This is an interesting and perhaps challenging time for the Roman Curia, as bishops here and there begin to speak out more openly about the need for structural reforms in the curia, and problems with too much centralism in the Catholic Church. Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel, Switzerland spoke with Blick today. Pray Tell offers part of the interview in translation.
What expectations do you have for his (Pope Benedict’s) successor?
First of all, that he holds together the universal church with its innumerable facets and fosters a culture of dialogue. Second, that he takes up the urgent reform of the curia. When one does not know exactly how the curia functions, this truly does not serve the office of the Pope. It wasn’t among the charisms of this pope to carry out this reform.
Reform in what direction?
A feeling of lack of transparency dominates. There should be clearer areas of authority. Also, the curia should take to itself only what is truly necessary and leave the greatest possible scope of action to us bishops and the local church. Sometimes the curial offices worry about things that simply are not their beer.
The new pope will have to concern himself with a few demands that keep coming up. That women can be ordained as priests, for example. Unthinkable?
No, it is not unthinkable. But one must appraise the possible consequences. I am convinced that this break with tradition would lead to a split, as among our Anglican brothers and sisters. Is that what we want? When a split looms, women’s ordination certainly cannot be the first priority on the agenda of the next Pope. But what we should discuss is the office of the diaconate for women…
… they would sort of be priests’ helpers, they could preach, baptize, marry. But not celebrate Mass or hear confessions.
Yes. Here there are starting points in the tradition – in contrast to female priests, where there aren’t such starting points. And I consider it important that women hold important offices in the diocese. …
Many want to abolish mandatory celibacy. You also?
Celibacy is a good manner of life appropriate for priests. It’s thus not a question of simply abolishing it. In the church there is a long tradition that the call to be a priest and being unmarried belong together- but I think that this link is not absolutely binding. Thus, as I see it, celibacy of priests can be reexamined.
Grassroots calls for reform are getting louder. In the canton of Lucerne alone, 180 pastoral ministers – including many priests – signed the Pfarrei-Initiative. How much does that put pressure on you?
We have 1.1 million Catholics in the diocese, so 180 aren’t terribly many. But I do not undervalue the concerns of the Pfarrei-Initiative. I will meet with the initiators and others interested for five half-days about various topics. I believe that we will come together.
In Austria there is the very similar Pfarrer-Initiative. The Austrian bishops were called to Rome because of it. Is the same imminent for the Swiss bishops?
That is entirely possible. We have discussed this in the bishops’ conference. But now a new pope is coming, and possibly such things will no longer stand at the top of the list of priorities.