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Austria's synod report prioritises women, mission and participation

Vienna - Austria's Church reports to the Vatican: Feedback from the dioceses has resulted in a clear vote in favour of the diaconate for women. In addition, there are numerous concrete proposals to reorganise the participation and co-decision-making of laity and clergy.

Published  on 15.05.2024 at 12:54  – 

The position of women in the church, a missionary orientation of the church and more participation within the church: These three topics are priorities for the Church in Austria in view of the next Synod on Synodality Assembly in Rome in October. This emerges from the Austria report published on Wednesday, which was sent to the Synod Secretariat in the Vatican on the same day.

According to the report, the top priority "for a credible church" is the topic of "women in the life of the church". The priesthood of women was mentioned occasionally in the responses from the dioceses. However, there was a strong majority vote, including diocesan leaders, in favour of admitting women to the diaconate. The second most important topic in the Austria report is "Church is mission". Key terms for a new missionary attitude are dialogue, practice and inculturation. Missionary qualities such as the courage to bear witness, personal credibility and the ability to listen to people with appreciation and respond to their needs are required.

The Austrian report is based on the feedback from the dioceses on the Vatican synthesis report of the Synod on Synodality in autumn 2023. The synod report from the first plenary assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023, together with the country reports now submitted from all over the world, forms the basis for the working document ("Instrumentum Laboris") still to be drawn up by the Vatican. It is expected in the coming months and is the substantive starting point for the second and final plenary assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican in October.

Questionable focus on the family

The previous Vatican synthesis report is also questioned, however, when it states: "The focus on the family as the central subject of the mission as the 'backbone of the Church' is viewed critically." In German-speaking countries, it is no longer exclusively families ("domestic church") that are responsible for the church, but increasingly also inter-family communities and congregations. Co-operation between priests and laity and equal participation in shaping church life is seen as a priority for the credibility of the church. This topic is in third place on the list of priorities. The Austria report is clear when it comes to the anointing of the sick, which so far only priests can administer. It literally states: "The sacrament of the anointing of the sick should be open to all pastors for the sick."

The statements from the clergy involved show a desire for teamwork with the laity. A more precise definition of the term "clericalism" in the sense of a distinction between the legitimate and clericalist exercise of power is also needed. Special attention should therefore also be paid to the training and continuous professional development of priests and other pastoral professionals.

Upgrading bishops' conferences

It is also considered important to strengthen the role of the bishops' conferences. For example, they could be involved in the search for bishop candidates, their appointment or the review of episcopal actions. The various forms of material, but also mental and spiritual poverty, not least in Austria, are specifically addressed. However, the work of Caritas and the fight against poverty goes beyond charitable action "and also includes the commitment to (international) social and ecological justice". The responsibility for combating poverty should not just be delegated to Caritas. The Austria report notes that the synod report lacks a separate chapter on young people. However, the discussion of digitalisation in connection with young people, who spend a lot of time in the digital space, is positive. The Church therefore needs a greater presence in the digital world. (KNA)