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Monday, February 16, 2009

Pastoral Letter of the Austrian Bishops

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Dear Catholics, dear sisters and brothers in the faith, dear citizens of our country!

The Austrian diocesan bishops gathered on Monday to search in common prayer to discuss the events in the last days which have caused worry and anger inside and outside the church. We owe to the people a word of clarification, but also want to express the hope that as with every crisis there are opportunities. This can for us as a church only mean that we focus on Christ and be open. Our talk of God must always also be a talk about people. For the interaction in the church, this means that we better listen to one another, to be able to see together "the signs of the times" with the eyes of faith. Thereby the church can serve all people.

1. The first word applies to the faithful, who share with the bishops the distress of a crisis, and yet have showed full confidence. The faithful have had to experience some criticism, even ridicule and rejection caused in part by errors in the church. Many people in this situation proved their loyalty and their love for the Church . We thank the many people who prayed, so the church endure and offer the people the blessings of God. We thank the bishops priests and deacons for their support of the episcopate,that it should be a aervant of unity. We thank the many major office holders and volunteers, who work generously for parishes, for young people, for the suffering, for the sick, for people in any emergency, and who strengthen a caring society. The thanks apply also to the many people in Austria, in different proximity or distance, trust that the Church has dealt with this difficult situation.

2. The Catholic Church in Austria is the largest community of our country and are part of the worldwide community of the Catholic Church. This involves actual communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Saint Peter. Just as we bishops know the loyalty of the faithful, we want to show our attachment to the Pope in the serious and stressful situations for him show our commitment - this is an expression of loyalty, which is precisely in difficult times has to be maintained. This attachment is also a inseparable element of Catholic identity.

3. In this context , we also want to make has statement about the "repeal of excommunication” for the four bishops illegally consecrated in 1988. Pope Benedict XVI has unequivocally stated that the Lefebvrist Bishop Richard Williamson has disqualified himself by the denial of the Shoah and that he must clearly take back in public his untenable denial of mass murder of the Jewish people. The measure of the "lifting of the excommunication" by the Pope is a hand outstretched to those who are separated from the church. It follows that in no case can these four bishops automatically hold office in the Catholic Church. Rather, the Lefebvriast community must give a clear signal on their part that they take this outstretched hand, and actually seek reconciliation. The prerequisite is of course, the unconditional acceptance of the Second Vatican Council. We hope that the inadequate communication processes in the Vatican will also be successfully improved so that the worldwide service of the Pope does not suffer damage.

4. There were questions of communication also in the recent appointment of a suffragan bishop for the Diocese of Linz. The bishops are aware that Fr Wagner asked the Pope to withdraw the appointment. The theme of Episcopal appointments is therefore important because since the mid-eighties in Austria it has been associated with a number of problems. For many, the controversy over episcopal appointments led to the painful conflict, and they have triggered splits in the church,. It is precisely in this area sensitivity is most appropriate. There is no question that the Pope is free to appoint bishops. The bishops do not want to go back in time where - as in 1918 - the Emperor alone chose the bishops. Even a "people's choice" of the bishops would divide the church into parties and conflicts would be inevitable. We bishops are convinced that the procedure provided for in canon law for the selection and the examination of candidates has proved its worth, if this procedure is really followed. Then before the Holy Father takes the final decision, reliable and thoroughly tested basic information must be provided on which he can rely. In Austria in the next few years a number of bishops are to be appointed. The faithful are legitimately concerned that the process of candidate search, examination of the proposals and the final decisions should be carefully undertaken and with pastoral sensitivity are possible. This can ensure that bishops are appointed who are not "against" but "for" a local church. We bishops will make every possible effort to support the forthcoming episcopal appointments in the sense of monitoring these procedures in close cooperation with the relevant Vatican offices.

5. It is a highly desirable sign of the unity in the church if the appointment of a bishop for the faithful means joy and encouragement. Despite reservations, it is possible ina good human and Christian atmosphere, to greet a newly appointed bishop with good will. It is also expected that a bishop will meet the faithful with sensitivity and thus win their confidence. 

6. The situation in the vast diocese of Linz makes the bishops worry - this even after the resignation of Father Gerhard Wagner. There is much good news from this diocese, which is often too little seen, even if some problems should be mentioned. Upper Austria has a very vibrant church, with a dense network of active parishes and pastoral centers, a keen sense of the social dimension of the Christian faith, provides great help in the solidarity in the worldwide church with the poor and marginalized. Major monasteries and religious communities dominate the country. Catholic lay organizations are especially active. We also moved as bishops that in the Diocese of Linz once again there has been significant tension with the recent appointment. It is not just about differences of opinion in terms of structures and methods, but ultimately the question of sacramental identity of the Catholic Church. This especially this concerns the ordination for priests and deacons in relation to the general priesthood of all the baptized. The pastoral path can only be followed which is in accordance with the worldwide church. For all differences, this path of the church persevering in prayer and in conversation with the universal Church should be undertaken on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.

7. Trusting in God's help , we will overcome the crisis of recent weeks. But we must learn from the events and from the mistakes see the proper consequences for the future. Without ignoring other pending issues, we will again draw near primarily to the centre of faith. That means beholding Christ, who does not desert his church and whose word and deeds must be a measure of our words and our deeds. During this time, the major economic problems and the problems of day-to-day existence continue, Christians should have hands, heart and brain free for the task of living the Gospel and to pass the Good News to all people. To this end we ask at the intercession of Mary, the Magna Mater Austriae, the blessing of God the Father, the power of Jesus Christ and the light of the Holy Spirit.
Archbishop Christoph Cardinal SCHÖNBORN
ArchbishopAlois KOTHGASSER 
Diocesan Bishop Egon KAPELLARI 
Diocesan Bishop Klaus KÜNG 
Military Bishop Christian WERNER 
Diocesan Bishop Paul IBY 
Diocesan Bishop Alois SCHWARZ 
Diözesanbischof Ludwig SCHWARZ 
Diocesan Bishop Manfred SCHEUER 
Diocesan Bishop Elmar FISCHER


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