(Catholic Sentinel) - Austria's Vienna Archdiocese has defended its gifts of Catholic churches to Orthodox communities, as part of a current reorganization.
"Our own church is receding in Vienna, whereas other Christian confessions are on the rise because of immigration," Michael Pruller, the archdiocese spokesman, told Catholic News Service Dec. 19.
"Many large churches were built in the 19th century for parishes numbering tens of thousands. As in other countries, we're now having to get rid of churches, which can't be maintained by their small congregations."
He said the archdiocese had tried to find an "alternative Catholic use" for unwanted churches, to prevent them being turned into "supermarkets and cafes," but would otherwise hand them over to other Christian denominations. No money is given as compensation, he said.
In 2015, the archdiocese will formally hand over St. Anthony of Padua Church to the Romanian Orthodox, who have already begun celebrating liturgies there. The Kathpress news agency reported that fewer than 30 Catholics currently attended Sunday Mass at the church.
Under the reorganization, unveiled in September 2012, the Vienna Archdiocese's 660 parishes are to be merged into 150 larger units, each served by three-five priests. Lay volunteers will conduct Liturgies of the Word in smaller affiliated communities.
In November 2011, the Vatican approved the handover of Vienna's Our Lady of Sorrows Church to the expanding Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Central Europe, despite protests by its predominantly Polish parishioners.
Two other churches have been given to the Coptic Orthodox community and one to the Syrian Orthodox Church, which is also negotiating the handover of a second.