In Germany, the bishops are on the eve of their spring plenary in Hildesheim, and as I announced earlier, six of them spent that eve in the pub. One of these six was Bishop Heiner Koch of Dresden-Meißen who has recently been in the news for comments in favour of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. He was asked about this same topic tonight in an at times emotional conversation, as the hosting Diocese of Hildesheim reports.
When it comes to relating to faithful who have divorced and later married another partner, Bishop Koch said that the Church should proceed according to the principle of subsidiarity.
“With that I do not mean different local uses of the sacrament of marriage, but how we relate to people who are suffering as divorced or remarried.”
This seems to be something different than what many accuse the German bishops as a whole of: being in favour of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics access to the sacraments. By referring to the principle of subsidiarity, Bishop Koch points out the problem must be resolved not in the higher echelons of the Church, be it the bishops’ offices or Rome, but on the ground, involving the people directly affected by the problem.
In this case it would seem to mean that Bishop Koch is not so much in favour of changing the Church’s teaching on marriage and sacraments (as, he says, life is too varied to be caught in rules anyway), but is mainly concerned with how we relate to divorced and remarried Catholics, who are most directly affected by their problem.
How this would work in practice remains to be seen, I think, although individually tailored approaches to people are always to be preferred over standardised ways of dealing with situations.