It was an honour for me to sing for the funeral of a beloved native son of Innsbruck, the retired Bishop Reinhold Stecher. I had seen or heard a thing or two about him over the years (he retired before my arrival), but with his death comes an outpouring of love and sadness from many, many local citizens, with a depth I could not have imagined.
A good friend said to me yesterday, after watching the funeral procession pass through the Altstadt, “I just said goodbye to ‘my’ Bishop. For me, it was the Dalai Lama, and him.”
It is hard to describe here all that he did for Innsbruck. He entered the seminary in 1939, just after the Anschluss, and was drafted into the Wehrmacht (Wikipedia (g) notes that he was arrested by the Gestapo first and then sent to the front). He resumed his studies after his returned and was ordained in 1947, a pretty rough time for Austria, which was still not only rebuilding its bombed-out cities but was still trying to find its way spiritually and morally forward out of the Nazi years and the Allied occupation.
Stecher brought to this post-war era a leadership grounded on tolerance and integration. He did not tolerate, but rather embraced ongoing relations with both the Protestant church and the Jewish community, both of which sent prominent emissaries to pay their heartfelt respects at his funeral. Stecher officially banned the “Judenstein” cult which had developed around the anti-semitic myth of Anderl of Rinn, protested the right-wing measures against asylum seekers in the 1990s, sharply criticised the Vatican for its “theological and pastoral deficiency”. He openly supported the idea of married priests. On the subject of the ordination of women he stated that he was unaware of what the “purely biblical, dogmatic objections would be” (g).
Stecher was an avid mountain climber, painter, writer. Everyone with whom I spoke who ever met him said that he was an absolute Mensch, a kind soul who was genuinely interested in his flock, for whom no problem was too small. In these days, as the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church tilts to the right, he was possibly one of the last great inclusive, integrative church leaders, even out of office. With his death comes the end of an era, but hopefully the climate of moderation, for which Stecher surely had much influence, will continue.
Image from ORF website. I found the pallbearers delightfully fascinating, they looked to have walked straight out of the Tiroler Panorama.