Instead, the Austrian priest, who gained international attention in 2011 for his "Call to Disobedience," has chosen to spend his time off from parish ministry offering a presentation titled "The Catholic Tipping Point: Conversations" in 15 U.S. cities...
"We are supposed to be promoting the biblical message that men and women are made in the image of God," Schüller said. "How can we promote this message without representing it in our structures? This is not a question of the demands of modern society, but question of our original message. We must rediscover this common image for God."
In Austria, reform-minded parishes have been intentional about practicing reform in the framework of their own communities. This includes allowing laypeople to offer homilies and lead communion services when parish priests are away. Catholics who are divorced and remarried outside the church are permitted to take Communion, as are Protestants. Gay and lesbian couples are also welcome in the community and to the eucharistic table.
"Eucharist must not be an instrument of sanctions," Schüller said. "The highest symbol of Communion is acceptance..."
One of Schüller's deepest hopes is that the institutional church will create a system of fundamental rights for all of the baptized. "We should speak not about laypeople, but 'church citizens,' " he told the audience. "The word 'lay' suggests 'without competence or experience.' "
"The Christian understanding of human beings is that they have rights and responsibilities and a special dignity that must be respected," Schüller said. "Therefore, they are entitled to participate in the church's decision-making."
"Full participation of church citizens is a question of respect for human beings," he said. "Democracy was a step forward in modern society, yet our church fought against it for centuries."
The lack of fundamental rights in the church, Schüller said, was the basis for the "Call to Disobedience." "We have both the suspicion and the experience that our obedience is being abused by church leaders in order to keep down church reform," he said...
Because Schüller is most interested in learning about the struggles of reform-minded Catholics in the United States, his 30-minute presentation was followed by almost one hour of dialogue with attendees.
A Roman Catholic Womanpriest (RCWP), Gabriella Velardi Ward, asked Schüller what he and the Austrian Priests' Initiative thought of their movement, which began in Europe.
Schüller said while his organization respects RCWP and sees it as a courageous movement, their desire is to see the whole church open up to the ordination of women, not just a small segment.
"We see ourselves as walking the walk and living the change we want to see. We are going through the back door so that one day, women can go through the front door," Velardi Ward replied.
Schüller, engaging in the kind of respectful listening he wants from the hierarchy, responded, "Then maybe we should respect you as a prophetic movement..."
[Jamie L. Manson is NCR books editor. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics.
Bridget Mary's Response:
It is a joy to have Fr. Schuller on this U.S. tour and to read about his dialogue with Roman Catholic Womanpriest, Gabriella Velardi Ward. Amen, our movement is leading the way toward a renewed priestly ministry in a community of equals in grasstoots, inclusive communities in more and more places in the United States. We are a "mustard seed" movement for justice for women in our church.
Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP, www.arcwp.org