Bishop Anba Damian on the future of ecumenical dialogue

Coptic bishop: "Fiducia supplicans" is a stumbling block for unity

Höxter - The Coptic Church has broken off theological dialogue with Catholics because of the "Fiducia supplicans" declaration on blessings. Is this also a burden on ecumenism in Germany? In an interview with, Bishop Anba Damian hopes that the churches will once again find a common biblical basis.

Published  on 02.04.2024 at 00:01  – by Felix Neumann

The declaration of blessing "Fiducia supplicans" has caused a stir worldwide - and not just in the Catholic Church. The fact that homosexual couples can be blessed outside of the liturgy is causing upset in many Eastern churches. The Coptic Orthodox Church has been particularly outspoken: the Holy Synod decided at its meeting at the beginning of March to suspend theological dialogue with the Catholic Church. There has actually been a thaw between Catholics and Copts for 50 years: major divisive theological differences seemed to have been resolved, the relationship between Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II. is cordial. Has this now come to an end? In an interview with, Bishop Anba Damian, who presides over the Copts in Germany as Bishop General, explains what happens next - and what he appreciates about the Catholic Church.

Question: Bishop Damian, the Holy Synod of the Coptic Church has decided to suspend dialogue with the Catholic Church for the time being. Why?

Bishop Anba Damian: The Coptic Church needs a break to review what has been achieved in the dialogue over the past two decades and how to proceed in the future. The blessing of homosexual couples is a stumbling block to the restoration of full unity with our sister church, which we hope for.

About the person

Bishop Anba Damian has been General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Germany since 1995 and Diocesan Bishop for Northern Germany, based in Höxter, since 2013. He was born in Cairo in 1955 and studied medicine there. From 1981 to 1991, he worked as a doctor in Germany until he decided to become a monk.

Question: A great deal has been achieved in the past 50 years since Popes Paul VI and Schenuda III were able to announce a fundamental theological consensus in 1973. Most recently, Pope Francis included the Coptic martyrs of Sirte in the Catholic calendar of saints, and Pope Tawadros II and Pope Francis met again in May. In view of these successes, why is the declaration of blessing such a major stumbling block?

Damian: Yes, a lot has really been achieved. We already have unity of heart. There is respect, love and trust for the Catholic Church. The unique relationship between H.H. Pope Francis and H.H. Pope Tawadros is a treasure and a great opportunity. We have a clear goal in mind because we know that we can only live and survive if we achieve the complete unity of the churches. There is not much that still separates us; we have already managed to remove most of the obstacles to unity. But it disturbs and hurts when we have to hear a position from our sister church that is not biblical and does not correspond to church doctrine. We have to ask our sister church: What do you think? What do you think? What do you intend to do? What is our common ground, and where is our common Scripture?

Question: What is your hope? When will the theological dialogue be resumed?

Damian: When a delegation from the Catholic Church meets with the Ecumenical Commission of the Holy Synod and clears up the misunderstandings. Then the dialogue will definitely continue. H.H. Pope Tawadros has a great love in his heart for the Holy Father. That is why we were very careful when formulating the synod resolution and spent hours struggling over every formulation in order to use the mildest terms. It wasn't easy, the topic is very sensitive on the entire African continent, for all religions.

Question: Pope Francis and the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, have repeatedly emphasised that the "Fiducia supplicans" declaration does not change the doctrine of the Church. Do you see it differently?

Damian: What we criticise is not just something we Copts complain about. The declaration also burdens many Catholics worldwide, especially on the entire African continent. We have to be careful not to jeopardise the unity of the Church. You see, the Pope is not only the head of the Catholic Church as the successor of St Peter, he is also a statesman, and as such he expresses himself diplomatically with a view to what the world and the press think. These two roles are sometimes in conflict. Our Pope, the successor of St Mark, is only a churchman, not a statesman, and therefore it is easier for him to proclaim the biblical teaching clearly.

The participants of the Synod of the Coptic Church in front of the St Pishoi Monastery in Wadi-el-Natrun.
Bild: ©Synode der koptischen Kirche

In March, the bishops of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Church decided to suspend theological dialogue with the Catholic Church in the St. Pishoi Monastery in Wadi-el-Natrun in Egypt.

Question: The Holy Synod also passed a declaration on dealing with homosexuality. On the one hand, it emphasises the conviction that lived homosexuality cannot be biblically justified. However, it also emphasises that homosexual people should be treated pastorally and in love. Pope Francis once said about homosexuals: "Who am I to condemn him?" Is the difference that big?

Damian: I consider every person to be made in the image of God and I am not a judge either. I treat people with respect and love. But people don't have to constantly reveal their sexual behaviour to others. I don't even want to know. Everyone should do what they think is right and what they can justify to God. But it makes me sad when politicians, for example, talk about their private lives in public, especially if they do not conform to the Holy Scriptures and are not a role model. I do not judge anyone. But no one can ask me to sing the praises of people who live differently. I also pray for people who I know are in homosexual relationships. Not for their relationship, but for God to give them wisdom and help them to do the right thing.

Question: How is homosexuality talked about in the Coptic community?

Damian: In Germany and Egypt, people deal with such things very differently. Among young people in Germany, you can call something "horny" as a matter of course if you think it's good - in Egypt, a word like that would be a provocation. Even more so, homosexuality is not dealt with so openly. At most, confessors know about it, but it's not talked about in public. These are cultural differences. But I must also praise German culture: You are not afraid to talk about the facts and the reality. We tend to keep quiet and gloss over things, even though the reality is different.

Question: What does it mean in practice if theological dialogue is suspended?

Damian: Here in Germany, we have a very close and good relationship with our sister churches, both Catholic and Protestant. There is trust, love and respect between us, even if there are differences of opinion. The fact that official theological dialogue has been suspended does not mean that we are calling this relationship of trust into question. In this respect, the decision of the synod has no consequences in Germany. As sister churches, we belong to each other, we are members of one body. If one member is inflamed, the whole body suffers, but this member still belongs to our body.

Bild: ©picture alliance/Associated Press/Alessandra Tarantino

In May 2023, Popes Tawadros II and Francis met in the Vatican to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the meeting of their predecessors.

Question: You are also a doctor - what is your diagnosis of the Catholic Church?

Damian: The Catholic Church is a wonderful church: you should be proud of your culture, your constitution, your tradition. You don't have to dance to the music of the world and always express yourselves in such a way that you are not attacked in the press. As churches, we must learn to say no when something is not biblical. That's how you gain the respect of others. If the church is just identical to what is happening in the world - why do I need to come to church? I say this with a lot of respect and love for the Catholic Church, to which we Copts here in Germany owe a lot. I believe that in truth and reason we will succeed in removing the stumbling blocks that still separate us.

Question: So you are not giving up hope for the unity of the Church?

Bishop Damian: There is hope as long as there is the Holy Spirit. As long as we trust in the Spirit, we can hope for the complete unity of our churches.

by Felix Neumann

The Coptic Church

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the ancient oriental church of Egypt. Between five and eleven million people profess it. It has been headed by Pope Tawadros II since 2012. According to tradition, the church was founded by the Apostle St Mark around the year 50-60 AD. This makes it one of the oldest Christian churches in existence. In the dispute over the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon (451), which dogmatised the doctrine of the two natures, it separated from the churches that recognise this council. In the meantime, there is a common understanding between Copts and Catholics on the question of the nature of Christ. Today, between five and eleven million people in Egypt belong to the Coptic Church. There are two Coptic monasteries in Germany that also serve as bishop's residences. Damian is based in Höxter-Brenkhausen (North Rhine-Westphalia). There are currently around 20,000 Copts living in Germany.