“Secret” Kasper speech to see the light of day

By Meinrad Scherer-Emunds| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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After a week of wrangling over a Vatican decision to keep it secret, the German Catholic book publisher Herder announced today (Feb. 27) that on March 10 it would publish in book format Cardinal Walter Kasper’s two-hour keynote address at last week’s meeting of the College of Cardinals in Rome.

Although Pope Francis had publicly praised Kasper’s speech on the theology of the family for its “profound theology” and “clear thinking,” the Vatican has so far only released a brief summary of the two-hour talk. Earlier this week, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, a member of the “G-8” Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis, urged the pope to release the speech. With 200 copies of the talk in circulation, Marx said, it was only a matter of time before it would get published.

Indeed it seemed a bit strange for the Vatican to try to keep this talk under wraps, and on Monday the German Catholic reform group Wir sind Kirche issued a statement that said, “Keeping Cardinal Kasper’s speech secret would undermine the so-far transparent process of preparation” for the Synod of the Family. 

Today, the German weekly Die Zeit published excerpts of the speech, and earlier the Italian newspaper La Stampa’s Vatican correspondent Andrea Tornielli provided a summary of the address in its English-language “Vatican Insider” website.

According to Marx, Kasper’s address became the basis of an apparently lively discussion among the cardinals, primarily focusing on pastoral perspectives regarding remarried divorced Catholics. Marx emphasized the important shift for the meeting of the College of Cardinals that both Kasper’s speech and the subsequent discussion represented. “What was new was that pastoral questions were debated in such breadth among the cardinals in the presence of the pope.” 

The Munich cardinal said, diverse opinions were expressed, especially regarding the second part of the speech, in which Kasper primarily raised pointed questions about the possibility of allowing remarried divorced Catholics to receive Communion under certain circumstances.

Kasper of course, has been advocating for new pastoral approaches toward remarried divorced Catholics for many years. In an October 2002 interview, U.S. Catholic asked him about an innovative pastoral solution he and two other German bishops had attempted in the 1990s. It was later stopped by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Kasper said, “There is no doubt that the situation of the many divorced Catholics who have remarried presents a great challenge and problem for pastoral ministers today. In response to this challenge, in parts of the Western church, a somewhat loose practice has emerged. The bishops of our German church province wanted to find a pastorally acceptable path that would end abuses but at the same time would open up some new possibilities for certain clearly defined situations. We didn't try to make a general rule that would allow all remarried divorced Catholics without differentiation, to take part in the sacrament of the Eucharist. I am still convinced that what we proposed is not counter to the teaching of the church, but at the same time I believe today that some parts of our proposal weren’t sufficiently developed enough…. This question remains an urgent pastoral problem, and it's necessary to continue to talk about it and to do more theological and canonical work on this. For many people, and for many pastors, this is an area of considerable pain.”

With Pope Francis having given repeated indications that he is favorably disposed toward the kind of pastoral approach Kasper has championed—which has recently been reintroduced in one of the three originally involved German dioceses—one can only hope that the additional “theological and canonical work” Kasper has done in the intervening years will soon bear some real fruit for the many remarried divorced Catholics who are still experiencing that “considerable pain.”

In his keynote speech, Kasper again steered away from a “general rule” and instead advocated for a “path between rigorism and laxism” that would respond to people in their individual situations. A mere insistence on rules does not persuade people to follow them, Kasper said. “Mercy is not a cheap grace that dispenses from repentance,“ he is quoted in the excerpt. “But sacraments are also not a reward for good behavior and for an elite that excludes those who need the sacraments the most…. When a remarried divorced Catholic repents that he failed in his first marriage, when he sincerely strives to live his second civil marriage grounded in faith, can we really refuse to give him the sacraments of reconciliation and communion?”

See also Austrian pastoral theologian Paul Zulehner U.S. Catholic Sounding Board article “Bring Remarried Catholics back to the table” (with the results of a reader survey on this topic)

Jan. 28 update: After obtaining a copy of the speech, Catholic News Service has just published a detailed summary with additional quotes from Kardinal Kasper's Feb. 20 speech.

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