If Sacha Baron Cohen ever fancies doing a satire on liberal Catholicism, he need only return to the source of his hit film Brüno, to the Republic of Austria. As you may know, Austria is to Germany what Canada is to the US or New Zealand to Australia – similar, but smaller and with an added layer of weirdness. You get some sense of this from listening to old Falco albums, which are replete with obscure references to Austrian political scandals of the 1980s.
In Catholic terms, Austria is a hotbed of heterodoxy bordering on heresy, particularly in the super-liberal Linz diocese. A recent poll of 500 priests carried out by the Austrian state broadcaster found 79% favouring the ending of celibacy – it is of course an open secret that the majority of Austrian priests keep mistresses – with 51% supporting the ordination of women and 52% indicating serious disagreements with the Magisterium. And that’s amongst the clergy – it should be no surprise that Austria is the heartland of the Wir sind Kirche movement, whose zeal for transforming the Catholic Church into some form of liberal Protestantism is such that they make Britain’s Tabletistas look like the Latin Mass Society.
Austria is also where you’ll find a favourite subject of this blog, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn OP, Archbishop of Vienna and President of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference. Schönborn has gained something of a reputation internationally for the magnetic attraction exerted on him by microphones, and by his propensity to go off message whenever he finds one – qualities that make him a religious journalist’s dream. The lazy assumption is that, since he’s a former student of Professor Ratzinger and the two remain personally close, he can be taken as an indicator of Vatican thinking, perhaps as someone licensed to fly controversial kites. Perhaps, but an equally plausible explanation is that Christoph has gone native. I proffer as a possible piece of evidence that the Suppository‘s Vienna-based correspondent, the inimitable Christa Pongratz, has finally found a prelate she likes and regularly bigs up Schönborn in the pages of Ma Pepsi’s organ.
Given all this, would you be surprised to learn that Austria is also a hotbed of liturgical malpractice calling to mind the worst excesses of the Paul VI period? You may perhaps recall the infamous Focaccia Incident, in the Linz diocese naturally, when a Corpus Christi procession was marked by priests waving around a focaccia on a monstrance. Then there was that godawful youth Mass Schönborn had with the tuneless guitars and laser beams. The Cardinal, it seems, is as eager as anyone to get down with da kidz.
But even so, when looking at the American Catholic this morning, I had to check it wasn’t the first of April. First, check out the congregation:
Yup, it’s Austria and there’s not an Alpine hat or pair of lederhosen in sight. In fact, there seems to be something of a Wild West theme.
I do love the Confederate flag there, nicely juxtaposed with a teepee. It really beggars belief, even in Austria.
And while I’ve heard of coffee after Mass, tucking into sauerkraut during proceedings… no, that ain’t licit either. And, of course, guitars!
Necessary caveat here, since there’s already some argument over the provenance of these pictures. The context of this would appear to be the annual Vienna country and western festival, and a priest going along to the festival to say Mass on the Sunday, rather than some wingnut priest in the diocese of Vienna deciding off his own bat to hold a cowboy-themed Mass. All the same, you have to ask whether a C&W festival is the ideal place for a Mass, even a Novus Ordo one, which is supposed to be held in a reverent atmosphere. And it’s indicative of something that your first reaction to this is to say “Jeepers! Is this evidence of Schönborn losing the plot completely? What in the wide world of sports is going on in his patch?”
You would hope this doesn’t make its way to the Congregation for Divine Worship. There are some elderly men there whose hearts aren’t in the best condition. Father Z and his army of readers are already spitting blood.