October 10, 2014
STANDARD: The head of the Priest Initiative and a pastor sees the time ripe for reforms. Starting next Sunday, Pope Francis extends an invitation to the first bishops’ synod of his pontificate. Marriage, family, and sex—likely to be one of the most exciting synods of the last few decades. What do you expect?
Schüller: At the least, I expect an opening on those themes and questions. Up to now, discussion of these topics within the Church was blocked, with constant references to unchangeable teachings. A new openness would be great goal of this bishops’ synod.
STANDARD: In the last 50 years, nobody dared to sweep the dust off basic values? Why should we now, all of a sudden, speak about this in all transparency?
Schüller: Because the time is right and Pope Francis has created the basis for this important discourse. It is already a giant step forward when cardinals debate openly the role of remarried and divorced people. This has not happened before. And as soon as discussion begins, a dynamic of its own comes into being, and cannot be controlled unilaterally. Therefore, I expect concrete change.
STANDARD: Which concrete changes?
Schüller: Above all, the Church must find ways to distribute Communion to partners not yet married in the Church, to divorced and remarried partners, and homosexual couples.
It is a matter of recognizing today’s real life experiences of all married couples, families, and people in relationships. That should be the starting point of all deliberations of the synod. Primacy of conscience must be restored to its rightful place in the Church.
STANDARD: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn is decidedly more pessimistic here and has put a damper on expectations. We should not expect “that the pope will change the teaching about marriage.”
Schüller: This attitude is very typical of Austrian bishops: don’t dare to leave the safety of cover. That’s a tactical, strategic comment, not a substantive one.
STANDARD: Didn’t the worldwide questionnaire as the basis of the upcoming synod raise expectations that were too high?
Schüller: The basis in parish communities goes beyond expectations. Many steps in the direction toward a modern church have already been taken. One example was the “Mass at the Edge” in Steiermark for homosexuals and remarried and divorced people.
STANDARD: So the days of “Roma locuta, causa finita” are numbered?
Schüller: The tone is clear: with Rome, if Rome wants to join us. But alone if the Vatican won’t come along. It’s Rome’s choice. It could still happen that church leadership will come along. If not, Rome will be on the sidelines, watching how the base will go it alone. If the cardinals don’t move, they will move further and further away from the people in the Church. The Roman centralism does not work anymore.
STANDARD: Why is the issue of remarried divorced pe0ple so difficult for the Church?
Schüller: The issue was elevated too high theologically, Any change is seen as the collapse of the totality of teachings. The sacrament of marriage must return to what it once was: a sacrament with the openness to divorce, healing, and mercy.
STANDARD: The Priests’ Initiative has become noticeably quiet—are you suddenly in obeisance after all?
Schüller: No, we have changed nothing in our positions. Of course, the situation has changed: everyone looks to the pope who suddenly addresses teachings which only reform movements used to articulate. There is less interest in us. But we keep on working
Translated by Ursula Lukas Slavick, retired German teacher and overseer of the Portland, ME, Haiti Project.