Fr. Helmut Schüller is the charismatic founder of the Austrian
Priests’ Initiative (also known as the Pfarrer-Initiative). The movement was organized in 2006 to address an increasing shortage of priests that was forcing many Austrian parishes to
close. It has since been endorsed by 425 of Austria’s 3,800 priests and inspired the establishment of similar priest groups in Germany, Ireland, France, the United States and Australia.
In June 2011, the Pfarrer-Initiative issued a “Call for Disobedience” calling for practical action on a list of pastoral concerns, such as allowing qualified lay leadership and preaching in parishes without a priest, permitting divorced and remarried Catholics to receive sacraments and support for the ordination of women and married men. According to a November 2011 survey, 72% of Austrian priests had a generally positive attitude toward the “Call for Disobedience” and a clear majority agreed with its central demands. “Rather than consolidating parishes, we call for a new image of the priest,” the declaration reads.
Schüller believes that Church leaders have an overly priest-centric view of Christianity that they are reluctant to give up. “They want to be accepted as the intermediaries between God and the people yet Jesus was a layman,” Schüller points out. “And he made no effort to install a clerical class…he encouraged people to confront God on their own.”
Hence the Eucharist is celebrated by a parish community and a leader together. While according to current Church doctrine, Schüller admits, this leader has to be an ordained priest he believes: “There needs to be a revival of the importance of the parish for the celebration of Eucharist,” he says. Does he think that the Church leaders feel threatened by his movement? “Although they aren’t happy about it, they know that we are articulating something that the majority expects.”
Schüller once served as the vicar general to the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna and Christoph Schönborn.
For more info: