“Overall, there is a cheerful mood”

Since Tuesday, the World Meeting of Families has been discussing the future of the Church and the Pope's letter "Amoris Laetitia". With him is family bishop Heiner Koch. In interview, he tells how abuse scandals dominate gathering.

Interviewer: Since last week, the abuse ie has overlapped the content of the family meeting in Dublin. To what extent do you feel this at the meeting??

Heiner Koch (Archbishop of Berlin and Chairman of the Commission for Marriage and Family of the German Bishops' Conference): Of course we feel it clearly: The changed ecclesiastical and social situation in Ireland overshadows many things, but this basically brings the discussion about the topics church and family and "Amoris laetitia" really to the fore.

Interviewer: There have been controversial debates about some passages in the doctrinal letter all over the world. One keyword is dealing with remarried divorcees. Will the family meeting be able to help clarify such a topic?

Koch: It is surprising that this topic in particular is rather a marginal topic here. "Amoris laetitia" is indeed much broader and much larger in scope. Above all, it is about the joy of and in the family, and this is very strongly thematized in all possible variations. This question you raised is indeed a follow-up question. If one basically sees and perceives and affirms the Christian understanding of marriage and family, one must first ask: What does that actually mean??

Especially here in Ireland – but also in the social situation of many countries worldwide – it is unclear what the Christian sacrament of marriage is and what it means for Christians to live as a marriage and a family. We are asking ourselves these fundamental questions here, not only sociological-institutional, but out of the Gospel. This is very much about these fundamental questions. Only when these are clarified, one will be able to answer other questions.

Interviewer: Cardinal Schonborn has already criticized at the World Meeting of Families that the Church talks too much about sexuality. When the abuse scandal came to light in Germany, Archbishop Zollitsch had suggested that one should talk more about sexuality in the church. So who is right and how much is really talked about at the meeting?

Cook: For us, sexuality is a reality of life integrated into the whole personality. Of course sexuality is part of the topic "marriage and family. But the detachment from family and being human – that was the topic – is clearly seen and critically judged here.

Interviewer: What personal goals did you take with you on this trip to Dublin??

Cook: First of all, the exchange with bishops and families from other countries and cultures is very interesting. One notices that many problems are quite important for us, but in some countries they are not main problems at all.

The second thing is, I notice here a good opening of the church. I have participated in several World Family Days, but they have not been as controversial and diverse as Dublin. There clearly shows the attitude of Pope Francis and the supporting bishops and families.

The third is an enormous hospitality. The Church of Ireland is glad that we are there. We will certainly help it to face the situation courageously, but it will also present it with great problems. Overall, there is a cheerful mood here.

Interviewer: There were this week 37.000 permanent guests. Tomorrow the number is expected to almost double, there will be a family mass with Pope Francis. This will be a concert-like event, many artists are expected to perform. Do you think there is still time for serious discussions??

Cook: The congress ends tonight. It offered many conversations, discussions, forums. In the next few days, the focus will certainly be more on celebrating and being together, but it will not be a blind celebration. There will certainly be forces that will ask demonstratively critical questions. And it will certainly be a joy not without burden for all – not only with regard to the past, but towards the question: Where are we going as a church, as a family?

Interviewer: What is for them the most important result of the meeting?

Cook: The most important result for me is the rearance of what is special about marriage and family for us Christians. That both are part of the joy of the gospel. That they are not only a social and anthropological reality, but a part of God's reality of life in which we stand. The depth of the Gospel, also in relation to marriage and family, becomes visible here. It is not without reason that the most profound and important program items, in my opinion, are small church services.

The interview was conducted by Dagmar Peters.

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Christina Cherry
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