VIENNA, June 29, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Months after Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials demanded action, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, has told a group of priests that they do not have to renounce their membership in a dissident organization opposed to Catholic teaching. A spokesman for the cardinal said that priests involved in the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, who issued a letter last year titled “A Call to Disobedience,” must only renounce the letter initiative and the use of the word “disobedience.”

“You can easily remain a member of the Priests Initiative. You must only distance yourself from the ‘Call to Disobedience’ in an appropriate way,” Church spokesman Nikolaus Haselsteiner said in a public announcement.

“In an average company, a department head can’t say he doesn’t care what the CEO says,” he added.

Cardinal Schönborn told priests last month that supporters of the manifesto would not be appointed as heads of local deaneries, or groups of parishes, or have their title renewed if they are existing deans.

The leader of the Priests’ Initiative, Father Helmut Schüller said that this announcement was the first sign that the Catholic leadership of Austria was taking action against them. Fr. Schüller said his group represents 10 percent of the Austrian clergy.

In June 2011 the Austrian Priests’ Initiative issued their letter demanding “reform” of Catholic teaching and practice to allow married and female priests and the reception of Holy Communion by non-Catholics and divorced and remarried Catholics. In the intervening year it has remained essentially unchallenged by Vienna’s Catholic authorities and has gained support from groups of priests in Germany, Ireland, Belgium and the United States.

The lack of action on the situation in Vienna has angered the pope and Vatican officials. This Easter, in a nearly unprecedented move, Pope Benedict used one of the most important liturgical celebrations of the Catholic year, and the one most closely pertaining to the nature of the Catholic priesthood, to forcefully correct the Austrian situation that had by then remained unaddressed for ten months.

Following reports that the cardinal had received a letter from Rome demanding action, Schönborn told media that he would be requesting a “clarification” from the group. Vienna Church officials said repeatedly that only the use of the term “disobedience” was problematic.

“There must be a clarification here about the ‘Call for Disobedience’. We bishops have said this from the beginning, the word ‘disobedience’ cannot be allowed to stand. I think we need a clarification, a public statement and I think we need to address this matter soon,” the cardinal said.

One priest, a founding member of the Initiative, who responded with defiance to the new rule , told Reuters that he would be staying on as parish priest in two parishes of the archdiocese of Vienna. Fr. Peter Meidinger, said he stepped down from the post of dean after the cardinal made the announcement.

“I spoke to the archbishop and perhaps you cannot say I had to choose, but I had the impression that there was no way out for me so I am stepping down and freeing up the spot,” he told Reuters on Wednesday.

“For me what is important is the Priests’ Initiative and not the term ‘disobedience’,” the priest said. “The term civil disobedience is used when the leaders are simply not prepared to listen to people.”