Coming only a few days after Easter, the resignation of Father Gerhard Swierzek, the pastor of a parish in the Archdiocese of Vienna, has been hailed by homosexualist activists in the Catholic Church as a victory. Fr. Swierzek had refused to allow an active homosexual, Florian Stangl, who is living in a legal registered partnership with another man, to sit on the parish council in the town of Stützenhofen.
The Austrian Independent reported Tuesday that Fr. Swierzek has asked his superiors for another assignment. He said he was “saddened” that the cardinal archbishop of Vienna met with Stangl and his partner but had refused to meet with him about the situation.
The German language Catholic news service Kreuz.net quoted Fr. Swierzek saying “I have a priestly conscience and I respect divine and ecclesiastical law.” He explained that he could not remain active in a parish, whose members “wanted their right at any price”.
He cited the teaching of the Church according to Pope John Paul II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church on homosexual behaviour. “Living in sin is not considered to be the norm in a Catholic Church community,” he said. “It is much more the task of a priest to bring a sinner to penance.”
Last week, Christoph Schönborn, the cardinal archbishop of Vienna overruled his priest and his own previous position, saying that Stangl’s election to the parish council was upheld.
At first the cardinal had appeared to support his priest, but announced a few days later that, having had lunch with Stangl and his partner, he had changed his mind. Stangl, a 26 year-old social worker, had received 96 out of 142 votes in a recent parish council election. “This man is at the right place,” the cardinal said.
A statement was later posted on the cardinal’s blog, saying, “…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.”
After his lunch with Stangl, Schönborn said he 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.”
A visitor at one of the Easter Masses in the tiny town of Stützenhofen told radio station Ö1 that the cardinal’s decision was “proof of the Austrian Church’s willingness to become more modern and open,” according to the Independent.
The head of the outlawed group, New Ways Ministry appears to agree. The renegade priest, Francis DeBernardo, who directs the group, said the cardinal’s position supported their own, “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”.
New Ways Ministry encourages homosexual Catholics to maintain their lifestyle and attempts to convince the hierarchy of the Church to accept it.
“He is saying that he will not treat LGBT people any differently than anyone else,” DeBernardo continued. It describes itself as “a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics,” that was banned by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1999.
The group’s two directors, Fr. DeBernardo and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, were prohibited from engaging in any ministry with homosexuals. Their support for the homosexualist movement within the Church resulted in their being declared “ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes”.
“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,” DeBernardo concluded.