Vatican Diary / Priests against celibacy. Austria's rerun
The first wave of disobedience among the clergy was a century ago. Rome reacted with a crackdown, and it all finished with a little schism. Cardinal Brandmüller (photo) is proposing that the same thing be done today, against the new rebels
VATICAN CITY, March 20, 2012 – "How a schism was born": this is the title of an article that appeared recently in "L'Osservatore Romano" with the byline of the Bavarian cardinal Walter Brandmüller. An article with an historical slant, but with explicit references to current events.
An article that from the very beginning recalls the anti-Roman movement "Los von Rom" that emerged in Austria between the 19th and 20th century, which "was able to drive about a hundred thousand Austrian Catholics to separate from the Church."
This movement – the cardinal continues, coming up to the present – "was revived following Vatican Council II." But not only that. "Similar tendencies seem to be reemerging from time to time in our days as well, in some of the appeals for disobedience toward the pope and the bishops.."
The cardinal is clearly referring to what is happening in Vienna and the surrounding area with the "Pfarrer Initiative" organized in 2006 by Monsignor Helmut Schüller – until 1999 the vicar general of Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn in the Austrian capital, and the former president of the national branch of Caritas – that has among its defining objectives the abolition of celibacy and the reintegration into the exercise of the priesthood of "married" and cohabiting priests.
This movement is supported by more than 400 priests and deacons, and has launched an open "Call for disobedience" toward Rome, intended to be expanded beyond the Austrian borders, creating an international network. It has already been joined by fringes of the clergy in Germany, France, Slovakia, the United States, Australia. Last October, Schüller himself went to Ireland to make converts.
The initiative is being followed in the Vatican with a good deal of apprehension, so much so that it was the topic of a private meeting last January 23 between representatives of the Austrian bishops and the leaders of the most important Vatican dicasteries. The Austrian attendees at the meeting, which took place in the building of the Holy Office, were Cardinal Schönborn, Salzburg archbishop Alois Kothgasser, the bishops of Graz and Sankt Polten, Egon Kapellari and Klaus Küng. While for the Vatican there were, among others, the cardinal prefects of the congregations for the doctrine of the faith, William J. Levada, for bishops, Marc Ouellet, and for the clergy, Mauro Piacenza.
Cardinal Schönborn, together with other bishops, has firmly distanced himself from the "Pfarrer Initiative," criticizing both the form and the contents of the appeal. So far, however, he has not brought any canonical actions against it.
But let's get back to the article by Cardinal Brandmüller.
It further analyzes the schism that came to a head in Bohemia after the first world war, with the protest movement "Jednota." Which also had as its war horse "the abolition of the obligation of celibacy." And had as its leader Bohumil Zahradnik, "a priest and novelist who since 1908 had been living in an illegitimate marital relationship."
The schism led to the proclamation of a "Czechoslovakian Church" on January 8, 1920. But what interests the cardinal more is the analysis of how the Holy See led by Benedict XV reacted to that rebellion of the Bohemian clergy.
The main cause was identified in the "insufficient formation of the clergy in the preceding decades, from both the theological and spiritual point of view," which led to "a crisis that was shaking the Catholic faith to its foundations."
This was followed by the refusal, on the part of Rome, to placate the rebel priests with concessions. The Holy Office hit them "immediately" with excommunication, obtaining the full support of the bishops. And Benedict XV dispelled any illusion about a relaxation of the "sacrosanct and most beneficial" law of celibacy.
So in the end, the schism involved only a small fraction of Catholic Bohemians. The author of the article concludes: "this approach of the Holy See, not determined by political and pragmatic reflections, but only by the truth of the faith," showed itself to be "the only correct one" to follow.
Here ends the reflection by Brandmüller, who in "L'Osservatore Romano" is presented simply as "cardinal deacon of San Giuliano dei Fiamminghi" but is much more. An academic, he was for almost thirty years a professor of medieval and modern Church history at the University of Augsburg, and from 1998 to 2009 presided over the pontifical committee for historical sciences, which he joined in 1981, called to replace Hubert Jedin, the great historian of the Council of Trent who passed away the previous year.
Born in 1929, Brandmüller has always been greatly respected by fellow professor and fellow Bavarian Joseph Ratzinger, who after becoming Benedict XVI kept him on as head of the committee until he turned 80, and wanted to honor him with the office of cardinal at the consistory of November 20, 2010.
A great expert on the history of the councils, Brandmüller is not above academic controversy, as when with an article that appeared on July 13, 2007 in both "L'Osservatore Romano" and the newspaper of the Italian episcopal conference, "Avvenire," he made a radical critique of the work "Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Generaliumque Decreta" produced by the historiographical school of Bologna.
Nor is he above talking about today by referring to similarities with the past. As in the article in the Vatican newspaper of March 11, 2012, which is reproduced in its entirety below.
But as for the notion that in this case history can truly become "magistra vitae," and that Benedict XVI would like to repeat today – with regard to the "Pfarrer Initiative" and other movements of rebel priests – the steps taken by Benedict XVI almost a century ago, that is another story.
HOW A SCHISM WAS BORN
by Walter Brandmüller
"Without Judea, without Rome, let us build the German cathedral." This was the call of the movement of Sir Georg von Schönerer for separation from the Church of Rome, "Los von Rome," the birth of which in Austria straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This ideological reservoir was then drawn on by the national socialists.
At the time, in fact, the intense propaganda supported by the German Protestant Association "Gustaf Adolf Verein" was able to drive about a hundred thousand Austrian Catholics to separate from the Church over the span of almost a decade.
Half a century later, following Vatican Council II, this movement was revived. And similar tendencies seem to be reemerging from time to time in our days as well, in some of the appeals for disobedience toward the pope and the bishops.
[Further north,] it was the decline of the Hapsburg monarchy and the creation of the Republic of Czechoslovakia on October 28, 1918, that led to the explosion of tensions, already quite bitter for some time, among most of the Czech clergy with nationalist sympathies, in favor of emancipation from the detested Austrian rule of both state and Church.
Very soon a protest movement began to take shape, Jednota, an organization that had existed since 1890. In the beginning it was a revolt against the episcopate faithful to the Hapsburgs. It then aimed at the creation of "a democratized and nationalized Church independent from Rome" [according to Emilia Hrabovec in "Der Heilige Stuhl und die Slowakei 1918-1922 im Kontext internationaler Beziehungen," 2002]. To this was added a call for a liturgy in the national language, a simplification of the prayer of the breviary, and – above all – the abolition of the obligation of celibacy.
Because there was no Vatican representative in Prague yet, toward the end of February 1919 the nuncio in Vienna, Teodoro Valfrè di Bonzo, decided to go to Prague to assess the situation in person. Moreover, already before this, the irreproachable archbishop of Prague, the non-nativist count Pavel Huyn, had received instructions from the cardinal secretary of state, Pietro Gasparri, to leave his see and not go back. The decision had been made mostly for political reasons.
So the nuncio went to Prague, where he also met with the leaders of Jednota. He was presented with a list of requests drafted by Bohumil Zahradník, a priest and novelist who since 1908 had been living in an illegitimate marital relationship, and whom the government had called as head of the section for the Church and the ministry of education.
The requests concerned above all the abolition of the right of patronage of the aristocracy, the selection of the bishops on the part of the clergy and the people, financial support for the clergy, the use of the Czech language in the liturgy, the democratization of the ecclesiastical constitution, but above all, the abolition of celibacy and clerical dress.
As a matter of fact, with the end of the monarchy the right of patronage of the aristocracy had become obsolete, and the appointment of native Czech or Slovack bishops was certainly in line with the vision of Benedict XV.
The question of the language used in the liturgy could also be taken into consideration, while the financial situation of priests lay within the purview of Rome.
All of the rest, however, was incompatible with the faith and law of the Church. The nuncio had no room to negotiate. And thus the delegation from Jednota, which received government support and financing to go to Rome to be received by the pope, also had no success.
In any case, the appointment of highly respected Czech professor František Korda? as archbishop of Prague in September of 1919 was the answer to a justified expectation. Precisely here, however, the true face of the agitators was revealed: they were not interested simply in the appointment of a Czech as the head of the archdiocese of Prague – a request that was entirely licit and recognized by Rome – but also in having a bishop according to their desire and their ideas.
In fact, no sooner was it made public that the appointment had gone to Korda?, whose mentality was sincerely Czech but just as sincerely Catholic and faithful to the pope, then a wave of resentment rose up against him on the part of the reformists, who could count on the support of the secularist government.
The result of the expedition to Rome by the delegation from Jednota, seen by many as unsatisfactory, led to an ideological division among the clergy. The theological faculty of Charles University in Prague distanced itself from its dean, who had been part of the delegation.
Part of the clergy was radicalized, with the core made up of a group that called itself Ohnisko, focal point. Its members, well before the journey to Rome, were determined to put their requests for reform into practice even in the case of refusal on the part of the Holy See.
So in August of 1919 they urged priests to get married in public. One of the first to do so was the aforementioned Zaradník, who with a civil marriage did nothing but legalize a cohabitation that had been going on for years. Most of the priests who followed his example were given government jobs, and in September the nuncio in Vienna was sent twelve hundred requests for dispensations from celibacy on the part of priests.
Then, under the influence of a new anti-clerical government, came an even more severe radicalization of Jednota, whose leaders became bent on schism. "The question of celibacy showed itself once again to be one of the most powerful drivers of the schismatic movement" (Hrabovec). On January 8, 1920, the "Czechoslovakian Church" was proclaimed, and shortly afterward a "patriarch" was chosen for it in the person of the priest Karel Farský.
As shown by the census of 1921, 3.9 percent of Czechs belonged to this Church, while 76.3 percent remained faithful to the Catholic Church. Nine years later, 5.4 percent adhered to the schism, and 73.5 percent to the Catholic Church. Today, the community that calls itself the Czech-Hussite Church probably has about a hundred thousand members. These are the historical facts.
But now it must be asked how the Holy See reacted to these developments. It is interesting to observe that the first thing nuncio Valfré di Bonzo did was to look into the factors that had led to all of this.
The nuncio's analysis certainly did not stop at the superficial. Undoubtedly he also recognized to what extent the protest movement was due to the anti-Hapsburg and anti-Roman resentment in many Czech circles, fed by the glorification of Jan Hus as a symbol of the national uprising against Rome, and in what way it reflected the general tendencies of secularization in postwar society.
He identified the main causes of the estrangement of these priests, however, in the insufficient formation of the clergy in the preceding decades, from both the theological and spiritual point of view, which had led to the inability of many to resist the dominant nationalist and liberal ideas of progress.
From the contemporary point of view, it must be added that the ideas of "reformist" German Catholicism also had a certain influence. Moreover, the reform movement did not belong to professors or intellectuals, but to ordinary rural clergymen. The subsequent development of the national Czech Church also bears witness to the strong influence of modernism. Thus, for example, the catechism compiled by Karel Farský affirmed that Jesus was the son of God only in the sense in which all men are sons of God. Jesus was not God, but rather the greatest among the prophets.
It was easy to understand how the problem set down its roots more deeply and not only at the level of a few practical and disciplinary reforms. It is clear that most of the clergy were going through a crisis that was shaking the Catholic faith to its foundations. The 1922 Farský catechism confirmed this diagnosis.
In a word, the full gravity of the situation was understood in Rome. There was the serious danger of "a reshaping of the Catholic Church according to the presbyteral-synodal model, in a national ecclesiastical organization built from the bottom up, endowed with significant autonomy from Rome and ultimately subject to state sovereignty" (Hrabovec).
Against this backdrop, in view of the imminent arrival of the Jednota delegation in Rome, nuncio Valfrè di Bonzo had already advised cardinal secretary of state Gasparri to take an unmistakeable and determined attitude toward the Czech requests. He also maintained that the leaders of Jednota could not be won over with concessions, while yielding could only destabilize those who were still hesitating. One sensible gesture to meet them halfway was the definitive recall of the archbishop of Prague, Count Pavel Huyn, and of the bishops of Hungarian origin in the Slovak dioceses. But Rome had already decided to do this.
The rest of the requests from Jednota, in particular the abolition of the obligation of celibacy, allowed for nothing other than definitive rejection.
The recommendation of Valfré di Bonzo – which in reality wasn't even necessary – was embodied in the actions of the curia and the pope. Even before the point of schism was reached, on January 3, 1920 the pope had asked the new archbishop of Prague, Korda?, to convene immediately a conference of the bishops of the country that was to be presided over – health permitting – by the archbishop of Olomouc, Cardinal Leo Skrbensky.
In spite of the awareness that the agitators made up only a part of the clergy, it was known how much influence they had over the others. It therefore had to be evaluated whether the Jednota movement could be salvaged, or if it had to be dissolved. It is indicative of the attitude of the bishops that in the meantime they had already taken the initiative and had met in conference.
When – on January 8, 1920 – the schism took place, the Holy Office reacted immediately. With a decree of January 15, the "schismatica coalitio" was condemned without delay and hit with excommunication.
The priests who belonged to that schismatic Church, regardless of their position and dignity, were to be considered excommunicated "ipso facto." In keeping with canon 2384 of the "Codex Iuris Canonici," this excommunication was reserved to the Holy See "speciali modo." The bishops were asked to make this decree known to the faithful immediately, and to warn them against supporting the schism in any way.
Shortly afterward, the pope himself addressed Archbishop Korda? in a letter dated January 29, 1920, in which he expressed the highest satisfaction with the initiative of the Czech bishops, because of their unambiguous stance and their close ties with the Holy See. With appreciation, he took note of the dissolution of Jednota on the part of the bishops, and of its subdivision into diocesan associations under the authority and control of the local bishops.
Benedict XV emphasized in a very decisive way that no approval would ever be given to a relaxation of the law of celibacy, "qua ecclesia latina tamquam insigni ornamento laetatur." The pope then recalled with great esteem the bishops who had shown themselves equal to the challenge in that difficult situation.
Toward the end of that dramatic and disastrous year, Benedict XV revisited the topic once again, more specifically in a speech at the consistory of December 16. In that speech, the pope observed that so far not many had turned their backs on the Church, and that a much larger number of people, although tempted by the bad example, had remained faithful.
He recalled once again the subtleties of the arguments of the schismatics, who had spoken of certain procedural errors that had to be identified by Rome, and rejected as misguided the statements according to which Rome was thinking about mitigating the law on celibacy. According to the pope, it was unnecessary to explain how far that was from the truth. Instead, it was certain that the vitality and splendor of the Catholic Church owed much of its strength and glory to the celibacy of priests, which therefore had to be kept intact. This had never been as necessary as in those times of moral corruption and unbridled passions, in which the people had an urgent need for the good example of exemplary priests.
And Benedict XV continued: "We now reaffirm solemnly and formally what we have already had occasion to declare a number of times, and that is that never will this Apostolic See be induced not only to abolish, but even to mitigate, by attenuating it in part, the sacrosanct and most beneficial law of ecclesiastical celibacy."
The same applied to the modifications of the constitution of the Church. And with this, the Holy See had said the last word.
How serious the Holy See considered the situation is also demonstrated by the sending to Prague, in October of 1919, of the promising young monsignor Clemente Micara, before he was appointed nuncio in June of 1920.
He as well, like Valfrè di Bonzo before him, had long understood that the requests of the reformers had roots that went deeper than mere dissatisfaction with the situation of the Church. They were rather an expression of a crisis of faith that was becoming increasingly widespread, nothing less than a separatist movement.
They had also come to the same conclusion in Rome, as demonstrated by the clarity and decisiveness with which both the Holy Office and the pope himself responded to the Czech reformers. They had understood that these could no longer be won over by negotiation. The reformers had abandoned the foundations of the Catholic faith, and even of Christianity itself.
How this approach of the Holy See, not determined by political and pragmatic reflections but only by the truth of the faith, was the only correct one, is demonstrated not only by the census numbers already cited, but also by mass demonstration of hundreds of thousands of people during the consecration, on April 3, 1921, of the new archbishop of Olomouc, Antonín Cyril Stojan, which turned into an impressive demonstration of fidelity to the pope and to the Church.
The newspaper of the Holy See in which the article was published on March 11, 2012:
> L'Osservatore Romano
The website of the movement of disobedience active today in Austria among the clergy:
All of the articles from www.chiesa regarding the central government of the Catholic Church:
> Focus on THE VATICAN
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.