the faithful, and with no topic of concern being excluded from the discussion.
This is a time of grace, a time of opportunity in our Church. It is undoubtedly the work of the Spirit. If we fail to respond I believe we will be guilty of a great sin. So let the talk begin. There is no time to lose.