The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Pastoral “discernment” and cutting the ground from under the papal feet

Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin has instructed his priests to consider blessing the marriages of same-sex couples. What will Pope Francis do in response?

Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin, in a 2013 photo. (Martin Rulsch/Wikimedia Commons); Basilica di San Pietro, Città del Vaticano (Simone Savoldi/

Readers may have seen the recent article in the Catholic Herald reporting on a 2000-word letter that Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin sent to his priests instructing them to consider blessing the marriages of same-sex couples—or those, as he says, who “cannot or do not want to marry sacramentally”.

Indeed, for the Archbishop, “it is no longer possible to say that all who are in so-called irregular situations are in a state of mortal sin and have lost sanctifying grace.”

When it comes to how priests should respond to same-sex couples who wish to marry, the Archbishop writes, “Pope Francis emphatically calls for pastoral discernment,” and the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (2016) “gives the local churches, the pastors, a lot of leeway in dealing with people in so-called ‘irregular’ situations.’”

Moreover, in the letter, the Archbishop advised his priests to use their own private judgement in deciding who was eligible for such blessings and said he hoped the Berlin archdiocese would succeed in “preserving unity in diversity.”

Reading this, I thought of that unforgettably solemn passage in John Henry Newman’s Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1875), in which he makes a point of profound relevancy to the crisis prompted by the Archbishop of Berlin.

“Did the Pope speak against Conscience in the true sense of the word, he would commit a suicidal act,” Newman wrote.

He would be cutting the ground from under his feet. His very mission is to proclaim the moral law, and to protect and strengthen that “Light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world.” On the law of conscience and its sacredness are founded both his authority in theory and his power in fact. Whether this or that particular Pope in this bad world always kept this great truth in view in all he did, it is for history to tell. I am considering here the Papacy in its office and its duties, and in reference to those who acknowledge its claims. They are not bound by the Pope’s personal character or private acts, but by his formal teaching. Thus viewing his position, we shall find that it is by the universal sense of right and wrong, the consciousness of transgression, the pangs of guilt, and the dread of retribution, as first principles deeply lodged in the hearts of men, it is thus and only thus, that he has gained his footing in the world and achieved his success. It is his claim to come from the Divine Lawgiver, in order to elicit, protect, and enforce those truths which the Lawgiver has sown in our very nature, it is this and this only that is the explanation of his length of life more than antediluvian. The championship of the Moral Law and of conscience is his raison d’être. The fact of his mission is the answer to the complaints of those who feel the insufficiency of the natural light; and the insufficiency of that light is the justification of his mission.

The Archbishop of Berlin has instructed his priests to flout the moral law, and he has justified this most consequential decision by making explicit reference to what he believes is the warrant of Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia. If the pope does not denounce the Archbishop’s claim, or continues to fall back on the usual ambiguities, he will, indeed, be committing a “suicidal act.”

(Editor’s note: Amoris Laetitia was originally identified as a papal encyclical; it is a post-synodal apostolic exhortation.)

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About Edward Short 36 Articles
Edward Short is the author of Newman and his Contemporaries, Newman and his Family, and Newman and History, as well as Adventure in the Book Pages: Essays and Reviews. His latest book, What the Bells Sang, includes essays on poets, moralists, novelists, historians, and Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman. He lives in New York with his wife and two young children.


  1. If such a suicide were to occur, would Rome take note and proclaim a new conclave? Or will the zombie apostatic apocalypse receive extraordinary life-support measures so that explanatory footnotes may be appended to an already lengthy obituary?

  2. His is an evil act indeed. By teaching a lie, he has disqualified himself from his role as bishop in the Church. What he’s done I consider anathema sit.

  3. No need to puzzle over Archbishop Koch’s own heretical “suicidal act”, since Bergoglio has committed not one but several of his own already.

  4. Fastiggi and friends can write all they want that Amoris Laetitia is “orthodox.” The awful truth is that Bishops like Koch know exactly what the Pope means by Amoris Laetitia in practice. Heteropraxy is happening as planned with Papal approval. The post-Amoris Synods have been set up to implement Amoris Laetitia in practice exactly as Koch has done. It’s obvious at this point.

    Bishops who want to be obedient to Christ because they care about orthodox practice must risk everything to publicly fight Amoris Laetitia heteropraxy as practiced by Bishops like Koch. It is not possible for those (few?) Bishops who know heteropraxy is wrong and actually care to hide in silence, saying to themselves: “I would implement Amoris Laetitia if I knew how.” Archbishop Koch says he knows how. Tell him publicly he is mistaken. The laity will be edified, even if we will not like the Bishop that replaces you. Believe me, the laity can no longer be scandalized. If anything, it is the complicit silence of Bishops who ostensibly want orthodox practice that discourage us most. We have long since expected nothing Catholic from Germans like Koch.

    • Superb insights, GF. It never ceases to amaze me how so many Papal pronouncements by Francis are written so poorly and contain so many troubling statements that dance with heterodoxy that they require others to come forward to do their versions of Jedi mind tricks by assuring the Faithful that “this is not what Francis meant; he really meant this.” Why should any Pope require such spinning time after time after time?

      Indeed, how is it that the supreme teacher of the Church is so utterly incompetent that he all too often is incapable of writing statements that are clearly orthodox involving clearly orthodox Church teaching that is not open to being changed by anyone?

      But if Francis is not incompetent, then some of his spin-meisters who may very well be motivated to faithfully serve the Church still do the Church a disservice by declaring that Francis teaching X is “really orthodox when you follow our interpretation,” at the same time that too many Church leaders remain free to accept and implement its heterodoxical elements with Francis’ approval.

    • Yes “it is the complicit silence of Bishops who ostensibly want orthodox practice that discourage us most“
      If it was just one or two… but everywhere quietly bishops are selling us down the river

  5. I can just about guarantee that Bergoglio is not pleased with this peremptory move by Koch.

    Don’t get me wrong. Bergoglio obviously supports what Koch is directing his priests to do. But springing this excrescence upon the faithful as Koch has only tips the hand of Bergoglio and his Dark Vatican, galvanizing the loyal opposition of us ‘backwardists’.

    In fact, Koch has established beyond doubt that this Synod on Synodaling (as per God’s Fool) is anything but an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

    Instead, it is clearly another attempt by the ratfaced evil one to appear as a spirit of light to deceive and destroy mankind.

    Thank you, Mr. Short and CWR, for lighting the warning fires in time for us to seek shelter from the coming storm.

  6. Would His Excellency’s pastoral policy be “open” enough to allow blessings for polygamous, incestuous, or child marriages? If not, why not? Even then, he would still be excluding the “mortally challenged”, the most numerous human group–the dead.

    • Since “time is greater than space,” these practices are just a matter of time Sandra. Pope Francis, the living unique oracle of God (formally known by the modest title of Vicar), will get there. Or soon, Pope Francis II will make progress.

      We are only in the tenth year of the living Church. Be patient!

  7. The Archbishop has NOT “instructed his priests to flout the moral law”….you misquote him; according to your own article (cf above), he said “instruct them to CONSIDER” (line 2); CONSIDER does not mean INSTRUCT…

  8. Not all that sparkles is gold. Much is awarded to Newman simply because he said it. Insofar as conscience, Edward Short correctly acknowledges its inviolability. However, that inviolability, in Man, is not always the case as with false conscience.
    Lack of awareness of what should be known is reprehensible. The Roman pontiff’s authority doesn’t rest entirely on his conscience. Rather, it depends on his loyalty to uphold and defend Christ’s revelation. That supreme truth, the revelation of the Father in Christ requires our assent. Therein is where his good conscience is vital. That’s what Short refers to.
    Insofar as an act of suicide, destruction of self would be relevant if the Roman pontiff were not prepared to support Archbishop Heiner Koch. Admonition absent of followup is frequently his response. Although, from the perspective of fidelity to the faith, it is political suicide, as well as eschatological. Unfortunately, the majority of Catholics who are nominal would not consider it such. Nonetheless, the preeminent issue of pontifical loyalty to defend the faith requires continued critical awareness.

  9. I would hope that the response would be that a same sex Union cannot be blessed. Also, at the same time, the two people must be accepted in a loving way as human beings made in the image of God. In pastoral guidance, within the Tradition, we must always be concerned about what is the authentic good of the person. Living the gay lifestyle is neither chaste, nor is this lifestyle living in a way that is directed towards the authentic good of the person. True compassion involves telling the truth. That truth must told in sensitive and loving way.

  10. About the Pope Francis, Short cites Newman on the moral law: ” His very mission is to proclaim the moral law…” Obscured by the pope and his ventriloquist ghostwriter, Archbishop Fernandez, is this about the moral law and moral absolutes, from St. John Paul II in the encyclical (!) Veritatis Splendor (1993):

    “This is the first time, in fact, that the Magisterium of the Church [expliictly!] has set forth in detail the fundamental elements of this [‘moral’] teaching, and presented the principles for the pastoral discernment necessary in practical and cultural situations which are complex and even crucial” (n. 115).

    Fernandez, another court jester, and he’s not even a Jesuit. Inclusivity!

  11. I expect nothing from the Pope that allowed a irreverent “clown Mass” as Archbishop and now persecutes those who simply want to avail themselves of reverence of the Traditional Latin Mass.

    We are reminded “heresy always begins below the belt”.

  12. From the comments it’s clear I’m not the only one noticing Francis is seemingly setting the stage to full on change the church’s teaching on sexual and gender issues. He is also setting the stage for his predecessor to continue his work.

    So my question is, what can the laity do to defend the church and her original teaching?

  13. repentance is a prerequisite for salvation.

    such repentance must originate in faith in Jesus Christ as God and Savior.

    followers of Jesus Christ are in no position to judge the souls of anyone.

    Jesus Christ said clearly that sexual activity outside of a permanent and exclusive relationship between one man and one woman is evil. to be a member of the Lord’s flock, we must assent to that.

    we cannot be members of the Lord’s flock if we do not affirm that.

    yet, at the same time, those who are unable to assent or not yet ready to assent, must not be abandoned or cast aside.

    we can invite and welcome all without compromising the faith handed down to us from the apostles.

    how? that is the mystery of our faith. it seems to be a paradox.

    but ultimately, none of us can be a member of the Lord’s flock while simultaneously repudiating His teachings.

    perhaps His most fundamental teaching is the welcoming of sinners, even before they believe and repent.

    just throwing out my thoughts and beliefs. i am not trying to a
    rouse anyone’s emotions.

    good decisions srldom a
    e from emotion.

    • Your final line would be saying, good decisions seldom arise from emotion.

      If you throw the whole pot of spaghetti to the ceiling to test the pasta is cooked, what good is it.

      Suppose it proves irrefutably that the pasta is cooked and the grandpa is affirmative. What good is it.

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