e-mail us

Cover story

Protestors in Vienna call for women priests

NCR Staff
Vienna, Austria

Dublin wasn’t the only place in late June where Catholic activists spoke up in favor of women’s ordination. In Vienna, a band of protestors stood outside St. Stephen’s Cathedral June 30 while Cardinal Christoph Schönborn ordained seven new priests, demanding that the church stop “wasting the call” of women.

The small cluster of protesters was part of the European We Are Church movement, which was born in Austria in 1995 (NCR, Nov. 6, 1998). Several were wearing purple stoles, a symbol of the push for women’s ordination.

Austria has long been at the forefront of pressure within the Catholic fold for reform. Last fall, the We Are Church movement launched a theological formation program for women who want to become priests, a sort of “shadow seminary” awaiting a change in church teaching. Supported financially by their parishes, 25 Austrian women are currently in training.

The group claims more than 100 Austrian women have expressed a wish to become Catholic priests.

During the June 30 demonstration, group members held signs reading “Brother Pope, Brother Bishops: Learn from the Sister Churches!” and “We demand an end to discrimination against women in the Catholic Church.” They distributed literature in German and English to bystanders in the crowded square in front of the cathedral, which is in the heart of Vienna’s most popular shopping and dining district.

“Real life is different from what the official church announces,” the flyer said. “It’s mostly women who care for the work in the parishes. Women don’t want to be discriminated against anymore, and they don’t want to be excluded from important functions and decisions.”

A We Are Church spokesperson told NCR that Schönborn was aware the protest was taking place, but had declined to speak with organizers.

“He’s not very happy that we’re here,” the spokesperson said.

We Are Church was born in 1995, amid a sexual misconduct scandal that eventually led to the resignation of former Viennese Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer. The movement circulated a petition demanding five reforms in the church, including the ordination of women. It garnered more than a half-million signatures in Austria, a nation of just under 8 million, and more than 2 million signatures in Germany.

National Catholic Reporter, July 13, 2001