Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, speaks with EWTN Vatican Bureau Chief Andreas Thonhauser on Jan. 18, 2024. / Credit: EWTN

Rome Newsroom, Jan 19, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Orthodox and other Christian leaders have raised concerns to the Vatican about its recent declaration allowing nonliturgical blessings of same-sex couples, according to a top cardinal in charge of ecumenical affairs.

In an exclusive interview with EWTN and in separate comments to the Vatican’s news agency, Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, revealed that he has received negative reactions to the Dec. 18, 2023, declaration Fiducia Supplicans. Both interviews were conducted in connection with this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which runs from Jan. 18–25.

“I have received a long letter from all the Oriental Orthodox churches. They want to have some explanation and clarification about this document,” Koch told EWTN.

In his interview with EWTN, which will be aired on Sunday, Jan. 21, on “Vaticano,” Koch further discussed the implications of the Orthodox churches’ reception of Fiducia Supplicans and how the issue of same-sex blessings has divided the Western churches.

“We have a great division in the Anglican world, when the Church of England has introduced the possibility to have blessings for same-sex … couples. They have a very strong opposition, above all in Africa,” the 73-year old Swiss prelate said, reflecting on the Church of England’s 2023 decision to permit the blessings of same-sex couples.

The cardinal said he also spoke with Metropolitan Hilarion of Budapest, of the Russian Orthodox Church, who expressed a “great shock when he read this document.”

When asked what the next steps would be in this process of dialoguing with the churches, Koch noted that during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity there will be the International Mixed Commission between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches in Rome.

“We have the plenary assembly of the Oriental Orthodox here in Rome just next week, and they have already announced that they can talk about these issues,” the Swiss prelate told EWTN.

Koch also indicated that in light of the feedback he has received from the Orthodox churches, he wrote to Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, for clarification ahead of this meeting, in order “to have some explanations.”

The plenary meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue is held between the Catholic Church and the 14 autocephalous, or “self-headed,” Orthodox churches and will be held Jan. 22–26.

‘Some negative reactions’

In a separate interview with the German section of Vatican News, Koch said that he had “received some negative reactions from the ecumenical world about Fiducia Supplicans.”

​​Asked whether a reading of Fiducia Supplicans might “almost justify Eucharistic hospitality [the extension of the Eucharist to non-Catholics] under certain narrowly defined conditions,” Koch said: “I believe that in ecumenical dialogue we need to think about this anew: What is blessing, and what is the relationship between doctrine and pastoral care?”

“These questions have now become acute again, and we need to talk about them,” the prelate said.

Koch joins a growing list of senior Vatican prelates who have publicly commented on the polarized reception to the dicastery’s Dec. 18 document. 

During a Jan. 12 conference held in Rome, the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, expressed that “this document has aroused very strong reactions; this means that a very delicate, very sensitive point has been touched; it will take further investigation.” 

When asked in a follow-up question by an Italian journalist if the document was a mistake, the Vatican’s top diplomat responded curtly: “I do not enter into these considerations; the reactions tell us that it has touched a very sensitive point.”

Pope Francis responded publicly to questions about the Vatican’s declaration on blessings for same-sex couples for the first time on the Italian prime time TV show “Che tempo che fa,” which aired on Jan. 14. 

Asked if he “felt alone” after Fiducia Supplicans was met with some resistance, the 87-year-old pontiff said: “Sometimes decisions are not accepted.”

“But in most cases, when you don’t accept a decision, it’s because you don’t understand,” he added.

This year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity celebration marks the 60th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in 1964. That was the first formal meeting of a pope and ecumenical patriarch since 1438, marking a paradigm shift in the ecumenical relations between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.