Around 1.4 million Catholics live in the Archdiocese of Vienna. Vienna is the biggest diocese in Austria and comprises two very different areas: on the one hand, the city of Vienna, which poses a challenge for pastoral work due to its cultural and political history. On the other hand, there is the eastern part of the province of Lower Austria, which is very much shaped by Catholic tradition. In the city of Vienna, only half of the population claims to be catholic, 26% are uncommitted to any religious denomination. In a pluralistic and multireligious society, the high percentage of non-Catholics does not pose the only challenge. In a city like Vienna the yawning gap between young and old people is a real stumbling block if it is not turned into a stepping-stone. In the part of the Viennese diocese in Lower Austria, 80% of the population are members of the Catholic Church. The dramatic changes in society have also left their marks on Lower Austria. Radiating future orientation, the Archdiocese of Vienna and its Archbishop Cardinal Schönborn strive towards a missionary church. The personal commitment of Christians, and successful projects like "Long Nights of Churches," and the "Stadtmission," a missionary project which was designed in Vienna and was taken over by churches in Paris, Lisbon, Brussels, and Budapest, complement one another. Many things shaping church life in Vienna today go back to the former Archbishop Cardinal König, who died in 2004. For instance, the good ecumenical contacts, the commitment to churches in neighboring countries like Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Poland etc., as well as the dedication to pro-life issues, which are concerned with the human life from its very beginning to its natural end. Over 600 parishes build a network offering spiritual guidance and pastoral care. 1.600 priests, deacons and pastoral assistants and 6.500 members of the parish councils are the motivating forces in the parishes. Another 8.000 people do voluntary work in a variety of fields. They engage in pastoral care for children, teenagers and families, sick and handicapped people, for students at university as well as tourists who come to Austria for a vacation. Another distinguishing feature of the Archdiocese of Vienna are the 30 foreign-language parishes where Catholics from all over the World can find a spiritual home. More than 3.000 staff members of the Caritas, the Catholic social service organization, offer real help to real people in need. As a consequence, the organization has a strong voice in political discussions of social issues. In Vienna and Lower Austria, the Church is one of the most important institutions offering education and training. In the course of Religious Education at elementary and high schools, more than 2.000 teachers educate 180.000 pupils. Additionally, 35.000 children and teenagers attend private Catholic schools and 170.000 people make use of the educational programs and trainings offered by Catholic institutions specialized in adult education.
The Archdiocese of Vienna is the biggest in Austria as well as one of the biggest in Europe. The diocese of Vienna covers two very different areas: on the one hand, the city of Vienna, and on the other hand, the eastern part of the province of Lower Austria. 2.5 million people live in an area of 9.100 square kilometers, of which 1.4 million are Catholic.
From a sociological, cultural, and pastoral point of view, the diocese is not homogenous. Thus, at the Diocesan Synod in 1969/71, the diocese was divided into three territorial curacies: the curacy Vienna-City (identical with the province of Vienna), the curacy "Unter dem Manhartsberg" (a part of the province of Lower Austria north of the Danube river), and the curacy of "Unter dem Wienerwald" (a part of the province of Lower Austria south of the Danube river).
In the curacy Vienna-City, about 750.000 Catholics live in only 175 parishes, in the curacy of "Unter dem Wienerwald" there are 354.487 Catholics distributed among 210 parishes, and in the curacy of "Unter dem Manhartsberg," 248.855 Catholics live in 275 parishes. The relatively high number of small parishes in rural areas pose a challenge from a personal and administrative point of view, especially in the light of the declining number of priests. Many parishes cannot have a priest on their own and receive spiritual guidance and the Holy Sacraments from priests of neighboring parishes. Every day life in the two rural curacies is very much shaped by Catholic tradition and that is something pastoral care can tie in with but it is not always as easy as it sounds. Furthermore, parts of the two curacies are city-like, such as the part of the curacy "Unter dem Wienerwald" from the southern Viennese city border to Wiener Neustadt as well as parts of the curacy "Unter dem Manhartsberg." The economic situation in the two rural areas is shaped by the fact that many people commute to jobs in Vienna, which also has consequences for pastoral care in the region. Similarly, in the curacy "Unter dem Manhartsberg," which was well known for its agriculture, only 4% of the population are still working in the farming industry.
Especially in a city like Vienna, the only city with over a million inhabitants and diverse cultural and political traditions, the pastoral situation has to cope with the same problems as other parts in Western Europe and North America: the number of people attending church service is declining (about 11% in the whole Archdiocese), relatively few vocations of priests or members of religious orders, a low birth rate (though the birth rate was occasionally lower in Vienna in the 20th century), (lacking) integration of immigrants and refugees, the size of the parishes, the anonymity in a large city, the fluctuation, and mobility of people are facts for which the Church has to find ways to cope with.
Additionally, in Austria as well as in Middle Europe, it is possible to officially secede from the Church, which is a unique anomaly in the Roman Catholic Church around the world. People who take that step are categorized as undenominational. About 400.000 people in Vienna are uncommitted to any religious denomination.
Due to immigration in the last years, there are big communities of Orthodox and Oriental Christians, Muslims, and Alevis. Nevertheless, the majority of the immigrants, primarily those from Eastern Europe, South Asia, and Black Africa, is Catholic. That is why foreign language parishes have flourished in Vienna and acted like "live-cells" (quote Cardinal Schönborn).
Though immigration problems in Vienna are highly debated, also among Church representatives, one has to be aware of the fact that Vienna, the metropolis of a multinational state, has always been a target for immigration. One glance at the telephone book will do to point out the multicultural, multinational, and multilingual background of Vienna. Moreover, one should bear in mind that up until 1938, more than 10% of the population were members of the Jewish community.
In the light of the changed situation, the primary task is to communicate the Gospels in an authentic way. The people are looking for answers on basic questions about the beginning, the end and the meaning of life. It is the task of the Church to offer the people the answers the Gospels have to give on these questions. Similarly to the early Christian centuries, in this time of globalization, the Church is facing the challenge of offering Jesus' message to people living in a multicultural, multireligious, and skeptical society.
Here, it certainly takes the courage to break new ground. The temptation is tremendous to just stick around like-minded people and take care of and offer pastoral care for those who are "there anyway." That is why the Viennese Archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, identified the term "mission" as central for church life in the Archdiocese of Vienna. He assigned committees such as the Council of Priests and the Pastoral Council to adopt this concern because a non-missionary Church which does not want to win over people for Jesus Christ and the Gospels betrays the Church's vocation.
In the last few years, the Archdiocese of Vienna initiated several missionary projects, such as the symposium "City Pastoral Care" in 2002 and the great city mission project including an international congress for evangelization. The missionary project "Stadtmission" was a stepping stone for many similar projects in Paris, Lisbon, Brussels and Budapest. The "Long Night of Churches," which has taken place every spring since 2005, attracted great interest. And so did special projects on Valentine's Day, the presence of the Church at the feasts of the two biggest political parties, the home calls of parish representatives and volunteers, etc. The activities of the social welfare organization of the Church, the Caritas, in all areas where a helping hand according to the example of the good Samaritan is necessary is of high significance. Also Private Catholic Schools, kindergartens in the parishes, pastoral care, adult education, and Catholic youth work are priorities in the Archdiocese of Vienna. These activities and projects are possible because the 600 existing parishes in the Archdiocese have established a very good network of contacts.
741 priests are engaged in pastoral care in the Archdiocese of Vienna and a total of 1.118 priests and members of religious orders live in the Diocese of Vienna. Another 160 deacons are working in the diocese, many of them on a voluntary basis. Similarly to other German speaking countries, the Archdiocese of Vienna has a relatively high number of laypersons who work full time as pastoral assistants (710), or as teachers of Religious Philosophy and Anthropology (2.000), or who work in Catholic social welfare organizations (3.300). 6.500 voluntary members of the parish councils and the many members of lay orders and spiritual groups make a vast contribution.
The parishes differ in size, especially in the curacy "Unter dem Manhartsberg" and the southern part of "Unter dem Wienerwald." There are very small parishes which date back to the times of Emperor Joseph II, the son of Empress Maria Theresa, and often consist of 150 to 300 parish members only. For this reason, the Archdiocese of Vienna established close contacts between a number of parishes: one priest is responsible for several parishes, which nevertheless remain independent to a certain extent. A team of assistants supports the priest in the daily pastoral care. The pastoral activities are designed reaching beyond parish borders and obeying the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. Thus, the topic "cooperation" has been and is a constant topic of discussion.
In contrast to other big dioceses in Western and Middle Europe, in the Archdiocese of Vienna, "giving up" houses of God to use for other (secular) purposes is not an option. Austrian public opinion would not approved of this procedure which mirrors how people still stick to their Catholic heritage and tradition despite all tendencies towards a secularization of society.
Of course, also in the Archdiocese of Vienna, as well as in other parts of German speaking Middle European countries, money plays a role. The Catholic Church in Austria is financed by Church tax. This system relies on the solidarity of Catholics who finance their Church together, everybody according to their financial capacity. The Church tax is anchored in the Austrian Constitution and only an official secession from the Church provides full relief of the Church tax.
More than 85% of the Archdiocese's budget depend on the Church tax. As a consequence of the age distribution, the increasing number of people seceding from the Church, and other factors, the revenues from the Church tax are stagnating whereas the costs are rising. In 1999, it thus became necessary to bring a new organization plan called "Kirche für Zukunft" ("A Church for the Future") into being. The main aim of this organization plan is to include funds for certain issues in the budget avoiding drastic cuts in pastoral service and leaving scope for necessary church projects to react on latest societal developments. Substantial savings could be achieved in the area of materials, salaries and wages without having to dismiss employees. Exploring other financing options besides the Church tax, it has been possible to achieve a balanced budget in the last few years.
The major guidelines for the new organization plan were not just financial considerations but questions about pastoral priorities. Where are the priorities in the various areas of activity of the Archdiocese in Vienna? Where does the Archdiocese want to engage in further development? On which areas are the powers to be concentrated? These questions led to a formulation of guidelines for pastoral care and a list of pastoral priorities which are still acting as a guide in the process of reorganizing the Archdiocese. These guidelines tie in with the mission statement which was published on October 1, 1999, by Cardinal Schönborn. In the course of the project "Kirche für die Zukunft," a number of projects were launched and departments were restructured, such as the department of pastoral care, adult education, Katholische Aktion etc.
A realistic view on the situation of the Archdiocese of Vienna always leads to the question on how to precede. Many things make people pause for a moment only to notice that God is at work here and is giving His blessing. Many developments cause headaches and pose challenges. But in the end, we trust in God's guidance of the Church and the people working there, as well as the power of the Gospels to move people's hearts in a secularized world.
Msgr. Mag. Franz Schuster
Vicar-General in the Archdiocese of Vienna