CRUX on Catholicism in Austria

John Allen Jr., the editor of CRUX, wrote an article about the state of the Catholic Church in Austria. He noted how troubled it was more than 20 years ago when its cardinal’s crimes were exposed:

“In 1995, frustration with a sexual abuse scandal around Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer of Vienna exploded into the formation of a KirchenVolksBewegung - a “People’s Movement of the Church.” Within weeks, organizers had gathered three-quarters of a million signatures on a petition demanding five reforms, including the ordination of married men, women deacons, local selection of bishops, expanded roles for laity, and more compassionate treatment of divorcees and homosexuals.”

In 1998, a large majority of Austria’s Catholics endorsed these reforms, and sent a delegation to Rome to petition for them. Needless to say, Pope John Paul flatly rejected all reforms, much to the dismay of Austria’s Catholics.

Mr. Allen notes that Austria’s Catholics are now calm: “There’s no widespread public protest, no ferment in the media, no sense of upheaval. Bishops can walk through airports and shopping malls without drawing angry crowds, and they can turn on the TV without breaking into a cold sweat about the next thing they’ll see or hear.”

Mr. Allen offers three hypotheses to account for the calm. First, that the troublemakers left the Church, “so in a sense, what the Church has today is the peace of the grave.” Second, that the replacement cardinal has had a calming effect because “he’s at least open to talking with them, and that, in some sense, he understands their concerns” -- not that he’s actually done anything. Third, that time heals all wounds.

Now you might think that a highly respected reporter would introduce some facts to support or refute each of these hypotheses. But he doesn’t. John Allen does not cite a single fact. Nor is this due to any difficulty in finding relevant facts. A minute or two on Google discloses that in 1991, prior to the scandal, Austria was 78% Catholic. Now it is at most 59% Catholic. This dramatic decline supports the first hypothesis and refutes the third hypothesis (or at least shows it is inadequate).

These estimates of religious identity are probably overstated, since many people identify themselves as Catholic even if they no longer go to church or believe in it. I suspect Church attendance has fallen even more dramatically. I’m pretty sure that Mr. Allen could have dug up those numbers very quickly. He could also have compared the decline in Catholicism in Austria to other European countries.

The facts are far less rosy than the picture Mr. Allen tries to draw, so he ignores them. While Mr. Allen purports to be a journalist, he is more of a publicist or PR man, more interested in puffing the Church and the Pope than in the facts. He is a cog in their propaganda machine.