Page 12, 6th November 1936

6th November 1936
Page 12
Page 12, 6th November 1936 — STORY OF CATHOLIC ACTION IN AUSTRIA

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Locations: Vienna


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CO-ORDINATION OF SOCIETIES Youth; Family; Parish; Nation

With the announcement that the hierarchy are to issue a joint pastoral on Catholic Action in this country for Advent, the history of Catholic Action here will enter upon a new and decisive stage.

It will be of exceptional interest to both clergy and laity to read the full account—the first published in this country—of the beginnings and progress of Catholic Action in another country.

While there must necessarily be great differences between Catholic Action in a Catholic country like Austria and our own, the example of Austria will be a source of inspiration and may also be useful as a term of comparison on the eve of the new phase in Britain.

By EDWARD QUINN At the beginning of this year, the Seelsorge Institut of Vienna published a Year Book of Catholic Action, in which was traced briefly but completely the whole development of Catholic Action from the first attempts at organisation in Austria.

It is intended to summarise this •account for the benefit of English readers and to comment on it in the light of conversations with some of the personalities concerned with Catholic Action in that country.

Cardinal Piffl's Lead

It is pointed out. at the very beginning that, as in every other country, Catholic Action has always existed in Austria in some form. The general idea of establishing the Kingdom of Christ on earth, through lay-apostles, has been present in the Church from the' beginningit could hardly fail therefore to be present in Catholic Austria, always intensely conscious of her European mission.

Conscious, however, that Catholic activities must be co-ordinated for better effect, Cardinal Piffl, Archbishop of Vienna, drew up in 1927 a scheme for his archdiocese, which collated and organised the activities of the various societies.

Committee of Priests and Laymen

Five years later, when Cardinal Innitzer had succeeded Cardinal Piffl, a Viennese parish priest made the suggestion that it would be necessary to organise Catholic Action on entirely new lines. It was a good suggestion if a little hasty; at least it started an inquiry and created interest.

The Cardinal appointed a committee of priests (who later added prominent laymen to their number) to investigate the whole matter.

They held weekly sittings between June and October, 1933, and moved so rapidly that the Cardinal was able to announce at the clergy conference in October that he himself would be the leader of Catholic Action in the archdiocese, that he was instituting a central office of Catholic Action under two priests appointed by himself; finally, he urged that committees be set up in every parish to discuss the best methods of establishing the new movement.

The Vienna Meeting

A splendid opportunity came in December, 1933, when the leaders of Catholic associations from all over Austria gathered in Vienna. They were asked to form committees to investigate at once the question of Catholic Action in its relation to (i) Youth, (ii) The Family, (iii) The Parish, (iv) The Nation.

The fourth of these is interesting. In a truly Catholic spirit of patriotism, Austrian Catholic Action is especially concerned with national interests, with the Austrian mission towards other countries, and with God's will as shown in the national life. There is here a challenge to the ungodly and unnatural classinternationalism advocated by the Communists and the excessive nationalism of Fascist States. There is also an example to ourselves, who, because our country is largely non-Catholic, tend to despise some of its more estimable values. The conclusions drawn up by these committees were kept. studied and used as a basis for the formation of Catholic Action in Austria.

Further Committees were set up for more

practical work in February, 1934. On each there was a president, a president's representative and a rapporteur; each committee was concerned with some particular sphere, for example, men, women, young men and young women, education, culture, etc., and its chief task was to delimit its own work from that of others. The rapporteur to the committee was in touch with others in the parishes and represented the views of the latter and their suggestions to the central committee. These rapportears were chosen less for their experience with Catholic associations than for their known zeal and enthusiasm in the particular sphere with which they were concerned. Gathered together in Vienna and given solemn authorisation by the Cardinal to direct the movement of Catholic Action. in association with others, in their own parishes. it was evident that the formal setting up. of the organisation of Catholic Action could not be long delayed.

Formal Organisation Set Up

This took place through the issue ota scheme by the Cardinal on December

• 18. 1934. It referred-only to the Archdiocese of Vienna hut it was taken as a model in other dioceses, and it may he regarded as in all essentials the actual . organisation . of Catholic .Action. ' in Austria. • . . .

, The position of a bishop and the importance of the parish are first•outlined. The bishop is to be regarded,. as the leader of Catholic Action in his diocese, the parish

priest in the parish. The parish, too, is the 'unit of Catholic Action.' The hierarchical and parochial organisation of the whole Church is thus reflected in Catholic Action, • and the apostled, are • vividly reminded of the necessity of " thinking

with the Church and entering whole heartedly into her spirit. The parochial organisation continues to maintain contact with the central committees in Vienna through a rapporteur. The priest or his representative is urged to explain to his parish once a week the aims and theory of Catholic Action, but the real movement is to be the work of an elite well-trained in their religion and able to influence those with whom they come into contact. It is the Communist " cell " method utilised for Catholic purposes.

A middle way is found between rejecting the old associations and forming com pletely new ones. Societies which are already inspired with the idea of the apostolate and thus really carrying out the aims of Catholic Action are to remain. Others which have not this idea and which are more concerned for the mutual benefit of members are not to be included in the scheme of Catholic Action.

Every effort must be made w bring Catholic Youth into the organisation of Catholic Action. It is on them more than on any others that the burden of active work will lie.

Finally, a priest is appointed to act as general secretary and to be the link between the Cardinal and the diocesan movement. He is assisted by an advisory committee of priests and laymen.

Thinking With the Church

The reform of existing associations without violence is particularly interesting and some fresh light is shed on the problem in an account by Fraulein Hildegarde Holzer of the Catholic Young Women's part in Catholic Action. Before this scheme was issued and for a long time after it, the young women tended to pay too much attention to the associations in a way which weakened the efforts of the Church as a whole.

" It has been necessary," she says, " to turn them from Associational thinking to Church-thinking " — Verbandlichen Denken zu kirchlichen Denken. She gives as an example of this spirit the case of a certain parish where girls attended Communion in great numbers on the day appointed for their organisation, but were scarcely represented at all when the priest announced that a' certain day would be fixed for Communion for all the girls of the parish.


The Church never looks for quick results and it would be misleading to attempt to judge the above' scheme by the attainments of the past two years. Moreover, in a spiritual activity such as Catholic Action is, 'many of the results are unseen. The fact, therefore, that people in Austria 'are, as they always were, ninety per cent practising, and the citizens of Vienna only 'fifteen to twenty per cent. practising, is no criticism of the efforts of the Austrian apostles of Catholic Action. Nor can 'oneexpect any scheme to achieve results of itself; the best machinery will not work unless capable human intellects dilect it. Catholic Action, however organised, depends ultimately for its success on the zeal and the God-given talents of the human beings whp share. in it. There is a guarantee of success in the Austrian scheme also in that there are zealous and capable personalities occupied with its working.

Institute for Care of Souls

Some examples of the results achieved through the personal efforts of zealous apostles were given me by the director of the Seelsorge Institut, a secular priest, Dr. Karl Rudolf.

This institute is concerned with the care of souls, but it co-operates in many ways with Catholic Action which, in the last resort, is directed to the same purpose.

It was through the Seelsorge Institut that Mass-centres were established soon after the fighting of February 1934. in those very tenement houses which had been used by the Marxist workers as fortresses.

Dr. Rudolf also pointed out with a naïve self-satisfaction that, at first, there had been no sort of organisation for the sacristans in the many churches in Vienna. Yet they were very much occupied with the care of souls and were constantly in tonal with things necessary for the Sacramental Life of the Church. They had therefore been provided with an organisation and a periodical of their own. Thus they are not only united, but given a new sense of their dignity and of the apostolate which is theirs.

Applied to Ourselves

That is the scheme of Catholic Action in Austria, with some indication of its practical efficacy. It is not meant to be proposed as an ideal scheme and if it differs from that put forward by our own hiararchy, the difference will undoubtedly be due to the diversity of national conditions. But it is not at all unlikely that there will be considerable resemblance in our own to the Austrian scheme, and it is certain that the efficacy of Catholic Action in England, as in Austria and elsewhere, will finally depend on the zeal, enthusiasm and abilities of the apostles. Meanwhile the example of Austria should be not only a term of comparison but more especially a source of inspiration and encouragement to increase our own zeal.

The book describing these and other matters is called Der Aufbau. Jahrbuch der katholischen Aktion in Oesterreich, 1935, and, is published at the Seelsorge •Institut, Wien I, Stephansplatz, 3.

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