Austrian Cardinal: Gay Man Can Stay on Parish Council

April 3, 2012

There’s a saying that “good things come in small packages.”  That may explain why the good news in a recent Associated Press story was so brief.  Printed in the Washington Post, the entire story follows:

Florian Stangl

VIENNA — Austria’s cardinal has overruled one of his priests and is allowing a gay Catholic to serve on a parish council.

Florian Stangl lives in a registered domestic partnership. The 26-year-old was overwhelmingly elected to the council recently, but it was overruled by the priest — a decision initially backed by the archdiocese.

Such councils include lay people and discuss local church and parish affairs.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn changed his mind over the weekend after hosting Stangl and his partner for lunch, declaring Stangl to be “at the right place.” Despite his close ties to his one-time professor, Pope Benedict XVI, Schoenborn has voiced an open mind to such taboo issues as priestly celibacy.

Church teaching holds that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” but that gays should be treated with dignity and respect.

Commonweal magazine blogger David Gibson, a top observer and writer on Catholicism, includes a translation of part of the Cardinal’s statement on the matter (emphases are mine, explained below) in his blog post on this news:

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn

“I thank the many candidates for the parish council elections. By their candidacy they showed their concern for the Church and the Faith. Thus they witness to the vitality of the Church. In their diversity they reflect the diversity of the life and faith journeys of today. Thus there are many parish councilors whose lifestyle  does not in every way conform to the ideals of the Church. In view of the life-witness that each of them gives taken as a whole, and their commitment to the attempt to live a life of faith, the Church rejoices in their efforts. She does not thereby call the validity of her ideals into question.

“In the small community of Stützenhofen, which I hold in great esteem, there is lively participation in Church life even in the younger generation. A sign of this is the high turnout the parish council elections. The formal errors which have come to light in that election do not call the results of the election itself (in which the youngest candidate, Florian Stangl, received the most votes) into question.

I was able to have a personal conversation with Herr Stangl, and was deeply impressed by his faithful disposition, his humility, and the way in which he lives his commitment to service. I can therefore understand why the inhabitants of Stützenhofen voted so decidedly for his participation in the parish council.” [Stangl received the most votes in the election.]

(The entire statement is available in German on the Vienna Archdiocese’s website.)

Schonborn’s statement reveals two important points which New Ways Ministry and many Catholic advocates for LGBT people have been saying for many years.  In the first paragraph above, he notes that no one in the church follows all of the church’s principles, and that it is their total life commitment, not their adherence to litmus tests, which qualify them for church leadership.  He is saying that he will not treat LGBT people any differently than anyone else.

In the third paragraph above, he explains that the met with and listened to the experience of the gay man in question.  By taking this time to meet and listen to a gay man’s experience, the Cardinal is a model for all church leaders.  Personal encounter was the way of Jesus and should be the way of Catholic leaders. It is the best way to break stereotyping and prejudices that may exist in one’s mind.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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