Editor-Translator's Note: Bishop Kothgasser comes across as a thoughful man who remembers the Second Vatican Council, loves the church, appreciates nuanced thinking, and understands the critical need for dialogue with the other. He is clearly a worthy successor to Bishop Stecher. If you live in the United States, imagine what this bishop might have to say concerning ARCC, the CTA, or the Catholic Referendum. In such men there is hope for the hierarchy -- and the church!
Ingrid H. Shafer
2 April 1998
The We-are-Church movement and intra-church dialogue
In the course of an interview published in the Austrian daily, the Salzburger Nachrichten, the newly appointed Bishop of Innsbruck, Alois Kothgasser made the following observations:We must talk to one another openly. . . . The representatives of the Kirchenvolksbegehren [similar to the US based We are Church movement) are baptized Christians who are concerned about the church and humanity. They are human beings who are struggling for a church worthy of faith – often with personal engagement in pastoral care – in order to keep the church from standing in the way of the Gospel and of social, loving services. . . We must speak to them from the very center of the church and determine what can be accomplished immediately and what must be permitted to mature. We must learn to distinguish between the essential and the non-essential. . . . We must take care not to permit secondary concerns to interfere with the essential calling of the church to be a community that witnesses to our past and future, that witnesses to the question: How shall we live, how can our life be fulfilled, how can we deal with brokenness?When asked whether his personal relationship with members of the Kirchenvolksbegehren was cordial, Kothgasser said:I try hard to make it so. During the Second Vatican Council the Church displayed great readiness for dialogue with other religions. Hence, we must be willing to dialogue with groups inside the church.Concerning women's ordination, Kothgasser said:We have made major progress by becoming aware that even within the church something more encompassing and complete can grow from the collaboration and mutuality of the genders than from a state in which only one gender plays the decisive role. For me this does not yet mean that women must hold all positions. As far as the diaconate is concerned, there is a point of view which opens this office to women. But the church must give this serious consideration, ultimately presumably in a synod or council.In reference to the Second Vatican Council Kothgasser said:The full effects of a council do not generally appear for 30, 40, or 50 years. In the European church we must learn to live as adults and to treat people as adults. Presumably the synodal principle will become more important. Decisions will take longer but the responsibility will be shared by many participants [including laity].Concerning the voice of the laity, Kothgasser said:Especially important are the voices of women, because women mitigate excessive rationality and introduce a new sensibility into the church that has so far been lacking: a sense of the communnal, of human fellowship, of being-for and being-with, of relationality. Next we have to take the step toward other major world civilizations, such as China or South East Asia. Christianity must be ready to listen to alien ideas and must open itself up to be questioned and vulnerable. This is a healthy development; it spurs us on and forces us to grasp our identity as Christians more deeply and authentically. . . . Whenever something grew a hard outer shell, whenever as church we were unable to reform ourselves from within, we were pressured toward renewal from the outside. The entire social movement was not picked up by the church until after the worker movement had already developed.Asked whether he considered the Kirchenvolksbegehren a beneficial pressure, Kothgasser said:Yes, a very beneficial pressure which led to shared reflections concerning that which is essential. Now, in the Dialogue for Austria, there is a fundamental attitude of openness in human relations. . . .