Austria – the gay issue
Posted by Fr Mark on August 13, 2009
A gay Austrian Roman Catholic priest is now working for the Old Catholic Church
From AustrianTimes, 23.12.08
By Thomas Hochwarter
A priest who lost his Church after he admitted being gay is back giving Sunday services – in a pub.
Christian Blankenstein, 41 – sacked by the Catholic Church after coming out as homosexual – is holding masses in the Klostermarie beer hall in Vienna with his flock.
Parishioner Edith Schwarzmüller said: “He is a good priest, his sexual preferences are irrelevant – the Church should have left him alone to do the good job he had always done.”
Father Blankenstein said: “It’s much like in a normal church. People come in, sit down, chat a bit before the mass starts. Of course there are some differences.
“Instead of pictures showing the Stations of the Cross, there are beer advertisement posters on the walls, and rather than a grand altar I have a beer table.
“But none of the congregation seems to have had a problem with this.”
With no job, but still determined to carry on with his calling the priest joined the 14,000-strong Altkatholische Kirche, the Old Catholic Church.
The breakaway sect is a liberal branch of the Austrian Catholic Church where priests are allowed to marry and the doctrine of Papal infallibility is ignored.
And within months he was back celebrating mass – albeit in slightly different surroundings: The Klostermarie beer hall in Vienna’s rough 20th district Brigittenau.
Blankenstein has become a local celebrity. Scores of worshippers come every Sunday from miles around for his mass – not for any novelty value but out of loyalty to a priest they have faith in.
Many have followed him from his original church, the St. Salvator in Vienna’s first District.
Gertrude Lippert, a doctor and regular at Blankenstein’s ‘church’ said: “None of us knows what exactly happened in the past. And in the end, we are not really interested. We are just happy being able to celebrate here – it’s not a problem for us.
“I want to be part of a community which finds its strength from its base and not from those at the top.”
Another, Rosemary Moravec-Hilmar, travels 15 miles every Sunday morning from Mödling, a town south of Vienna, for the mass. She said: “What brought us to hold the mass here is the exact opposite of justice and fairness.”
And the owners of the Klostermarie – which translates into English as Mary of the Cloisters – are just as happy about their resident preacher.
While takings are falling on other days of the weeks, turnover on Sunday is rising.
Publican Maria Potensil says: “Christian has always been a regular. One day he asked me whether he could use the facilities until he found another place to celebrate Sunday mass. I never saw any problem with that – and the name of the place fits perfectly, doesn’t it?”
Blankenstein is philosophical about his decision to come out as a homosexual and which led him to saying mass in the Klostermarie.
“I think a lot about it and ask myself: ‘Was it worth it?’ But in the end, I do not regret anything. My community and friends gave me incredible support all along the way,” he says.
He jokes: “I raised a few eyebrows at the job centre too. They had never dealt with an unemployed priest before.”
He adds more seriously though: “I am convinced I have done nothing wrong. If there was one good thing about all this controversy, then it’s the fact that it again became clear to me what my vocation is.”
As songs are sung and intercessions are read Blankenstein gets ready for a sermon.
He says: “Jesus is where people come together. God and faith are in the hearts of people. And there is a connection to people’s rights and the fact we have come together here today and not in a church.”
Everyone nods with approval before he carries on.
As the service carries on in the pub, which opens as soon as the mass finishes at 11am, it is easy to forget for a moment that it is being held in a pub.
While people pray though there is the gentle hum of a dishwasher and the chink of glasses and cutlery as the Sunday lunch menu is cooked up in the pub kitchen.
And as soon as mass is over, the congregation put away their book of prayers to grab the menu and order lunch – typically a traditional wiener schnitzel of immense proportions.
Blankenstein, who sits down with his flock to eat as well, says he one day hopes to find a church to say mass in again.
But he smiles as he says: “I may be here for some time.”