Who started the sons of freedom

172 years of the Wiener Kirchenzeitung: How it all began
1848: "A child of freedom"

In the spring of 1848 a group of young priests decided to take the defense of the attacked church into their own hands. On April 15th, the “Wiener Kirchenzeitung” published by Sebastian Brunner appeared for the first time. Johann Weißensteiner from the Vienna Diocesan Archives will remember the hour of its birth.

Dr. Johann Weissensteiner was director of the Vienna diocesan archive until July 2019

"The rigid, icy winter of tyranny gave way to our fatherland, in the March days the winter blanket broke, in the May days the seeds of freedom grew and emblazoned in the green of hope." These seemingly pathetic words from Anton Füster, field chaplain of the Vienna Academic Legion, described the situation in Vienna in spring on July 28, 1848 looking back. In a few days Metternich's old system with its police state methods and its ubiquitous censorship had been swept away: On March 13, 1848, the day the revolution broke out, Metternich had to abdicate and flee . March the longed-for constitution, the "constitution".
In the numerous new newspapers, pamphlets and brochures that have now appeared, there are massive attacks on the Catholic Church and its institutions: One railed against the "idleness in the monasteries", pleaded for the confiscation of the church and monastery property to cover the National debt and demanded - in the name of freedom - the abolition of celibacy.
On March 13th, in the same breath as Metternich's expulsion, “amidst the tumult of the people”, the expulsion of the Jesuits as those “tools with which one wants to dumb down the people” was demanded. In Mariahilf an enraged crowd tried to break into the church; the following day the parish office was stormed. On April 6th, the Redemptorists were expelled from their monastery near Maria am Gestade, and the same fate met the Redemptorists on Rennweg the following night.

The archbishop was silent

Storming of the barricades on Stephansplatz in Vienna during the Revolution of 1848.

Archbishop of Vienna was in the revolutionary year 1848 was Vinzenz Eduard Milde (1832-1853). He had proven himself in many functions in the Josephine state church and in 1832 became the first civil archbishop of Vienna. He had stayed away from the reform group around Klemens Maria Hofbauer, and the popular missions propagated by the Redemptorists were anathema to him. Milde advocated a course that was completely in line with the state. In 1848 he did not understand the demands of the younger clergy for the liberation of the church from the “golden fetters of the state church”. Accordingly, on March 17, he issued the following order: “The priests are not destined to advise or rule the earthly affairs of people, but to promote the inner, eternal salvation of the soul. That is why His prince-archbishop's graces wish and hope that all priests do not interfere in political affairs, but limit themselves to praying to God that he may direct everything for the true temporal and eternal well-being of mankind ".

Especially for the younger clergy, this recommendation was far too little. Just two days later, the court chaplain, Dr. Michael Häusle wrote the brochure “Questions to the Lord Archbishop of Vienna. In the name of his mouth-dead clergy ”. In it the archbishop was reminded that the priest was also a citizen, must not give up his inner freedom and therefore had to take care of secular matters, and that in addition to secular politics there was also an ecclesiastical one. Above all, it is now about the freedom of the church: “The Church in Austria is still in the shameful bonds of bureaucratism, and the first bishop of the German hereditary lands begins his step into the new order of things by calling on his clergy to the old, accustomed tame! ... We want for the Church only that freedom which she deserves from God and by legal means, freedom from all bureaucratic tutelage on the part of the state, the free and unabridged autonomy of the Church in her field, protection and guarantee for her
external rights "..." A new church must blossom alongside the new state "

The church newspaper was born

Since the archbishop remained largely inactive, a group of young priests, including above all the then chaplain of Altlerchenfeld, Dr. Sebastian Brunner, and the later Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Anton Gruscha, took the defense of the often attacked church into their own hands. On April 15th - it was the Saturday before Palm Sunday - the “Wiener Kirchenzeitung” published by Sebastian Brunner appeared for the first time.

Newspaper founder Sebastian Brunner

Brunner had already made the plan to publish a church newspaper in Vienna in 1847 and informed Archbishop Milde about it. The archbishop was not at all averse to this project, but had requested that the manuscripts be submitted to the church newspaper for church censorship three years in advance. After this decision, Brunner temporarily dropped the project, but took it up again after the end of state censorship and the granting of press freedom in March 1848 and in the same month published his program in the Wiener Kirchenzeitung under the motto "Freedom of the Church" should stand. So writes Brunner: “Where no leader boldly places himself at the top and gathers his flags, they have to prepare for guerrilla warfare individually. Oh, that the day would have already dawned when every bishop would again become an apostle, a father of his spiritual sons. Oh, that the bishops should now stand together like one man, where the loss of one day outweighs years. The time of silence has passed, the time of the word has come; probably the one who leads it with a clear conscience for a good cause ”.

No paternalism

Similarly, with reference to the freedom of the press granted by the emperor in April 1848 at a meeting of the Viennese diocesan clergy, represented inter alia. by Sebastian Brunner, Anton Gruscha and Wilhelm Gärnter, emphasized: "By the emperor's grace we have the free word, and it is our sacred duty to use it in the service of the one who sent us". At one of the next meetings it was unanimously decided to declare the Wiener Kirchenzeitung the official organ of the assembly of the Viennese clergy. The still powerful "Josephiners" in the clergy, on the other hand, looked at the Vienna church newspaper "As a true calamity and found it even worse than all radical newspapers". In fact, Sebastian Brunner repeatedly came into conflict with state and church authorities because of his publication of the Wiener Kirchenzeitung. In December 1848 he was asked to follow the manuscripts of the sermons given by the pastor of Wienerherberg, Franz Guschl. Guschl had them in it "State administration with a bowling alley, on which the people are the skittles, the Scheiber are the ministers" compared and America as "A state where there are no emperors, no kings" praised. He was therefore removed from his parish and arrested for “democratic activities”. In this context, Brunner emphasized the principle of the inviolability of the confidentiality of letters: "The editorial team has, among other things, set up the principle and has the right to set it up and implement it, that it only wants to return manuscripts sent in to the sender in accordance with the law of the guaranteed inviolability of the confidentiality of letters.". Furthermore, he emphasized the right to represent his position himself and defended himself against the tutelage of the church authorities: "So may the political investigative authority put itself in direct correspondence with the edited editorial staff and convey their requests themselves, because the editorial staff has the right to represent itself in its own affairs.".

Newspaper history for reading