Whereat your host says something nice about Cardinal Schönborn for a change

Don’t worry, I’m not losing my curmudgeonly streak, but for once it’s nice to turn one’s attention to Austrian matters without tearing one’s hair out about Klingon liturgies or such. Rather, we turn our attention to a small matter of real estate in the Ottakring district of Vienna.

This concerns a local church whose congregation has got too small for it to be viable. Well, that happens all over. England is coming down with such churches, which we’ll come to in a moment. However, under a policy instituted by our old friend Cardinal Christoph von Schönborn, the Archdiocese of Vienna won’t sell its churches to property developers, nor let them go derelict. The preference is that a house of worship should remain in the line of business for which it was built.

Thus the matter of the Pfarrkirche Neulerchenfeld. While, as always in these cases, its congregation is none too thrilled at being amalgamated with another parish – nonetheless, there’s a heartwarming little story here of practical ecumenism, as the Count has gifted the church to Vienna’s sizeable, but lacking in accommodation, Serbian Orthodox community. The deed has now been signed over and the building is due to start its career as a place of Orthodox worship this summer, once necessary adjustments to the interior have been made. Moreover, with the archdiocese having previously gifted churches to the Syrians and Copts, Vienna is a bit of a pioneer in this regard.

So, apart from the disgruntled parishioners, it looks like a good move. The Serbs, who’ve up until now had three tiny churches serving a community of about 200,000, are understandably happy. And this magnanimous act of giving a sister church a helping hand certainly makes the Count look good. Nor can this sort of gesture hurt the ongoing Catholic-Orthodox unity discussions.

Now then. This has a rather obvious relevance to the matter of the English Ordinariate. One of the chronic problems facing the good old C of E is that it has too many buildings and not enough people to fill them. Well, it’s one thing for the C of E to respond to the establishment of the Ordinariate with a prickly and legalistic insistence that no Tiber-swimming Anglo-Catholics are going to be allowed to take their church buildings with them. However, as we know, formal ownership of buildings and use of buildings are not the same thing. Indeed, following the last exodus in the early 1990s there were some local moves towards church-sharing, which were scuppered under not particularly edifying circumstances.

I don’t mean to imply that the response of the C of E as such to the Ordinariate initiative has been uncharitable.  For the most part, it’s been quite understanding, and +Rowan has shown the generosity of spirit one would expect of him. Nevertheless, there are those who would rather see churches lying derelict, or being flogged off to developers, rather than have those pesky Romanists actually putting them to use. A little flexibility in this area would not go amiss, and to those of an obstructionist bent (and I’m looking at you, Bishop Chartres), I commend the spirit shown by Cardinal Schönborn. Surely, for the ingenious latitudinarians one finds in the C of E hierarchy, a little imagination is not beyond them.


  1. robert said,

    February 8, 2011 at 1:20 am

    Yes I totally agree with you although I’m very much on the protestant end of the (agnostic) spectrum.

    The implications of Catholic – Orthodox rapprochement are huge. In countries such as Ukraine and Russia it would have geopolitical significance. My guess is that Tsar Vladimir Putin would welcome it, not for any spiritual reason but because it would make it easier to keep tabs on the “near abroad” and make Poland and Western Ukraine less alienated from Russia. It would also help to mend fences with the Serb and Croat tribes in the former Yugoslavia.

  2. Crouchback said,

    February 8, 2011 at 2:08 am

    They do not like it up’em……

    Last year, being paid to do nothing, I found myself in Thetford, Norfolk, the place where the outdoor scenes for Dad’s Army were filmed…..

    There is a church, parts of which are 12th century, give or take the odd century,…..anyway the roof is open to the elements, the church yard is overgrown. There has been quite a bit of Victorian additions, all this is visible from the outside as the gates are padlocked and the structure looks dangerous……what a crime…..there are plenty of buildings…….

    If only we could wake the Bishops and the priests…..!!!!

  3. Woody Jones said,

    February 8, 2011 at 5:46 am

    Of course I quite agree with you, Splinty. Let’s hope that at least some of the C of E hierarchs will take the step. On the good Cardinal, while it has been fashionable of late to find fault, I wonder if we really are in a position to judge the prudence of even some of his less well-liked moves. The state of the Church in Austria does not sound good, so he may be in a bit of a reaction mode and perceive his options as limited. I gather that he is still in the Holy Father’s good graces, after all.

  4. Katholikos said,

    February 8, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Some CofE bishops’ hostility towards the Ordinariate is because the latter represents a slap in the face of the Anglican Church, a disgruntled minority turning their back on the church of their baptism and falling into the arms of the welcoming Catholic Church.
    Would Cardinal Schönborn be as generous to a group of Lefebvrists who want to take over one of his redundant churches?

  5. Paul Priest said,

    February 8, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    They’re Catholics now!
    Our job to get them up and running…
    Nobody else’s!

  6. BenSix said,

    March 2, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Had to congratulate an Irishman.

    What a game.

  7. March 21, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    fascinating. But Schonborn is better than you sometimes suggest. And certainly better on faith, other religions and Church such as those I write about at http://www.theprincipledsociety.com than some of his fellow Austrian Bishops .

  8. Phil said,

    March 27, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Has he gone again? Somebody prod him on Twitbook, or whatever it is these young people are using these days.

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