BY CRISTINA ODONE
ONE OF THE MOST senior statesmen of the Catholic Church has said he expects an end to the celibate priesthood and sees no theological obstacles to women priests.
In a series of interviews to mark his 90th birthday last week, Cardinal Franz Konig, retired archbishop of Vienna and one of the "fathers of Vatican II", also called for greater collegiality and changes in episcopal selection. He warned that a number of reforms begun by Vatican II "have been lost sight of".
The Austrian prelate, who has been Cardinal since 1958, told Vatican Radio on 3 August that the Church must undergo "a process of clarification, of purification, in which we try to learn lessons from every mistake".
Speaking out in the wake of a petition signed by 500,000 Austrians asking for dialogue on married priests and women's ordination, and calling for greater democracy in decision-making in the Church, Cardinal Konig said that he not only visualised married men as priests, but that in fact he did "expect it to happen". The present debate, he said, was "perfectly understandable", especially as celibacy was "not a dogma". But he warned that "for a Pope from Poland" it was "inconceivable that a tradition that has lasted for many centuries can be changed."
The Cardinal's outspoken views on the issue were published within weeks of a statement defending married priests made by Irish Bishop Brendan Comiskey of Ferns.
In his interviews with German and Austrian newspapers, Cardinal Konig went on to say that he did not believe the debate on women priests has ended.
He stressed, however, that tradition could not change "from today to tomorrow", and that the move to ordain women had split the Anglican Church. The Cardinal also stressed that there were many women who visualised other roles than that of ministry.
In his interviews, the Cardinal criticised the present method of appointing bishops. The Cardinal said that the appointment of bishops "must consist of two parties: the Vatican and the diocese not the Vatican alone." This method, he stressed, had been in fact the practice, but "because of unrest in the Church, Rome has become nervous and believes that it alone must decide on conservative appointments."
Cardinal Konig went on to hold up as example the Uniate Church, where the bishops are elected and afterwards acknowledged by the Pope. "Nowhere", he stressed, "is it written that Rome alone decides."
In general, Cardinal Konig argued, there should be greater collegiality of bishops. The Pope, as Vatican II Council stated, was not the Chief of the Bishops, "he himself is a bishop".
Speaking of the failure of the Church to enact some of the reforms called for by Vatican II, the Cardinal explained that since the Council , "bish ops scattered all over the world and communication became difficult". The Synods of Bishops had failed to restore the balance. Cardinal Konig proposed that the Chairmen of Bishops Conferences of the whole world should meet for discussion every two or three years.
He went on to say that "the Vatican tries to achieve with bureaucracy what in fact should be the task of the College of Bishops. That, today, is the central problem of the Vatican."
On the continuing debate over birth control, Cardinal Konig said that "The final arbitrator must be personal conscience... Man must decide for himself what he will do with his faith and his life."
He said that as regards to Humanae Vitae, he had warned Paul VI before the publication of the 1968 encyclical, that differentiating between "artificial, forbidden birth control" and "natural" birth control was very "problematic", as if it morally only depended on a trick of how you could "outwit nature".
Cardinal Konig praised John Paul 1.1 as "overall a very great man whom the West sees through a blinkered viewl because of his standpoint on birth control. But he has, in international spheres, madevery many wise and courageous statements."
He went on to praise the Pope for trying to "find a, third way between Marxism and reckless Capitalism," and for his "great moral role" in the collapse of the Iron Curtain.