Good news is coming out of the Austrian church, as the International Church Reform Network (ICRN) has published a Charta Der Grundrechte in der Kirche (“Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Church”), which emphasizes the importance of equality and a synodal approach to reform. Novena News reported that the charter included fifteen fundamental rights for all Catholics in Austria, including:
“…the freedom of Catholics to exercise a well-formed conscience, their right to be treated as true equals regardless of gender, nationality, race, language, origin, sexual orientation, marital status, age, wealth, political or theological beliefs; and the right of the faithful to belong to and participate in a Church community.”
Novena News reporter Cameron Doody wrote that the document was created by a “diverse group of Austrian Catholics, including reform-oriented priests and laypeople.” In an interview with German radio station Domradio, journalist Klaus Prömpers shared that the goal of the charter is to “raise up the talents of individual baptized Christians in the Church and to give the Church a greater influence of the world.”
In addition, the charter emphasizes the importance of ‘speech and dissent,’ as well as ‘transparency on the part of Church leaders.’ For Prömpers, this message is in large part to attract new members to a shrinking church population, giving them additional means for participation and involvement. Rather than ‘forcefully tear down all the walls the Church has built up over the centuries,’ the charter instead hopes to ‘gradually expand’ the role of the church more widely, as well as empower the members within.
ICRN describes itself as “an international network of reform groups” that works to build alliances around the different issues of Catholic Church reform (For more information, visit their website; New Ways Ministry is one the groups that is part of the network.)
The timing of the charter’s announcement in early February coincides with Austrian theologian Christian Bauer’s push for synodality in the model of Pope Francis’ messaging. Novena News reports Bauer’s statement: “Pope Francis is pointing the way beyond the binds of ‘male or clerical rule’ to a ‘truly participatory, diversity-friendly, post-clerical and gender-sensitive Church.”
The article also points to the ‘eventual retirement’ of Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, 75, who has been a prominent supporter of LGBTQ equality during his tenure. Earlier this year, Cardinal Schönborn attended an HIV/AIDS fundraiser and responded to conservative critics by quoting the gospel of Matthew, noting that Jesus “does not ask about sexual orientation, but: I was hungry, and you gave me food.” In the past, the cardinal invited HIV/AIDS fundraisers to take place in the historic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and has pointedly spoken out in favor of LGBTQ families and community rights, described personal gay friends as ‘saintly,’ and expressed an openness to transgender people.
Certainly, Cardinal Schönborn has been an important ally for LGBTQ+ Catholics in Vienna and beyond. When he retires, it will be important for Austrian Catholics to have this new charter to reference as a common ground of shared values. While the references to gender and sexuality are just a small portion of this larger document, their inclusion is important and will hopefully spur even greater conversations towards a future of full inclusion and affirmation.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, March 23, 2020