Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kasper: some fear a domino effect at the Synod on the family

Gerard O'Connell
Vatican Insider
September 30, 2014

Not since the Second Vatican Council has a gathering of representatives of the world’s Catholic bishops sparked such interest and controversy as the extraordinary synod of bishops on the family which opens in the Vatican on October 5. While the agenda is very wide, public interest has mainly focused on how this synod, and the follow-on synod in October 2015, will address the situation of Catholics who are divorced and remarried, and whether they can be re-admitted to communion.

As is well known, Pope Francis asked the German cardinal-theologian Walter Kasper, emeritus President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, a former university professor and diocesan bishop, and author of a book of mercy that he greatly appreciates, to give the keynote address on the family to the College of Cardinals when they met last February to discuss this subject. In one part of that long presentation Kasper envisaged a possible way forward on the question of the divorced and remarried. The subsequent debate revealed two very different theological approaches to the question.

Several cardinals – including the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Muller, and the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Segnatura, Raymond Burke, have opposed Kasper’s opening on the question of the divorced and remarried, but Pope Francis publicly praised his contribution.

The temperature rose significantly, however, on the eve of the synod when five cardinals – including Muller and Burke – published a book rejecting Kasper’s line, while another Vatican cardinal, George Pell, wrote a preface to a different book in the same vein. Many in Rome perceived these initiatives as a clear attempt to close the discussion on this delicate topic even before the synod opened, some interpreted it as resistance to the Pope.

In this context, America magazine and La Nación – Argentina’s leading daily, interviewed Cardinal Walter Kasper in his apartment in Rome, September 26, and asked how he reads the opposition and the contrasting theological visions at work here, and what he expects to happen at the synod. This is what he said.

Q. There is much interest in this synod, especially regarding how it will deal with the question of whether there will be some opening towards Catholics who are divorced and remarried.

A. Yes, this interest in Church questions is a positive thing and we should be grateful for it. But the problem is that some media reduce everything at the synod to the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried people. The agenda of the synod is much, much broader and concerns the pastoral challenges of family life today. The problem of divorced and remarried is one problem, but not the only one. Some media give the impression that there will be a breakthrough and start a campaign for it. I too hope there will be a responsible opening, but it’s an open question, to be decided by the synod. We should be prudent with such fixations otherwise, if this doesn’t happen, the reaction will be great disillusion.

Q. Some cardinals and bishops seem to be afraid of this possibility and reject it even before the synod meets. Why do you think there is so much fear of a development in the Church’s discipline?

A. I think they fear a domino effect, if you change one point all would collapse. That’s their fear. This is all linked to ideology, an ideological understanding of the Gospel that the Gospel is like a penal code.

But the Gospel is, as the Pope said in ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ (Evangelii Gaudium), quoting Thomas Aquinas, the Gospel is the gift of the Holy Spirit which is in the soul of faithful and becomes operating in love. That’s a different understanding. It is not a museum. It is a living reality in the Church and we have to walk with the whole people of God and see what the needs of the people are. Then we have to make a discernment in the light of the Gospel, which is not a code of doctrines and commandments.

Then, of course, there is also a lack of theological hermeneutics because we cannot simply take one phrase of the Gospel of Jesus and from that deduce everything. You need a hermeneutic to see the whole of the Gospel and of Jesus’ message and then differentiate between what is doctrine and what is discipline. Discipline can change. So I think we have here a theological fundamentalism which is not Catholic.

Q. So you mean you cannot change doctrine but you can the discipline?

A. Doctrine, in so far as it is official binding doctrine, cannot change. So nobody denies the indissolubility of marriage. I do not, nor do I know any bishop who denies it. But discipline can be changed. Discipline wants to apply a doctrine to concrete situations, which are contingent and can change. So also discipline can change and has already changed often as we see in Church history.

Q. What did you feel when you learned that this book of the five cardinals was being published which attacks what you said?

A. Well first of all everybody is free to express his opinion. That is not a problem for me. The Pope wanted an open debate, and I think that is something new because up to now often there was not such an open debate. Now Pope Francis is open for it and I think that’s healthy and it helps the Church very much.

Q. There seems to be fear among some of the cardinals and bishops because as the Pope said we have this moral construction which can collapse like a pack of cards

A. Yes, it’s an ideology, it’s not the Gospel.

Q. There’s also a fear of the open discussion at the synod.

A. Yes, because they fear all will collapse. But first of all we live in an open pluralistic society and it’s good for the Church to have an open discussion as we had at the Second Vatican Council. It’s good for the image of the Church too, because a closed Church is not a healthy Church and not inviting for the people of the day. On the other hand when we discuss marriage and family we have to listen to people who are living this reality. There’s a ‘sensus fidelium’ (‘sense of the faithful’). It cannot be decided only from above, from the Church hierarchy, and especially you cannot just quote old texts of the last century, you have to look at the situation today, and then you make a discernment of the spirits and come to concrete results. I think this is the approach of Pope Francis, whereas many others start from doctrine and then use a mere deductive method.


See entire interview at the Vatican Insider

No comments:

Post a Comment