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Veteran journalist new leader of We Are Church


The new leader of We Are Church, Austria’s main reform organization, is a respected veteran journalist likely to strengthen the group’s international connections.

Hubert Feichtlbauer, 67, replaces Thomas Plankensteiner, the man credited with almost single-handedly creating the Austrian church reform movement (NCR, Nov. 6). Plankensteiner stepped down in mid-November to pursue a political career with the conservative People’s Party.

Feichtlbauer is considered the dean of Austria’s religion writers, a matter of some prestige in a nation where top political reporters cover religion. Given Austria’s overwhelmingly Catholic population, and the close identification of church and state, Catholic affairs are big news.

Feichtlbauer has worked for virtually every major paper in the country. During the 1980s and early 1990s he served as chief spokesperson for the Federal Economic Chamber, a government-sponsored trade promotion organization. Upon his retirement, Feichtlbauer resumed his journalistic work, writing columns for the Vienna-based Die Presse, the country’s secular paper of record, and the weekly newspaper Die Furche.

Feichtlbauer is fluent in English and has traveled widely across Europe. He has also spent time in the United States, studying at St. Louis University. Since Plankensteiner is not English-speaking, Feichtlbauer is likely to have more impact as an international representative of the Austrian reformers, especially at a time when reform groups in Europe and the United States are forging stronger links.

When NCR reported on the Dialogue for Austria in late October from Salzburg, Feichtlbauer acted as the paper’s translator and assistant.

Feichtlbauer was elected unanimously to his new post by the We Are Church executive committee. His appointment will have to be confirmed at the group’s general meeting in April.

He told NCR that he initially resisted Plankensteiner’s invitation to become a candidate, preferring instead that Ingrid Thurner take over. Thurner, who had worked closely with Plankensteiner, “would have been excellent,” Feichtlbauer said, “and of course it would have been good to have a woman at the head of the organization.” Nevertheless, he said Thurner preferred to remain the grassroots organizer.

Via E-mail, Thurner told NCR that with Feichtlbauer at the helm, “We will be as strong in the future as we are at present. I think we have made a wise choice.”

Plankensteiner failed in recent weeks in an initial bid to secure a seat in the provincial diet in the Tirol, but Feichtlbauer said most observers chalked that up to bungling on the part of the regional party leader. Plankensteiner will try for the national parliament in the next election.

Thurner acknowledged that some both inside and outside of the organization had expressed “shock” at Plankensteiner’s move, especially his affiliation with the conservative party. She said “premature” media coverage had led to “many coarse commentaries and insinuations.” Nevertheless, she said a We Are Church meeting on Nov. 15 had cleared the air, and the affair had not damaged the group.

Feichtlbauer said the group was “unanimous” in wanting Plankensteiner to remain involved in some fashion.

National Catholic Reporter, December 18, 1998