The Canadian-Czech Cardinal of the Curia Michael Czerny (77) believes that the current Synod on Synodality in the Vatican will advance the ecclesial participation of women. New ways are needed so that women can better participate, he said. Czerny explains in an interview what the biblical sinner Mary Magdalene has to do with this.
Question: Cardinal, what is your view of the synodal process so far?
Czerny: The Synod is a wonderful challenge for us as a Church. It is not easy - but it is definitely worthwhile to learn together how we can function better as a Church to fulfil the mission that Jesus Christ has entrusted to us.
Question: What are your hopes?
Czerny: That we learn the art of listening, dialogue and consensus-building in a prayerful and fraternal way. And that we move forward together in the face of many questions and differences.
Question: Do you think this can change the structure of the Catholic Church in the long run?
Czerny: We will see. But change will be the fruit of this synodal approach. We need time. The results are not immediately visible.
Question: In the run-up to the Synod in Rome, there were calls for equal rights for women in many countries.
Czerny: This shows that the women's question is a concern all over the world. It is also an example that the synodal process is at work. The Synod is not called to answer these questions. It is called to learn how to function. It is like an experiment.
Question: Do you think the Synod will strengthen the role of women in the Church?
Czerny: The synodal process has already done this. Because women and men have participated equally. Moreover: women and men have equal rights in the Catholic Church.
Question: Why then do women not have the opportunity to be admitted to ordained ministry?
Czerny: Gender equality in the Church does not come from access to the priesthood, but from baptism. Baptism makes us equal members of the Church; equal in every aspect of participation.
Question: Nevertheless, called women cannot become priests.
Czerny: There is still an old-fashioned idea that a priest or a bishop is somehow better. Your question is a sociological question to which the Church can only give a limited answer, which will probably not make you happy. We are sorry for that. But I hope that you will appreciate more and more the real life, the real Church, in which men and women have equal dignity and participate equally.
Question: Allow me to ask again. There is no right to ordination to the priesthood. But a man's vocation is examined by the Church - a woman's is not. That is structural discrimination.
Czerny: No, it is not structural discrimination. It is our tradition that women cannot become priests. And tradition is dynamic. It is ongoing. It is not static.
Question: A book will soon be published in Spanish in which many women tell of their vocation to become priests. Have you ever met a woman called to be a priest?
Czerny: Probably yes. I have met women who are thinking about it or who are participating in the debate.
Question: Will the Synod allow decentralised solutions?
Czerny: Yes, I think some local differences will be highlighted. We already have big differences in the universal Church. For example, people in an African country celebrate Eucharist differently than in Europe. The word 'Catholic' means 'all-inclusive'. It does not mean uniformity. It means to include everyone.
Question: And how is that possible?
Czerny: We already live the 'Catholic', diversity in unity. Some differences may increase in the future, and some others may decrease. The Synod can make proposals or decisions in this regard.
Question: You are the head of the Vatican Development Agency. Half of your team are women. Why is that important to you?
Czerny: People should be hired who can best fulfil the tasks for this - regardless of gender.
Question: Your agency deals with human rights. How can the role of women in the church be improved?
Czerny: First of all, it is important that women feel at home in the church. There is a need for new, better ways for women to be involved in the church.
Question: In the New Testament there is the apostle Junia, who was transformed into a man, Junias, in the Middle Ages. Mary Magdalene was called 'Apostle to the Apostles' in the early Church. And Pope Francis also recognises her as such and has given her liturgical status. At the same time, the Vatican says that there were no female apostles. What does that mean for the woman of today?
Czerny: As soon as you say that Mary Magdalene was 'an apostle to the apostles', that is a change of perspective that is now better reflected in the liturgy. So the change is happening.
Question: The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) describes the Church as 'ecclesia semper reformanda', as always needing to be reformed anew. Does this principle still apply today?
Czerny: Yes. The Church is always reforming. The reform agenda is not a moment when someone decides to change a rule. A reform agenda is growth; the life of the Church itself. And that is reflected in the teaching of the Church. Reform has not stopped; it is ongoing. There will be new results. But when you are at the beginning of a process - like the Synod on Synodality - you cannot say what will come out at the end.
Question: You wear a unique cross. What is behind it?
Czerny: The wood of the cross is from a destroyed refugee boat that was lying on the beach of Lampedusa. It always reminds me to put the human being calling for help in the centre - like Jesus did.
Jacqueline Straub is editor of the Swiss KNA partner portal kath.ch in Zurich.