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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Cardinal Kurt Koch

Cardinal Koch was interviewed at the Vatican by Professor Joseph Sievers who coordinated the interviewers' questions in German and the transcription of the interview was translated by Steffi Kordy.

Profiles in Catholicism deeply appreciates Professor Sievers' and Steffi Kordy's assistance.

Interviewers: The first question is: What are your most important ecumenical tasks?

Cardinal Koch: Regarding ecumenism, it is my duty to lead the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Its primary task is to conduct theological dialogues. We have had many divisions in the 2000-year history of the church, but essentially there are two types of divisions, so the Council has two sections: East and West.

In the Eastern section we have dialogues with all Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. In the Western section we have twelve different dialogues, with all the churches and communities that arose from the Reformation. To promote and conduct these dialogues is the task of our Pontifical Council.

Interviewers: As for the Jewish-Christian dialogue, what do you see as the main tasks?

Cardinal Koch: The Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews is assigned to our Council. It is independent, of course, but it is in a very good place because it expresses that the relationship with Judaism is unique in view of the world religions, or as Pope John Paul II said during his visit to the Roman Synagogue, our relationships are not "extrinsic" but "intrinsic"..[1] In this sense, first of all, we have to promote reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism, and secondly to promote dialogue. There are important questions, including religious-theological ones, that need to be dealt with. Of course, relations with Jews and Judaism always have political-diplomatic implications, but relations with the State of Israel are the task of the Secretariat of State. Our relationships are religious, so we are called the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

We have two major dialogues: first, the dialogue we have with the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC), where we have frequent conferences on issues that affect us in common. In addition, there is the dialogue with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in Jerusalem.  I am very pleased that the relationship with Jews and Judaism is assigned to our Pontifical Council, because it expresses that Judaism is the native soil out of which  Christianity grows and that reconciliation between Jews and Christians is an essential task of the Catholic Church.

Interviewers: What do you see as the most important challenges in this field today?

Cardinal Koch: I would say they are two-fold: On one hand we sense in today‘s world a new growth of anti-Semitic tendencies, a resurgence of nationalistic and neo-Nazi tendencies. I believe that the Catholic Church needs to be a reliable partner in the fight against anti-Semitism, as Pope Francis repeatedly and rightly reminds us: It is absolutely impossible to be a Christian and to be an  anti-Semite at the same time. This is an important message that we need to spread throughout the Church and the world. On the other hand it is important to me that we continue a religious dialog between Jews and Christians. I think there are still many open questions that need to be discussed. On this topic we promulgated a major document in 2015 in order to further the theological dialog.It is important to treat many of these questions in camera caritatis (in loving privacy), so that this informal dialog does not lead to public controversy. Instead we need to discuss these questions with each other in total honesty, so that there will not be misleading reports – as happened with discussions on the Good Friday liturgy.

Interviewers: What are the current challenges, after the big celebrations, on the occasion of the 500 years of the Reformation?

Cardinal Koch: It is important to me that the year 2017 ended not with a period, but with a colon. This can not be the end, it must go on and I look ahead a little bit to the year 2030, the commemoration of the Augsburg Reichstag with the Augsburg Confession. I think that we have never been so close to one another, as in the Augsburg Reichstag and in the Augsburg Confession. The attempt failed at that time; but today we have to resort to it again. I have proposed that we have to strive for a new common declaration on the Church, the Eucharist, and the ministry, as a follow-up to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. I am very grateful that in America the Lutheran-Catholic Commission has already published a document: Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist. Just a month ago I received a paper from Finland called Communion in Growth about the same subject.  I hope that we can take further steps in this direction.

Interviewers: How do you react to that? Does this seem like a step forward? Or is it too cautious?

Cardinal Koch: I am very grateful that there are now very clear statements from the Jewish side as well regarding Nostra Aetate, and that they acknowledge the importance of dialogue with our Catholic Church. I find it very important and meritorious. It is also very clearly stated in these documents what distinguishes us. There was no attempt to harmonize, but precisely because it is made so clear where the differences are, this is an invitation to inquire even deeper into these differences and to ask: can we perhaps progress in the dialogue even further? In this respect, I see in these documents an invitation to deepen the Jewish-Catholic dialogue.

Interviewers: Cardinal Keeler was a well-known and valued representative of the Jewish-Christian dialogue, especially in the United States. Did you know him and do you have an opinion about him?

Cardinal Koch: I do not know him well from his previous work, which was done in the past, but I have heard a lot of very positive things about him. I met him on several occasions and I always had the impression of a very friendly, amiable, dialogue-open cardinal to whom dialogue, especially with the Jews, has been an important concern in which he was personally involved. I keep him and his work in dialogue in good memory.

Interviewers: Now we come to our final question: The 2015 document The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable is certainly an important base; but how can we continue from there?

Cardinal Koch: Generally, I have to say that our Commission works on a worldwide level, but the dialogue needs local and regional as well as universal dimensions. This document can thus serve to encourage engagement in local and regional committees. On the universal level it served as a stimulus in view of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate to take further steps in dialogue. As a consequence, the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, England, took the initiative to create such a dialogue group and to address the questions raised by The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable. I am very grateful for that, especially since this is an initiative from the Jewish side. I hope that this dialogue group can make good progress, and then we can see how to proceed further. But I think that this is a first beginning for a more profound dialogue.


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