Cardinal Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna. Cardinal Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna. 

Amazon Synod: Cardinal Schönborn on “viri probati” and permanent deacons

Synod Father Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna is part of the group responsible for drafting the final document of the Special Assembly on the Amazon. He speaks to Vatican Radio about his intervention at the Synod and about his ideas regarding new forms of ministry.

By Linda Bordoni

Pope Francis this week made four personal nominations of members to the group responsible for drafting the final document of the Amazon synod. Amongst them is Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna.

The drafting committee is now meeting to assemble into a document the recommendations of the small working groups from their discussions during the synod.

The final document of the synod will then be voted on, on the second-to-last day of the gathering. It will then be given to Pope Francis for him to use or not use as he desires in the writing of a post-synodal exhortation.

Linda Bordoni asked the Cardinal about the challenges of bringing together such a great variety of voices into a cohesive narrative.

Listen to the interview with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn

Cardinal Schönborn described his responsibility, as part of the drafting committee, as a challenge but expressed confidence that in reality the proposals coming in from the different language groups are really not so diverse.

“Certain questions and certain proposals are very similar in most of the groups,” he said.

Regarding the actual work of drafting the document, the Cardinal said it is mainly done by the Relator - Cardinal Hummes and his two colleagues – and explained said that as the drafting committee “we will have to revise the first draft we will receive on Saturday afternoon, amend it, make our propositions, and then the amended text goes through discussions in the language groups”.

He said the groups then make propositions that are integrated by the drafting committee, and finally, the final draft will be submitted to the Plenary Assembly, discussed and then amended again. The last step comes next Saturday with a final vote on the propositions in the text.

A ‘listening’ role

Regarding his own intervention in the Synod Hall, the Cardinal said that he didn’t make proposals “because I am here as one of the few Europeans in the Synod, and I think our role is mainly to listen,” he said.

So he thought it would be best to ask questions and not to make propositions.

“My first question was: ‘what does it mean that 60% of the Christian population in Amazonia are more or less with the Pentecostals?’ What does it mean for us, Catholic Church that so many of our people have left the traditional Catholic Church, what does it mean for our pastoral work?”

The answer that comes back from Synod, Schönborn said, is the need of a pastoral ministry – not only of visit – but of presence. If these communities, that are dispersed across hundreds of kilometres in the Amazon region have a priest visiting once a year, he said, this is not a pastoral ministry of presence.

“The Pentecostals are present in most of the villages,” he pointed out, so the challenge is not primarily new ministries but a better presence. And presence means at the place, and that means the people who live there”.

Role of women

He spoke of how impressed he has been listening to the women and hearing about their decisive role in the villages.

“They already do what is possible and what is not even an instituted ministry but they do it: they baptize, they preside at funerals, they try to bless marriages,” he said.

Cardinal Schönborn noted that in his own Diocese of Vienna in the last years he has given a decree for presiding funerals to women. They do so in a traditional Austrian catholic environment, he noted, and they are well accepted.

A pastoral ministry of presence is the main challenge, the Cardinal stressed.

Regarding new forms of ministry

The second point upon which the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna focused regards the desire, expressed by some Synod participants, for new forms of ministry.

“I voiced my surprise that permanent diaconate is not so much present in Amazonia, while there is much discussion about the viri probati,” he said.

He said in Austria they already have viri probati because the Second Vatican Council “gave us the permission to ordain married men who have given a good witness of their family life, or their professional life, of their Christian faith, to be permanent deacons”.

“So why not start with viri probati deacons in the villages? Prepare them as catechists, as deacons, before asking whether they can become priests?” he said.

Cardinal Schönborn pointed out that there are stages for every priestly ordination and the first stage is becoming a deacon.

It’s 50 years, since Vatican II, he concluded they could have begun with permanent deacons, “so I think it is worth it to ask these questions!”

19 October 2019, 11:00