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Cover story

1995 petition led to international effort

Austria’s 1995 petition drive -- known there under its German name, the “Kirchenvolks-begehren,” or “people’s movement in the church” -- obtained 505,154 signatures. That’s 8.5 percent of the country’s 6 million Catholics, or 42.5 percent of the estimated 1.2 million regular Mass-goers.

The drive later spread to Germany where more than a million and a half Catholics signed. The total exceeded organizers’ estimates, though it represented a lower percentage of the country’s Catholics than in Austria. Elsewhere the drive was less successful: A 1997 campaign in the United States netted only 37,000 signatures.

The following five points were included in the petition:

  • The rights of laity, including the right of the people of a diocese to be involved in selecting its bishop;
  • full rights for women, including ordination to the diaconate and the priesthood;
  • free choice of celibacy by secular priests;
  • an appreciation of sexuality, and separation of the issues of birth control and abortion; and
  • an emphasis in church proclamations on good tidings rather than condemnation.

National Catholic Reporter, October 30, 1998