New interview with Cardinal Grech- Synod has no taboo subjects and welcomes steps towards the ordination of women

Archbishop Wolfgang Haas boycotts the synodal process.    What do you say to this, Cardinal Mario Grech?

Curia Cardinal Mario Grech (65) is "Mister Synod": The threads of the synodal process run together in his office.   A conversation about his experiences in Prague, Cardinal Müller's criticism - and what he says to disappointed Catholics of Synod 72.

Eminence, what is the most important message coming out of Prague?

Cardinal Mario Grech:  We learned that we have different backgrounds and different positions.   But we managed to walk together and work together.   That has proved to be very productive.

How would you explain to a child what synodality means?

Grech: I would ask the child: do you like to walk alone - or do you prefer to walk with your family?      I think children like to be out with the family.   Synodality means in simple words: the family of God, the people of God, are on the way together.   And each member of the family has something to say and something to contribute.   Parents do not simply decide, but they listen to their children and are constantly in dialogue with them.

"Synodality is time-consuming."

Prague was the start of many continental conferences.   What went well, what went badly?

Grech: Many things went very well.   But I would have liked more time.   Synodality is time-consuming - especially if we want to maintain the more spiritual context.   For example, I would have liked discussions and exchanges to have taken place within a spiritual conversation.

How does that go together: texts in ecclesiastical politics, statements and spirituality?

Grech: One does not exclude the other.   The whole synodal process is a spiritual process.   We are all learning that the fruits of this synodal process are the seeds of a spiritual experience.

From Prague, fly directly to Beirut.   There you will find a different face of the Catholic Church.   In the Oriental churches there are married priests and the bishops are elected synodically.

Grech: This diversity is what makes the Catholic Church so beautiful.   In Prague, too, we felt that there is unity in diversity.   With regard to synodality, we can learn a lot from the Orthodox Church, but even more from the Eastern Catholic Churches, because they live in unity with the Pope.

There is some confusion among the delegates in Prague.   The synodal outcome paper has been announced for Monday.   Is this the final version?      At first it was said that everyone could still submit feedback on this document.

Grech: I cannot answer that question because I am not part of the organising team.   I am here as an observer in my role as General Secretary of the Synod.   Every Synod Assembly has the freedom to stand on its own feet.   I also do not have a copy of the text yet.  

The week in Prague showed how time-consuming communication is.   Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz complained to that the meeting had been poorly organised.   He had not received a link for the online meeting.   And the theologian Dorothea Sattler "only found out one day before the start that she was to moderate the working group".   How do you want to better organise the Synod meeting in Rome?     

Grech: Preparing a Synod is time-consuming.   But our office has experience with it.   It is not the first time we have organised a Synod meeting.   We hope that we will succeed in establishing and maintaining contact with all those who will be attending.

Pope Francis has renamed your office.   You are no longer responsible for the Synod of Bishops, but for the Synod.   What does the name change mean?

Grech: The big change is not in the name, but in the practice.    This Synod is different from the Synods that took place in the past.    The whole Church participates.    The meetings in the Dioceses, at the national level or now here at the continental level were not preparation, but already part of the Synod.

"Ecclesiologically, discernment by the bishops is important."

Many have the impression that the decisive thing will only happen in Rome.

Grech: I see it differently.   The whole process is crucial.   It is about listening - from beginning to end.   We took the feedback sent to our secretariat very seriously.   For me, the papers are "res sacra" - not just drafts, but documents with an independent value.   Of course, discernment is important.   And ecclesiologically, discernment by the bishops is important - together with the people of God.   So the whole process is important, not just what happens in Rome.

Bishop Joseph Bonnemain discusses the results of the "We are Ear" survey with religious representatives.

The synodal process is not an opinion poll.    Nevertheless, the people of God have responded to your questions.    What do you do with the answers?

Grech: We deliberately did not send out a questionnaire.   We were concerned with discernment.   Discernment is different from asking for opinions.   What we received from the bishops' conferences is the result of discernment made by people in groups, then by the local bishop and then by the bishops' conference.   That is something completely different from an opinion poll or a discussion.

Some in Prague have perceived a contradiction between the sermons of Cardinal Hollerich and Cardinal Ouellet.   Cardinal Hollerich preached about an inclusive Church, while Cardinal Ouellet emphasised the divine order of men and women.   What do such differences mean for a synodal church?     

Grech: I cannot answer this question because Cardinal Hollerich preached in German and freely.   Accordingly, there was no translation.

Some consider Pope Francis to be a cha-cha-cha dancer: one step forward, two steps back.  

Grech: I don't share that impression.   Pope Francis has a clear course.   He wants to help the Church to be Church.   A Church that proclaims the Gospel and reaches out to people.   With the synodal process, Pope Francis wants to rediscover the meaning of the people of God.   We can all participate in this mission.   Secondly, we need to find new ways for the joy of the Gospel to reach the people.   Synodality and evangelisation are two sides of the same coin.

Jesus was not a man of the subjunctive, but of the spirit.   Speaking is not enough for conversion.   Goodness is always concrete.   But the synodal process likes to put off the people of God until tomorrow: first we need synodal structures - and then we can tackle the issues that really concern you.

Grech: As a church we are thinking about how we can become more synodal.   Once we are more synodal, we can address certain issues better.   And I am convinced: a synodal church gives better answers to the existential questions.

You mentioned in Rome that two national bishops' conferences have not participated in the synodal process.    Apart from Ukraine, who else has not participated?

Grech: Out of respect, I will not answer that question.    It is up to the bishops' conferences to declare themselves if they wish to do so.    The Ukrainians have done it - and we understand because of the terrible situation.

Archbishop Wolfgang Haas boycotted the synodal process in the Archdiocese of Vaduz.    What do you think of that?

Grech: Certain doubts may be justified.    But the people of God have understood the message.    I am happy about all those who participated in the synodal process.    I am not referring specifically to the Archdiocese of Vaduz when I say that non-participation is a missed opportunity.    The synodal process is a moment of grace.   Those who have been involved in the synodal process have had very positive and promising experiences.

Lay people from Liechtenstein did not accept the boycott and organised a synodal process which bypassed the Archbishop.    Did you take note of the reports you received from Liechtenstein in Rome?

Grech: Of course.

"The bishop listens, does the discernment, communicates the result - and gets feedback again."

In Prague there was a lot of talk about "decision taking" and "decision making".    What do you mean by that exactly?

Grech: I'll make an example.   A bishop is responsible for his diocese.   Before he makes a decision, he has to listen to his people.   And that is the process of decision-making.   Compared to a top-down decision, this means: we need more time.   Because it is about listening.   And circularity: the bishop listens, engages in discernment, communicates the result - and seeks feedback again to verify his decision.   This principle will help us to discern the will of God.   After all, our decisions are not political decisions.

You said in a recent interview that there are people who openly oppose the synodal process.   Who are you referring to?

Grech: I leave the answer to that question to you.  

In the same interview you said that the greatest resistance comes from younger priests.   What explanation do you have for this?

Grech: I didn't mean that as a general statement.   There are young priests who find it difficult to engage in this process.   But there are many others who have entered into it with enthusiasm.   We priests are no different from other members of God's people.   We all need training.   Through education, hopefully, one comes to know better the value, the importance of some of these things.

Only clergy on the podium in Prague.

Earlier this week in Prague, a photo caused outrage in some circles because there were only clerics on the podium.    In Rome, you usually make sure that there is a woman on the podium, Sister Nathalie Becquart.    Why didn't that work in Prague?

Grech: The people of God are protagonists of the synodal process.    We do not exclude anyone.    The picture was not optimal, but I can explain: The people who were present were those who had a specific function.    They were not on the podium as clergy, but by virtue of their office.

According to canon law, why is the Synod Secretariat not part of the Curia?

Grech: That was not my decision, it is simply the way it is.    From my point of view, it has neither an advantage nor a disadvantage.    De facto, I do not feel that we are not part of the Curia.  

Cathcon: As the Curia was subverted at the Second Vatican Council, they are going to attempt to do the same again.  It brought woe to that generation and it will bring woe to this.

Curia Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller has sharply criticised you: you thought you were a "super-authority".

Grech: That is completely wrong.    I am here to serve.    My authority is to serve.    And that is to serve the whole people of God, which includes my confreres in the episcopate.

Who will be invited to Rome in October - and who will be given voting rights?

Grech: This question has not yet been settled.   The final decision on this lies with the Holy Father.   It is a Synod of Bishops, so the bishops are very important.   But I am convinced that other members will participate.   And of the laity, at least Sister Nathalie Becquart will have the right to vote.

"Synodality means striving for consensus."

If the people of God are to be the subject: is one lay woman with voting rights enough?

Grech: The focus on the question of voting rights surprises me because we are not moving forward with votes.   Synodality is not about winning or losing votes.   It is about striving for consensus.

In 1991 there was a Synod of Europe.    At that time, a young auxiliary bishop wanted to discuss divorcees and artificial contraception, which caused a scandal.    Have we moved on today?

Grech: The theme of the synodal process is synodality.    We should not miss the opportunity to set the course for a synodal church now.    But there are no taboo subjects.

Fifty years ago, during Synod 72, the Diocese of Basel called for women to have access to ordained ministry.    Older Catholics are no longer interested in the synodal process because they say: we discussed this 50 years ago - and nothing happened.    What do they say to them?

Grech: I understand the impatience.    But we should also admit that the Church has made important steps forward.

One delegate said in Prague that there are tensions not only between East and West, but also between North and South.    They come from Malta, where there is now also "marriage for all" and the ban on abortion has been relaxed.   What do you think about North-South differences?

Grech: I find such differences difficult to identify.   We live in a universal church where we don't get anywhere with black and white patterns.

Will one outcome of the synodal process be "salutary decentralisation", i.e.   more autonomy for the bishops' conferences or even for individual dioceses?

Grech: There are issues that concern the whole Church and there are issues that can be addressed by the local Churches.    This is nothing new, but something that is anchored in our ecclesiology.

What do you say to people who are frightened by the word synodality?

Grech: I understand if there are doubts.    That is part of the nature of the Church.    And there are cases where synodality has not been lived so far.    Something unfamiliar can cause uncertainty.    But we cannot save the Church alone.    We have to walk the path together.    Synodality empowers the whole people of God.    It empowers the laity as well as the priests and the bishops who do not walk alone.    Synodality is a gift of the Holy Spirit for the Church today.

In a video telephone conversation with Moscow Patriarch Cyril and his then foreign envoy Metropolitan Hilarion, Pope Francis and Curia Cardinal Kurt Koch experienced that even church people often do not want to listen.    What does refusal to dialogue mean in the synodal process?

Grech: Patience is an important virtue.    We should continue to hope and be patient until we succeed in finding a listening heart.    It is important that we raise our voices.    At the same time, we must not forget that we have to listen to others.