The Rev. Helmut Schuller is founder of the Austrian Priests initiative, which is openly challenging the hierarchy on women's ordination, same-sex marriage and the role of the laity. RNS photo by Kevin Eckstrom

Reformist priest sees potential ally in Pope Francis

The Rev. Helmut Schuller is founder of the Austrian Priests initiative, which is openly challenging the hierarchy on women's ordination, same-sex marriage and the role of the laity. RNS photo by Kevin Eckstrom

The Rev. Helmut Schuller is founder of the Austrian Priests' Initiative, which is openly challenging the hierarchy on women's ordination, same-sex marriage and the role of the laity. RNS photo by Kevin Eckstrom

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WASHINGTON (RNS) An Austrian priest who's been banned from speaking at Roman Catholic churches during his three-week U.S. tour said Pope Francis could be an ally in reforming the Catholic Church, but said it will take more than the pope to open the priesthood to married men and women.

The Rev. Helmut Schuller, founder of the Austrian Priests' Initiative, has been drawing crowds of several hundred people with his call for greater participation from the church's lay "citizens" and a married priesthood.

"We are trying to open the church to a real approach to modern society," Schuller said Monday (July 22) in a speech at the National Press Club. "There are a lot of questions to our church in these times, and the answers are really old-fashioned."

Schuller is the key organizer behind a group of about 430 Austrian priests who are openly challenging the hierarchy on allowing women priests, married priests, same-sex marriages and lay Catholics' voice in the election of bishops.

His message has been warmly received by 10 progressive Catholics groups that are sponsoring his 15-city tour, but not from U.S. bishops. Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley flatly forbade Schuller from speaking on church property; instead, a Unitarian church was packed with a crowd of more than 600 that spilled out onto the church lawn.

Schuller, 60, is a priest in good standing in the Archdiocese of Vienna, even though he was stripped of his title of monsignor and has what he called a "complex" relationship with Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn. He's been told, because of his activities, not to expect a promotion.

Schuller's group has issued a seven-point "Appeal to Disobedience" that, among other things, calls for allowing lay Catholics (including women) to preach and opening Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics. "Silent obedience" to the current rules, he said, is not an option.

Schuller also downplayed the idea of convening a Third Vatican Council to update the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council from the 1960s. The current hierarchy is too conservative, he said, to usher in the change that's needed.

"Church leaders, when they're not accountable to the people of God, can do with the results of a council whatever they want," he said.

Schuller said he's optimistic that Pope Francis' calls for a "poor church, for the poor" can tame the church's sprawling bureaucracy and shift its priorities outward. He also takes heart that Francis seems to favor talking to his flock "on one level, eye to eye, face to face."

"We are waiting, he has to have enough time," Schuller said. "It's not a job for two days, and it would not be enough for us to have a friendly face for the same old system."

While he would love to have the ear of U.S. bishops on his American tour, he's more concerned about reaching rank-and-file priests and laity, whom he calls the "citizens" of the church.

"To forbid the people from listening, I think, is the real scandal."


  1. Fr, Schuller Continues the Reforms of Vienna Cardinal Koenig and Vatican II:

    Fr. Schuller is no common Catholic priest. He had in effect been no. 2 in the very influential Archdiocese of Vienna and before that was head of Austria’s main social services organization. His gentle and humble style masks a firm but fair person, as I observed firsthand in his NYC conversation last week.

    Fr. Schuller spent most of his life under Vienna’s Cardinal Koenig, a progressive power at Vatican II and for decades thereafter. Koenig worked closely with prominent Jesuit, Karl Rahner, and Jesuit educated, Hans Kung.

    John Paul II checked Koenig by appointing, against Koenig’s will, Cardinal Groer as his successor. Groer then retired in disgrace amidst many allegations of sexually abusing numerous seminarians, among others.

    Fr. Schuller is getting Cardinal Koenig’s and Vatican II’s reform trajectory back on track, despite the efforts of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Cardinals Ottaviani and Sodano, et al. to derail it for five decades.

    Koenig also opposed Paul VI’s ban on contraception, a currently pressing issue in light, among other developments, of (1) the US bishops’ contrived neo-con crusade against President Obama’s contraception insurance regulations, (2) the Philippine Supreme Court’s new decision at the local bishops’ (and the Vatican’s) urging that prohibits accessible contraception for a beleagured populace that voted overwhelming for accessible contraception, and (3) Pope Francis’ visit to Brazil, where women commonly still have a dozen pregnancies.

    Pope Francis will soon have to decide if he will follow progressive Jesuits or Curial crooks.

    Regardless of Francis’ decision, the Church will be changed for the better, thanks to the likes of Fr. Schuller and the criminal investigations like those ongoing now in Australia. May the US, God willing, have a similar national investigation soon! The Vatican’s monarchical honeymoon will end, sooner rather than later. Amen!

    What was most refreshing about Fr. Schuller was that he was a hierarch who was not afraid to take any question and try to respond honestly in light of the Gospels. I thought such hierachs were all extinct!

    Thank God for Fr. Schuller and those who emulate him!

  2. Hopefully, our spiritual leaders will actively speak out for the billions of God’s creatures we routinely abuse for our appetites. Someday, God will hold us accountable for every one as Scripture states.
    We see fur coats going up for communion (representing vanity, greed and indifference to fur farm animals in raised in tiny cages and dying a cruel death, we support factory farms where billions of animals suffer daily for our gluttony and indifference to God’s compassion and mandate for us to be their good stewards. Priests support bull fighting (bull torturing) because they feel it is a good reason to keep false tradition in Catholic countries going. No one speaks out except one Priest in NY (his video is on our website). It is a sin how indifferent our Catholic spiritual leaders are. One Pope spoke out against bullfighting in the 15th Century saying how detrimental even going to watch it affected our soul. Our treatment and views of God’s creatures affects and reflects our relationship to God, THEIR CREATOR. Where are God’s leaders?
    All of God’s leaders in the Bible were kind to animals. Hunters were not of God’s chosen. We’ve come a long way, in the wrong direction! Who has the courage to speak out for the voiceless?

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