'Progressives and Traditionalists Suffer From the Same Ailment'

Interview with Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

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By Jan Bentz

VATICAN CITY, OCTOBER 29, 2012 (Zenit.org).- During the 13th General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, ZENIT interviewed Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

ZENIT: In the past you have taken part in other Synods. What are your impressions of this Synod?

Cardinal Koch: This is now my fourth Synod. In two of them, I participated as bishop of Basle, that is, in the Extraordinary Synod on Europe; then in the [Synod] on the Word of God in 2008. In my new position, I took part in the Synod on the Middle East and now in that of the New Evangelization. On the whole, the outline is always the same but this Synod of bishops is particularly interesting since there are episcopal representatives of the whole world. To be able to glean the experiences of all the bishops is already something extraordinary, and also to be able to experience how different the Church is in the world and at the same time how much the problems resemble one another.

ZENIT: You are the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The dialogue with Protestants is, in fact, very important in Germany. In your opinion, what progress has been made recently in Germany and what can be expected concretely from the Synod?

Cardinal Koch: The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed in August of 1999 was undoubtedly a great step forward in the ecumenical dialogue with Lutherans. The task remaining now is to discuss the ecclesiological consequences of this Joint Declaration. What is clear, in fact, is that the Evangelicals have another understanding of the Church in regard to Catholic Christians. It’s not enough to recognize one another mutually as a Church. What is needed, rather, is a serious theological dialogue on what constitutes the essence of the Church.

ZENIT: Is a solution similar to the Anglicanorum coetibus for Anglicans possible for Evangelical Christians?

Cardinal Koch: Anglicanorum coetibus was not an initiative of Rome, but came from the Anglican Church. The Holy Father then sought a solution and, in my opinion, found a very broad solution, in which the Anglicans’ ecclesial and liturgical traditions were taken into ample consideration. If similar desires are expressed by the Lutherans, then we will have to reflect on them. However, the initiative is up to the Lutherans.

ZENIT: During the Synod we also heard representatives of the Orthodox Churches. What is emerging for the dialogue with the Orthodox in the near future?

Cardinal Koch: At present the Orthodox Church is very busy with preparations for the Pan-Orthodox Synod. Personally, I am convinced that when it takes place it will be a great step forward for ecumenical dialogue. Hence, we must support these Orthodox efforts and also have patience. In the ecumenical commissions we continue the theological dialogue on the relation between 'Synodalism' and Primacy.

ZENIT: Many believe that secularization was also caused by the Church, even if involuntarily. On the whole, isn’t it necessary to analyze which currents and attitudes led to secularization in order to correct them?

Cardinal Koch: In fact, some historians rightly stress that the 16thcentury schism and the subsequent bloody confessional wars, in particular the Thirty Years’ War, caused secularization in the sense of the privatization of religion. Given that Christianity was present only in the form of different faiths which were fighting one another to the point of spilling blood; it could no longer serve as the foundation and guarantor of social unity and peace. For this reason, thecurrent modern age sought a new foundation of unity, doing without religion. These grievous processes must also be kept present in view of the 500thanniversary of the Reformation. In the subsequent history of the modern age other developments of secularization certainly arose such as the abandonment of the question of God, which have other motives and are also addressed in the plan of the New Evangelization.,

ZENIT: In regard to Vatican Council II, the discussion is very timely today on the concept of the “hermeneutics of continuity.” Is it not the case that the two “political” extremes of the Church, that is traditionalists and progressives, are both committing the same error, in the sense that they consider the Council a “break”?

Cardinal Koch: Yes, but precisely for this reason the Pope calls his interpretation of the Council not “hermeneutics of continuity” but “hermeneutics of reform.” It is a question of renewal in continuity. This is the difference: the progressives profess a hermeneutics of discontinuity and break. The traditionalists profess a hermeneutics of pure continuity: only that which is already noticeable in the Tradition can be Catholic doctrine, therefore, practically, there cannot be a renewal. Both see the Council equally as a break, even if in a very different way. The Holy Father has questioned this understanding of the conciliar hermeneutics of the break and proposed the hermeneutics of reform, which unites continuity and renewal. The Holy Father presented this hermeneutics already in his first Christmas address in 2005 and thus gave precise indications on how to interpret the Council and make it fruitful for the future.

[Translation by ZENIT]