After 400 years, the Jesuits leave Linz, Austria so that they can better focus on climate protection

Provincial of the Jesuits in "Kurier" interview on the current church crisis, lack of young people, women's diaconate and climate protection

After 400 years, the Jesuits are leaving Linz at the end of July due to a lack of new blood; as of September, the Old Cathedral will be handed over to the Ukrainian Catholic community: "The farewell to Linz is very painful," said Jesuit Provincial Father Bernhard Bürgler in an interview in the "Kurier" (16 July). Currently, a new exhibition in the Old Cathedral is shedding light on the history of the Jesuit Order in the Upper Austrian capital. The exhibition informs about the work of the order in Linz from 1600 to 2023. The Jesuits celebrated a farewell service together with Bishop Manfred Scheuer and Provincial Father Bernhard Bürgler.

In the current situation, the order saw no other option than to withdraw from Linz, Bürgler explained. "We are becoming fewer and we are getting older. From there we have to concentrate." The Jesuits were active in Linz for 400 years. This period was marked by good relations with the diocese and the bishop, the 63-year-old said.

The withdrawal from Linz is also connected with a concentration on the profile of the order and "space should also be opened up for many new things". Moreover, it is not a complete break with Linz, as the Order will remain in the Aloisianum, an Ignatian network school in the Association of Jesuit Schools in Austria and Germany.

Youth and climate protection

In future, the Jesuit Order and the Province want to focus more on retreats, for more justice, youth and climate protection. For the latter, the first step was taken with an opening of a centre for social-ecological transformation called "Ukama". "There are some confreres living there who are networking with other climate protection groups and who are dealing with this issue in terms of content. Also from our spirituality," Bürgler explained. Father Jörg Alt, who participates in protests of the Last Generation and against whom a criminal case has already been initiated, is considered the best-known Jesuit climate protection representative in the German-speaking world. "I carry this along as a form of commitment. Of course, it is important to me that this is non-violent and does not damage anything or anyone," Bürgler said of Alt's commitment. In the Order, however, there are also different approaches and methods to the climate protest, the Provincial stated.

The Central European Province comprises 384 Jesuits in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Lithuania-Latvia, with headquarters in Munich. In the Austrian region, 50 Jesuits currently live in Innsbruck, Graz and Vienna. Bürgler explained the decline in accessions with the crisis of the Church "in our latitudes in a crisis", consequently it is not so easy "to get involved in an institution that is in such a situation".

He said that although there were people who would like to get involved and appreciate the Jesuits' spirituality, they would not want to commit themselves for life. Also, living the vows of poverty, celibacy, chastity and obedience "may be more difficult for younger people than it used to be". In addition, the proportion of non-Jesuits in the religious institutes is increasing; these are "women and men in our spirit".

In response to this situation, the Order wants to strengthen its commitment to youth and young adults and has opened a "future workshop" in Frankfurt and Innsbruck. Young people who are searching for their path in life can come there, Bürgler explained.

The "Jesuit" in the Pope

When asked about Pope Francis, who is the first Jesuit in Church history to become Pope, although members of religious orders are not supposed to aspire to offices such as bishop, archbishop or cardinal, Bürgler said that Jesuits have a different approach to church work, since all offices - except for Jesuit general - are temporary.

He said that one could see the "Jesuit" in Francis, but at the same time he was not a reformer and "not as progressive in theological positions as one first thought or as one would like him to be". 

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However, the Pope could not implement many things immediately, as the Church was more colourful than perceived from the outside. "Of course, he also has to deal with a lot of resistance, in Rome and beyond. That slows everything down."

The Jesuits in Linz

In 1600, the first Jesuit priests came to Linz: preaching and teaching were their tasks. In 1785, the Jesuit church became the cathedral church. In 1909 the Old Cathedral was again entrusted to the Jesuits and became a preaching and confessional church.

After the order's announcement that it was leaving the provincial capital, the Diocese of Linz, as the owner of the Old Cathedral, decided to entrust the place of worship to the Ukrainian Catholic congregation, which had hitherto celebrated in the neighbouring city parish church. The Ukrainian priest Andrii Kityk, who commuted weekly from Innsbruck to Linz to celebrate the liturgy, will move to Linz for this purpose and be employed by the diocese as a pastor.


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Farmer Carolyn said…
The Jesuits have sold their souls and the Church Militant needs to distance themselves from these heretics. Seems they have forgotten their place is in the Holy Scriptures and they have lost their faith in our Heavenly Father’s ability to heal this earth once our Savior returns. To the human eye they look to be too far gone.