Austria’s Vienna Archdiocese will press ahead with a major reorganisation that will including liquidating most of its parishes over 10 years, despite objections from some local Catholics.
The archdiocese’s 660 parishes will be merged over the next decade into around 150 larger parishes, each served by three-five priests and offering regular Masses.
“Our emphasis isn’t just on reorganising the Church, but on reinvigorating the missionary impulses of the entire Christian community,” said archdiocesan spokesman Michael Pruller.
“Although we can debate how best to achieve it, the plan’s main aim isn’t open to discussion.”
Pruller told CNS that falling numbers of clergy and laity had necessitated the changes. He said smaller affiliated communities within the parishes will be run by lay volunteers authorised to conduct the Liturgy of the Word.
Pruller said archdiocesan bishops would draft the new parish boundaries and steps for implementing the reorganisation by January 1, 2013.
He added experiences from Latin America, Africa and Asia suggested ordained priests were not needed “in every small town and village” and that larger parishes could be introduced “without losing the nearness of people to their church.”
“As society changes, the Church has to change its old-fashioned practices and structures, too,” he said.
“The Church’s mission of apostolate and evangelisation isn’t just the responsibility of parish priests, but of the whole community of baptised and confirmed. If this reorganisation creates more vibrant Christian communities, praying, celebrating Mass, conducting mission and helping the needy together, then it could offer a model for Church reforms throughout Europe.”
Speaking in mid-September, after the reorganisation was announced, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schonborn said the reform would be the archdiocese’s biggest for two centuries and would mean “saying goodbye to much that has become dear to us.”
However, he added that the reorganisation would help pool resources, reduce administration and “leave more time for evangelisation.”
“This is about a new cooperation between priests and laity from their common Christian vocation,” the cardinal told the news conference, which was reported by Austria’s Kathpress news agency.
“We have to free ourselves of the traditional image that the Church is present only where there’s a priest and stress the common priesthood of all baptised,” he said.
Pruller said the reorganisation had been preceded by a “long consultation phase,” but could not be “discussed endlessly.” He added that the plans would not alter the ratio of priests to lay Catholics.- CNS