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EXCLUSIVE: Rebel Priest From Austria Speaks To Eyewitness News

By Pat Ciarrocchi

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - An Austrian priest, described by some as a rebel, is coming to Philadelphia this Friday, as part of a U.S. tour. His opinions are controversial within the official Church, he's banned from speaking on church property.

His name is Father Helmet Schuller - a 60-year-old, parish priest who has strong words for Catholics and their leaders.

"I think the world wide church is in big trouble," said Schuller in an exclusive Skype interview with CBS 3's Pat Ciarrocchi.

His works are reverberating through layers of church hierarchy.

Father Schuller believes the Catholic Church needs a new model for leadership, beginning with the priesthood.

"We have to look for new ways for the priesthood... to open it for men who have families.. to open it to women. Open it for each person who is gifted for this office."

In Austria, Father Schuller began what's called "The Preachers' Initiative." Four hundred priests now belong and speak what's viewed as rebellious message of reform. Schuller will speak this Friday night in a rented venue on the campus of Chestnut Hill College. It's open to the public for a ten dollar donation.

Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Chaput banned Schuller's presentation from Archdiocesan property, as Boston did weeks ago when the tour was announced.

In a statement, the Archbishop said, "to avoid the furtherance of any confusion about Catholic teaching, he (Schuller) may not speak at any parish or diocesan-related facility in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

He went on to call Chestnut Hill College's decision to rent the space for the priest's discussion, "regrettable."

Schuller called the "forbidding" of speaking or listening to someone, an old-fashioned reaction to an old-fashioned system. "I'm not offended," said Schuller, "But I am disappointed.

In Philadelphia, with only 18-percent of the area's 1.4 million Catholics attending Mass, people here say they're disappointed too.

Three young men were ordained priests in May - among the lowest ordination numbers here in recent years.

That priest-shortage has motivated Regina Bannan, who is with the organizing group, "The Voice of the Faithful." She says an academic, intellectual discussion about reform doesn't confuse church teaching.

"I think Catholics are way beyond confusion,' said Bannan. " They've become discouraged with the institutional church. I think that's the creativity, courage and conscience that Helmet Schuller can bring."

Other points up for discussion on Friday night with Father Schuller -- "the deep sorrow about the dissolution of community and parish life, decentralizing power in the Church, away from Bishops and the Pope, expanding the work of the laity, recognizing clergy sexual abuse as an abuse of power and authority, and making sure that victims of abuse feel that their stories and experiences are heard, while doing this within the framework of the Catholic faith."

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