Fr. Helmut Schüller's "Catholic Tipping Point" tour of the United States ended where it began: in New York. He gave an address Wednesday evening in Manhasset and on Thursday, he visited St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, where he delivered thousands of red ribbons and signatures he collected in 15 cities across the nation.
In the last three weeks, Schüller traveled from the East Coast to the West, spreading a message of "disobedience" and church reform. In each city, Schüller preached the values of the "Call to Disobedience," a 2011 document published by the Austrian Priests' Initiative. His message includes opening the priesthood to women and married people. He also advocates for a stronger relationship between the church and Catholic gay couples.Would that there were more voices like Schüller in the Church.
Even before Schüller stepped foot in the United States, U.S. bishops tried to block him, he said, confirming that Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley and Dolan contacted Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, his bishop in Vienna, to prevent the tour.
The reaction by U.S. bishops is nothing new for the Austrian priest. "I was not surprised. It's familiar. I had heard it in Germany from the bishops there," Schüller said.
Schüller was formally banned from speaking on Catholic property in Boston, Detroit and Chicago, and the archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, said Schüller could not speak on archdiocesan property in the city. But the Sisters of St. Joseph welcomed Schüller to the Catholic venue of Chestnut Hill College, a move Chaput later said was "regrettable."
In his final speaking event Wednesday in Manhasset, Schüller used his experience in the United States to make his case for reform. In the United States, he said, "priests are totally reliant on the bishops for their livelihood. These are the methods of a dictatorship." Making his point, he said in Detroit, priests were forbidden to meet with him in their own homes.
This "top-to-bottom obedience" is evident even in the sacraments, Schüller said. Because "official sinners" are turned away from Communion, he said, "the Eucharist has become a symbol of exclusion." To erase this "symbol," divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive the Eucharist, he said.
Furthermore, the church's stance on gay relationships presents another challenge for parishes across the world, Schüller said, saying the church should be welcoming on this issue rather than exclusionary. The church should "concentrate on the quality of this partnership: fidelity, respect," he said, rather than focus on whether it is a homosexual or heterosexual relationship.