In 2011, Fr. Helmut Schueller and the Austrian Priests’ Initiative issued a “Call to Disobedience” protesting the strategy bishops were increasingly undertaking to compensate for the priest shortage. That strategy included the creation of circuit rider priests and the closure of parishes. In 2013 in an effort to strengthen the voices of Catholics around the world, Fr. Schueller launched the inaugural meeting of international priests associations and reform organizations in Bregenz, Austria. Forty people, both lay and ordained, from Austria, Australia, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and the United States joined together to find solutions to some of the pressing problems facing the Church including the shortage of priests, the need to expand women’s ministry and leadership and the need to devise strategies for keeping parishes open.
The group met again in April 2015 in Limerick, Ireland. The geographical reach of the group was expanded to include India, Slovakia, Italy and England. At this meeting, the issue of women’s secondary status in the Church emerged front and center – with particular focus on presiding at the Eucharist. It became quickly apparent, that although this group was like-minded, the issues that divide us regarding women’s status in the church were painfully evident. The discussions that emerged were clarifying, stretching and ultimately rich.
The group will meet again this October in Chicago. FutureChurch and the Association of U.S. Catholics Priests will host the event. The group will again expand its geographical reach to Argentina. Various participants will share their expertise, including two priests who will discuss the Lobinger model for parish ministry and life. The meeting will focus on the following issues:
1. Francis' agenda: What aspects do we think we can support, and how might we help to push these agenda items forward?
2. Full participation of women in the Church: What would this full participation look like? Can we find a common position, even a statement, on women's ordination?
3. Rights of the Baptized: How do we overcome the concentration of power exclusively with the ordained and the problem of clericalism?
4. Priest shortage: With the decline in numbers of priests, and the closing of parishes, we will look at emerging models of ministry, including the Lobinger model for innovative parish leadership andministry.
5. LGBT community: How can we best show solidarity?
6. Bishops: What can we do to support and encourage our bishops to follow the lead of Francis to be more welcoming, compassionate and to engage in deeper dialogue with all Catholics, including those who have been historically excluded?
FutureChurch will report on the workings of the group after the October meeting. Stay tuned!