New Archbishop of Berlin on marriage, sex, homosexuals and the Synod

Archbishop Heiner Koch does not see marriage as the highest good in Christian life.

Berlin’s new archbishop, Heiner Koch, was installed yesterday. On the eve of his inauguration as archbishop, he was interviewed by Tagespiegel on his views on refugees, marriage, sex, homosexuals, and the Family Synod.

Here is an extract from the interview, in my own informal translation. (The relevant sections in the original German, I have posted here).

Archbishop Heiner Koch
Archbishop Heiner Koch

You are responsible for the issue of family in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  Many positions on family, marriage and sexuality are no longer comprehensible even to  Catholics. Must the Church adapt?

We see sexuality as an integrated whole.  Two people love each other, their love grows emotionally, physically and in our understanding spiritually and religious. The greatest freedom is achieved when two people decide to go through life together, even through crises and disease. This holistic view I think is of great value. But hardly anyone knows not that reasoning, even Christians. The alternative is to separate sexuality from commitment. I think that’s not right.

You talk about the ideal. What if it does not work?

That is a dramatic issue. We certainly need to learn a lot  as a church when it comes to dealing with frictions, imperfection, and guilt.

The Church has a lot to learn about dealing with fractures

Why does the Church exclude homosexuals per se from its holistic view?

Part of our understanding of successful sexuality is for the creation of life. For gay men this is impossible. In our view this sexuality is limited. But that does not limit the respect for these people in any way, at least as I see it. Just as he is man , he is good. When I directed the Pastoral Office in Cologne, I met regularly with a group of gay men. Many of the group had grown old and of course support each other, through disease, strokes. There was no longer easy eroticism. But that is anyway a cliché.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church wants to equate the blessing of homosexual couples with weddings.What do you think?

That’s not helpful. It cemented the debate.

In the Catholic Church, gays and lesbians do not even get a blessing. Why not?

We are concerned that this will be confused with marriage. Homosexuals say our relationship is different from that of couples with children. The question is: How can we address differentiated realities, without discrimination?

As long as the church values marriage so highly, the excluded automatically  feel devalued

Well, in the Catholic Church marriage is not the ultimate good.

Jesus invited people to  leave marriage and family and to fit into the new, larger faith family. We celibate priests are also living outside  of marriage. I would not bring in this purely valence. But as long as someone feels devalued, we have a problem cause:.

You are going   to Rome in October for the family Synod. What do you expect?

I hope that everyone is ready there to learn from the experiences of other countries and cultures. It would be bad if it was just a matter of enforcing one’s own powerful convictions.

At the moment, reformists and conservatives  are adamantly opposed.

I hope that the Holy Spirit brings movement into it! It is also expected that debate will not be finished at the end of the Synod on 26 October.

Do you think a third Synod is possible?

It would do the job well. The theme of marriage and the family can not be grasped in concepts and definitions, because it comes to relationships, this is something dynamic. There will always be people who are not covered by rigid rules.

The focus in education is too much on the utility of knowledge

Why not, loosen the existing rules? Approximately when dealing with people in a second marriage? Who are excluded from the sacraments.

On the understanding of marriage hardly anyone in the church will move. But perhaps this is not a question of marriage, but of the Eucharist. In a nutshell: Can there be human situations in which someone who had blame unloaded upon himself, is approved on all order out of the Eucharist? Would God say in any case: Do not come to me in the Eucharist? Are we as a church proclaiming something that God would not say? If God perhaps in the one who has failed on us?

Will Francis prevail at the Synod? Some say it depends the whole pontificate.

Raising this is the best way to cause the Synod to fail. I do not know how many comments from both left and right are already in the drawers under the motto: “The truth have sold” or on the other side: “The forgotten people”. That really worries me, because we will then have to deal with each other during the day.

Your predecessor lived in a deprived area in Wedding. You moved to Lichterfelde. Why?

It happened like this. I moved into a parsonage, which was already converted straight into apartments. I’ve got three rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom. I can live within the community and I am at home anywhere in this great city. A more central location would be even better, so that from time to time someone would come along and ring the doorbell. That is probably not going to happen there on the outskirts.

Who knows. Maybe this is a new pilgrimage?

Now you’re not saying I’m a relic!

Archbishop with a penchant for the East

Heiner Koch, 61, is an outgoing Rhinelander with sense of humor. He comes from Dusseldorf, studied theology, philosophy and education and began as a youth and student chaplain in Cologne. He continued the commitment to young people, and to women and families, as head of the Cologne Archdiocese Seelsogeamtes, as Vicar General and as Auxiliary BishopCologne.In 2005, he was responsible for the World Youth Day in Cologne. In the Episcopal Conference, he is responsible for the issue of family and in October he goes to Rome, where the bishops from around the world advise on the family and marriage.

In 2013 Pope Francis sent him as Bishop to Dresden-Meissen. There he learned humility, he says, which he thinks is a very important virtue, especially for the Church. Tomorrow, Saturday at 11 clock he will be in St. Hedwig installed in his office as Archbishop of Berlin. He draws in a rectory in Lichterfelde, where he could live with him in the church, which he finds good. He would prefer a still more central location, “so that from time to time someone comes along and rings the bell”.