"Banned in Boston" used to refer to plays or films that an Irish Catholic establishment, led by the cardinal-archbishop, deemed immoral and thus blocked from local venues.
In today’s ironic counter-meaning, it is Father Helmut Schüller, a reform-minded priest from Austria who has been banned from speaking at Catholic parishes in Boston by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, as Catholic activists arranging his July speaking tour have learned.
"We have found it necessary to move Father Schüller's talk," Larry Bloom, a volunteer in the Boston suburb of Dedham said in an email to members of several reform groups. Schüller had been scheduled to speak at St. Susanna Parish in Dedham on July 17.
“We have just been directly contacted by the regional bishop and advised that Cardinal Sean has forbidden any appearance by Father Schuller [sic] on any Catholic property in the archdiocese, and that we are to comply with that directive.”
The talk has been moved to a nearby nondenominational church.
Schüller, 64, is founder of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, a group that began in 2011 to explore solutions to the deepening shortage of priests in Catholic parishes around the world.
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The Boston area is the second stop on Schüller's 15-city tour, which begins in New York City July 16 under auspices of a reform coalition called Catholic Tipping Point. The groups involved advocate optional celibacy for priests, opening of the priesthood to married men and women and and transparency in church governing, particularly in terms of finances and parish closings.
O’Malley’s order only applies to Boston, though it could signal how other bishops will respond.
During the March conclave in Rome, the Italian news media treated O’Malley, a bearded Franciscan who wears traditional robes and sandals, as a papabile, or a front-runner for the papal election. After Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires became pope, he appointed O’Malley to a board of eight cardinals from various countries to advise him on reforming the scandal-tainted Roman Curia and to help give the church a direction of greater collegiality.
Although the cardinals’ board has made no publicized moves since its inception in Rome, a press release from leaders in Voice of the Faithful and FutureChurch called O’Malley’s ruling “particularly distressing since it is taken by one of the eight Cardinals appointed to help reform Church governance. This attempt to suppress these long overdue discussions is a disservice to Christ’s body, the People of God.”
The Boston archdiocese is a case study in the impact of declining vocations to the priesthood on church economics. Pastors are the primary fundraisers in parishes, which send a tax, or a given percentage of their donation revenues to the archdiocese. In a wave of parish closures that began in 2004, Boston has reduced its number of churches from 288 to 135. This reduction includes grouping clusters of several parishes into one.
Boston has 330 priests at present; but demographic patterns suggest that there will be fewer than 200 by 2025.
Schüller’s “Call to Disobedience” led to his loss of status as a monsignor, but church officials in Austria have made no move to expel him from the priesthood.