AUSTRIA'S Catholic schools, some of them on the brink of bankruptcy, are struggling without any government aid, although such help is called for by
Austria's treaty with the Holy See.
If state aid is withheld much longer, Catholic education authorities fear that many of the 380 Catholic schools may have to close down at a time when they have long waiting lists and popular interest in Church education is rising.
Catholics have a strong point in arguing that their schools are educating 55.000 pupils, and the State would have to find an extra l,500.000 if it were to try to take over the Church schools or replace them.
Implementation of the 1933 Concordat between Austria and the Holy See has been opposed by the Socialist Party and even by some elements in the Catholicorientated People's Party. These two parties govern the country in coalition.
Before World War I, in the final years of the old empire. Church schools received government subsidies when needed. But after the break-up of the empire into a number of small counties. there followed a ruinous inflation and the Church suffered greatly. It was for this reason that the 1933 Concordat provided for State aid to cover material needs and teachers' salaries in Catholic schools.
After the second World War. the losses suffered under Nazi occupation made it extremely difficult for the Church to pay lay teachers, and school fees could not be raised in a time of general hardship. Nor could lay teachers be replaced with qualified priests and nuns because of the decline in vocations.
Until 1958 the Socialists maintained that the Concordat was invalid because it was signed by DoIlfuss's regime, which, they claimed, was an illegal government. After long negotiations. both parties agreed in 1958 to accept the Concordat's validity.
The government, however, informed the Holy See that Austria could not enforce it, as some of its provisions were incompatible with the nation's laws, and suggested that a new treaty be negotiated. The Holy See criticised the government's attitude. but indicated a willingness to negotiate modifications of the treaty if Austria showed good faith by enforcing it.
Some of the controversial matters rising out of the treaty were settled between Austria and the Holy See last year. but the settlement did not include the schools not the treaty's provisions regarding marriage laws. Many supporters of the People's Party joined the Socialists in their opposition to these. because . they stipulate that Catholics cannot obtain even a civil divorce.