Cardinal Schönborn on Women's Ordination, April 14 2019

On April 14, 2019, Cardinal Schönborn of the Archdiocese of Vienna gave a televised interview with the ORF (in German) with Gaby Konrad and Gerold Riedmann. Here the translation of the part where he was asked about the ordination of women. Surprisingly, but perhaps because he was asked more insistently, he seems to more explicitly advocate the ordination of women as deaconesses than he does the ordination of married men to the priesthood in the Latin Church in the same interview, though he certainly suggest support for the latter as well.

Gaby Konrad: In your estimation, from a closer perspective, has he (the pope) gotten mired down with his reforms?
Schönborn: That depends on what one expected of him. In my estimation, there is a group in the Church and in Society, for whom the pope has already gone to far. These are the in some respects very severe critics from the traditionalist camp, who suspect nothing good. There are those who anticipated enormous reforms, which the pope cannot deliver.
Gerold Riedmann: Because the system resists too strongly?
Schönborn: No, because here one has problems with doctrine. These are the well-known topics, are they not? There are still no women bishops, still no women priests.
Gerold Riedmann: Why?
Schönborn: Exactly. This question was inevitable. That’s why I posed it myself.
Why? Because we have a two thousand year old tradition, which not even the pope can set aside at breakfast with a stroke of the pen; that requires developments, and developments, in a institution as large as the Catholic Church, require a long time. We dare not forgot, the protestants have had women pastors for less than a hundred years, among the protestants for less than a hundred years, the Orthodox by no means. The usage has now developed among the Anglicans, and always with enormous controversy. So someone who expected that Pope Francis would clarify this question now, is of course disappointed.
But if one looks at what this pope has already achieved, well just look at it. The climate Summit of Paris, we are allowed to say it, the climate Summit of Paris would finally not have came about, if the pope had not massively fought for it. Those are, for me, the immense reforms that this pope is driving. The Amazon Synod, that is now coming in October.
Gaby Konrad: We intended to come to that topic. But perhaps before that to the issue of women. You yourself said, for you, in your opinion the issue of women is decisive for the Church’s future. If we now make a thought experiment, and the pope would ask you for your personal opinion, at a Council, and would ask you, what do you personally believe? Can women become priests? What would you answer?
Schönborn: I would say, that at any rate women need a greater place in the Church. That is, in many respects that have more place, since in most cases there are more women in the Church than men. Aside from those who are at the altar.
Gaby Konrad: In the pews?
Schönborn: Sorry, what's that?
Gaby Konrad: In the pews there are more women than men.
Schönborn: There are more women than men sitting in the pews. That's a fact. In our parish councils are 52% women. But women are less represented in positions of leadership. That is, incidentally, a problem in all religions. There was recently a meeting of representatives of the religions in Austria with the President of Austria, and the representatives sat in the first row, and those they had brought with them in the second and third row, and in my speech of thanks I said to the president: “if I look at the first row, I get the impression that the second half, or the other half of humanity is missing.” Among the Muslims, the Jews, the Buddhists, the Christians, everywhere there only men sitting in the first row. I think we have world-wide a problem or topic: women in the religions.
Doris Wagner, in the movie “female pleasure”, of which I only saw the trailer and read about it… it concerned the fate of five women, five religions, five cultures. This is a world-wide topic, the Catholic Church in many respect is not coming in last in this movement.
Gaby Konrad und Riedmann simultaneously: But?
Schönborn: But,
Gerold Riedmann: I only wanted to take up her question. Can women become priests? That is one question. You answered somewhat evasively. Asked again: should women become priests?
Schönborn: I have said very clearly. I wish that they could become deaconesses. That is the degree of ordination that they also historically have had. Let us try and see [Schönborn spoke this sentence in English]. Ok? Let’s see.
Gerold Riedmann: That means?
Gaby Konrad: Women have to first prove themselves?
Schönborn: Sorry?
Gaby Konrad: Women have to first prove themselves as deaconesses, and then we’ll see how it further goes.
Schönborn: No. Institutions don’t work at the touch of a button. That’s a fact. And before we get our nose bloody running into the limits that exist, let’s see what is possible. I ask myself again and again, why women have until now had now place in Vatican diplomacy. There is no reason, why women cannot be in all possible positions of leadership – in our diocese, women are as a matter of course in all possible positions of leadership. Let's start there.

2 thoughts on “Cardinal Schönborn on Women's Ordination, April 14 2019”

  1. I disagree with the Cardinal about ordaining women to be deacons. I may be wrong, but I don't think women historically were ordained to be deacons in the way we ordain deacons now.
    The original deacons appointed by the apostles were all men. There is a verse dealing with women being deacons but that word is open to different translations.
    The woman in Scripture according to Ephesians 5 represents the Church. To ordain her as a deacon today means that she is eligible to preach. The Scripture explicitly forbids women from preaching. The symbolism of the woman as church, and the man as a symbol of Christ is very deep. It should not be messed with.
    We in the Catholic Church are falling victim to the world's view of what women should be doing. The truth is that women already run the church in practice. They do everything in the church except preach. We need to leave something for the men to do.
    Years ago, a Presbyterian minister told us that he never had any trouble finding men to serve as elders until the Presbyterian Church decided to let women serve as elders. After that he said the men all went home and watched football while their wives served as elders. He said he has a very difficult time getting men to serve now.

    1. I am surprised that Cardinal Schönborn has claimed without qualification that women had that "degree of ordination" earlier. It is true that in many parts of the Church for several centuries women were ordained as deaconesses with a rite that had many parallels to the rite of ordination for deacons, including an imposition of hands and calling down of the Holy Spirit on the ordinand. However, there were a number of differences. To name two points by which their ministry, and so, arguably what they received in ordination, was rather distinct from the ministry of deacons:
      1. In the ordination rite, which took place in the Divine Liturgy / Eucharistic Celebration, they did not distribute the Precious Blood, as deacons would, nor perform the other liturgical functions of deacons.
      2. Their ministry was, in general, limited to a few things which it was or could be problematic to have men do: e.g., assisting the bishop with the baptism of women, who were baptized completely naked and were anointed over their whole body with oil; bringing Holy Communion to sick women in women's convents where no men were allowed; reading the Gospel at Matins in women's convents where no men were present.

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