Cardinal Walter Kasper: Helping or Hindering the CDF?

As President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Cardinal Kasper has on occasion been burdened with the task of public relations, responding to complaints from non-Catholics
up in arms over this or that statment of the Pope or this or that statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Sometimes, however, his efforts to “mend fences” leave something to be desired.

Kasper’s Presentation of Dominus Iesus

In ecumenical relations Cardinal Kasper is known for his public disapproval with the CDF’s release of Dominus Iesus and its assertion that Protestant churches were not churches “in the proper sense”:

That affirmation offended other people,” Kasper told [Austrian Catholic paper] Die Furche, “and if my friends are offended, then so am I. It’s an unfortunate affirmation –clumsy and ambiguous.” He added that the section of Dominus Iesus on the Protestant churches was written in “abstract, doctrinaire language, which in some ways excludes [others]. The tone is not appropriate.”

[Source: A Progressive at the Vatican Christian Century March 21, 2001; Cardinal Kasper balances values with reality, by John Allen Jr. National Catholic Reporter May 11, 2001).

In addressing Jewish concerns over the same document, he stated:

The only thing I wish to say is that the document Dominus Iesus does not state that everybody needs to become a Catholic in order to be saved by God. On the contrary, it declares that God’s grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.

Downplaying the Great Commission

Kasper went on to distinguish evangelization (“presence and witness, prayer and liturgy, proclamation and chatechesis, dialogue and social work”) which is incumbent on all Catholics, from mission, from which Jews were somehow excempt:

On the other hand, the term mission, in its proper sense, is referred to conversion from false gods and idols to the true and one God, who revealed himself in the salvation history with his elected people. Thus mission, in this strict sense, cannot be used with regard to Jews, who believe in the true and one God. Therefore –and this is characteristic- it does not exist any Catholic missionary organisation for Jews. There is dialogue with Jews; no mission in this proper sense of the word towards them.

(Source: Delivered at the 17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, New York, May 1, 2001.

Does the Church forbid any and all forms of proselytism? — according to Cardinal Francis Arinze, former head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious dialogue (and one quite familiar with the term), proselytism is generally understood to mean the effort to spread one’s religion by methods that are regarded as unnacceptable. Examples of negative proselytism include coercion by physical (through harrassment and threat of violence), economic (through the promise of material gifts), and psychological (taking advantage of one’s ignorance) means, all of which deserve condemnation since they insult the human dignity of the recipient, infringes upon one’s religious freedom, and does no honor to God.

But, Cardinal Arinze adds,

There is, however, a use of the word proselytism that is unacceptable. Some people use the word to refer to every effort to propose one’s religion to others, even when the methods used are noble, honest and respectful. It is wrong and confusing to use the term in this sense. It is like giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. It is like wanting to deny and to condemn the right of a person to share one’s religion. This fundamental human right should never be denied to anyone.

(SOURCE: “Meeting Other Believers: The Risks and Rewards of Interreligious Dialogue” Our Sunday Visitor, 1998.)

Where a statement by the Church may be wrongly perceived (by Protestants or Jews), Cardinal Kasper has been known to try a different tact, “softening” the approach by emphasizing points of unity. The danger is that, in stressing one point (however valid) in the Church’s teaching to the exclusion of others, he thereby contributes to an overall impression and reception of that is counter to the Church’s call to full communion and integration into the Body of Christ.

For example: there is nothing distinctly false or misleading in pointing out (to a non-Christian audience) that Dominus Iesus acknowledges the possibility of salvation beyond the formal confines of the Catholic Church (“the salvific action of Jesus Christ, with and through his Spirit, extends beyond the visible boundaries of the Church to all humanity”). John Paul II summarizes this teaching in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio (Section 10, “Salvation in Christ is offered to All,” which in turn references Gaudium Et Spes).

The danger is that, if one presents this particular teaching in isolation of other elements (and I seem to recall that Dominis Iesus has a lot more to say on the salvific unity of Christ and his Church), the audience may receive the impression that it is not at all incumbent upon them to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church, that it is well and good to remain precisely as they are, thereby adopting an attitude of ambivalence.

Cardinal Kasper on “Responses to Some Questions . . .”

Recently, Cardinal Kasper — in his role as President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligous Dialogue — has responded to the CDF’s document “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.” Countering the widespread hysterical reception among some Protestants (and not a few Catholics as well), he portrays it as “An Invitation to Dialogue”.

One hand, this Q&A from the Congregation on the proper understanding of the word “church” is hardly different in substance from that expressed in Dominus Iesus, yet Kasper’s demeanor seems to have changed: he appears less outwardly apologetic and “offended” (as he remarked seven years ago).

To his credit, the Cardinal begins with the basic reminder — against the protests of Protestant critics — that

. . . the document does not say anything new. It explains and, in a brief summary, clarifies positions that the Catholic Church has held for a long time. Therefore, no new situation has developed. Nor is there any objective reason for outrage, or the feeling of being offended.

Beyond that, Kasper’s conciliatory approach to Protestants is disappointing. Let’s examine the key passages from the document (and the CDF’s introduction) as they pertain to Protestants alongside Kasper’s own presentation:

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Kasper
QUESTION:

Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of “Church” with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

RESPONSE

According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery[19] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense[20].

[19] Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 22.3.

[20] Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Dominus Iesus, 17.2: AAS 92 [2000-II] 758.

From the Commentary

In response to this question the document recognises that “the wound is still more profound in those ecclesial communities which have not preserved the apostolic succession or the valid celebration of the eucharist”.[13] For this reason they are “not Churches in the proper sense of the word”[14] but rather, as is attested in conciliar and postconciliar teaching, they are “ecclesial Communities”.[15]

Despite the fact that this teaching has created no little distress in the communities concerned and even amongst some Catholics, it is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of “Church” could possibly be attributed to them, given that they do not accept the theological notion of the Church in the Catholic sense and that they lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church.

In saying this, however, it must be remembered that these said ecclesial Communities, by virtue of the diverse elements of sanctification and truth really present in them, undoubtedly possess as such an ecclesial character and consequently a salvific significance.

A thorough reading of the text makes clear that the document does not say that the Protestant churches are not churches, but that they are not churches in the proper sense, i.e. they are not churches in the sense in which the Catholic Church understands itself as church. For anyone even partly informed, this is purely self-evident. The Protestant churches do not want to be a church at all in the sense of the Catholic Church; they speak strongly of having another understanding of church and ministry in the church which, on the other hand, Catholics frankly do not consider to be the original one. Has not the recent Protestant document in Germany about ministry and ordination, done something similar, claiming that the Catholic understandings of the Church and the ministry of the Church are not the original one?

When, following the declaration “Dominus Iesus”, I said that the Protestant churches are churches of another type, this was not – as some reactions on the Protestant side seemed to assume – in contrast to the formulation of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but it was the attempt to interpret it objectively. And I want to do exactly the same thing now, since Catholics speak, now as always, of Protestant regional Churches (Landeskirchen), of the Protestant Church of Germany (Evangelische Kirche Deutschlands, EKD), of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (Vereinigte Evangelisch Lutherische Kirche Deutschlands, VELKD), of the Church of England etc. The declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does nothing else than to show that we do not use the one and same word Church completely in the same sense. Such a statement helps to clarify and to promote the dialogue.

The foundation of the dialogue is that there is more that unites us than divides us. Therefore we should not miss reading the positive statements of the declaration about the Protestant churches, namely, that Jesus Christ is effectively present within them for the salvation of their members. In the past this would by no means be an obvious statement; but now it includes – even though significant differences remain – the recognition of baptism, following Vatican II, and a series of positive statements about the Protestant eucharist (Decree on Ecumenism 22). Therefore, the declaration is not taking back anything of the ecumenical progress already reached, but drawing attention to the ecumenical task that still lies ahead. We should be offended by these differences, and not by those who point them out. The declaration is rather an urgent invitation to an objective dialogue that will help us move ahead.

Gerald Augustinus (Closed Cafeteria) expresses his concern about the reception to Kasper’s statement, citing the remarks of various Commonweal readers:

It seems to me there is an enormous difference (in tone, at least) in saying the Lutheran Church, or the Church of England, or the Baptist Church is not a church “in the proper sense” (as the document does) and saying they are not churches “in the sense the Catholic Church understands itself as a church” (as the Cardinal explains it). It’s the difference between saying “we’re right and you’re wrong” and saying “we disagree.” I am sure every Protestant would understand that when the Catholic Chuch says “we disagree with you” that the Catholic Chuch is utterly convinced it is right. So I don’t think it’s necessary to say “we’re right and you’re wrong” to have clarity.

And:

Cardinal Kasper contends the CDF did not say that the Protestant Churches are not churches, but that they are not churches in the sense in which the Catholic Church understands itself as Church. Would that the CDF had put it that way . . . Even Cardinal Kasper seems to recognize the insulting nature of this official practice.

While it comes as no suprise, Commonweal‘s combox reaction is disappointing. Framed alongside the actual statements of the declaration, I does appear that Cardinal Kasper, if not actually criticizing the document, is deliberately downplaying its message, sacrificing clarify for conciliation.

Another example: Kasper leaves something out in describing the “the recognition of baptism, following Vatican II, and a series of positive statements about the Protestant eucharist (Decree on Ecumenism 22).” Consider the actual paragraphs of Unitatis Redintegratio #22 that he refers to:

22. Whenever the Sacrament of Baptism is duly administered as Our Lord instituted it, and is received with the right dispositions, a person is truly incorporated into the crucified and glorified Christ, and reborn to a sharing of the divine life, as the Apostle says: “You were buried together with Him in Baptism, and in Him also rose again-through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead”.(40)

Baptism therefore establishes a sacramental bond of unity which links all who have been reborn by it. But of itself Baptism is only a beginning, an inauguration wholly directed toward the fullness of life in Christ. Baptism, therefore, envisages a complete profession of faith, complete incorporation in the system of salvation such as Christ willed it to be, and finally complete ingrafting in eucharistic communion.

Though the ecclesial Communities which are separated from us lack the fullness of unity with us flowing from Baptism, and though we believe they have not retained the proper reality of the eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Orders, nevertheless when they commemorate His death and resurrection in the Lord’s Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and look forward to His coming in glory. Therefore the teaching concerning the Lord’s Supper, the other sacraments, worship, the ministry of the Church, must be the subject of the dialogue.

Reading that section in full, it seems not so much a “positive statement of the Protestant Eucharist” as much as an explicit call for Protestants to follow through — proceeding from the sign of unity in Christ anticipated in baptism to “a complete profession of faith [and] incorporation in the system of salvation such as Christ willed it to be.”

No doubt Cardinal Kasper is cognisant of the actual wording of this passage in Unitatis Redintegratio; is he completely forthcoming in his presentation? — Is it simply to assert that “there is more that unites us than divides us”? Let’s hope that we’re all on the same page, at least with respect to what the Church desires of our “separated brethren”:

. . . When the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion have been gradually overcome, all Christians will at last, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, be gathered into the one and only Church in that unity which Christ bestowed on his Church from the beginning. We believe that this unity subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time.

* * *

A couple days ago I was made aware of “No, I’m not offended” by Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on the CDF’s “Responses to Certain Questions . . .”:

Evangelicals should appreciate the candor reflected in this document. There is no effort here to confuse the issues. To the contrary, the document is an obvious attempt to set the record straight. The Roman Catholic Church does not deny that Christ is working redemptively through Protestant and evangelical churches, but it does deny that these churches which deny the authority of the papacy are true churches in the most important sense. The true church, in other words, is that church identified through the recognition of the papacy. Those churches that deny or fail to recognize the papacy are “ecclesial Communities,” not churches “in the proper sense.”

I appreciate the document’s clarity on this issue. It all comes down to this — the claim of the Roman Catholic Church to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Pope as the universal monarch of the church is the defining issue. . . .

(Via the Ratzinger Forum / via Amy Welborn). Dr. Mohler of course is just as furvent in his belief that the Pope is wrong, and he is in the right. But one can appreciate his respect for the Church’s position and the Pope’s integrity in asserting it. There is no attempt at conciliation-through-dilution, no appealing to “the warm fuzzies” (as an old Presbyterian pastor of ours used to call it). His candor is most refreshing.

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