In one of his first major public addresses as pope, at St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, March 17, 2013, “Pope Francis” specifically cited Cardinal Walter Kasper’s book “On Mercy”:
In the past few days I have been reading a book by a Cardinal — Cardinal Kasper, a clever theologian, a good theologian — on mercy. And that book did me a lot of good, but do not think I am promoting my cardinals’ books! Not at all! Yet it has done me so much good, so much good… Cardinal Kasper said that feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient…. Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God’s love would make them white as snow.
Now, who has made the world “cold” in the first place? Could it be anyone from the previous generation of popes? In what way did the world seem “less just”? Who is it, really, who has been working so hard for “social justice” in the world? I’m just askin’.
I remember the days when the Soviet Union was still a world power, and “Kremlinologists” would study posed photos of the leadership, to see who was standing closest to Breshnev. It was a way of understanding who was “in” and what the policy directions of the Soviet Union might be. It wasn’t perfect, but it was one of the better methods for understanding that regime at the time.
Cardinal Walter Kasper says that “Pope Francis” is going to bring new life” to Vatican II, the same “spirit of Vatican II that Hans Küng says is needed, and that the two previous popes sought to suppress.” He says that Bergoglio has “inaugurated a new phase” of Vatican II.
For those who don’t know, Kasper is a former Assistant to Küng; he was “removed in 1999 by John Paul II as the Bishop of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart”. He was transferred to Rome, where until 2010 he was the President of the Pontifical Council on Promoting Christian Unity.
Roughly from 1999 to 2002, Kasper and Ratzinger had a “dialog” – Kasper is called a “conciliarist”, which in Medieval days, was the impulse that arose from the ashes of the “Great Schism” (when there were two and even three popes), and which opposed the imperial papacy. Conciliarism held rather (similar to the Eastern Orthodox) that councils and their doctrinal pronouncements are the highest “law of the land” in the church.
For the Eastern Orthodox, Ecumenical Councils are “extraordinary synods of bishops which primarily decide upon dogmatic formulations, especially in the face of heresy. Secondarily, they also issue canonical legislation which governs the administration of the Church.”
Kasper and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger disagreed vehemently on a point of ecclesiology. You can find that disagreement summarized here:
This is an analysis by Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B. (“Order of St. Benedict”) President of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. The discussion begins with a May 1992 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF – of which Ratzinger then was “Prefect”) entitled “Letter to the Bishops of The Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion”.
The document states the particular issue:
Sometimes, however, the idea of a “communion of particular Churches” is presented in such a way as to weaken the concept of the unity of the Church at the visible and institutional level. Thus it is asserted that every particular Church is a subject complete in itself, and that the universal Church is the result of a reciprocal recognition on the part of the particular Churches. This ecclesiological unilateralism, which impoverishes not only the concept of the universal Church but also that of the particular Church, betrays an insufficient understanding of the concept of communion. As history shows, when a particular Church has sought to become self-sufficient, and has weakened its real communion with the universal Church and with its living and visible centre, its internal unity suffers too, and it finds itself in danger of losing its own freedom in the face of the various forces of slavery and exploitation
Here is the Joseph Ratzinger concept of “universal church”:
in every particular Church “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active”. For this reason, “the universal Church cannot be conceived as the sum of the particular Churches, or as a federation of particular Churches”. It is not the result of the communion of the Churches, but, in its essential mystery, it is a reality ontologically and temporallyprior to every individual particular Church [emphasis in original].
“Therefore, the Church, ‘in its origins and its first manifestation is universal,’ out of which have arisen the particular churches.” McDonnell says in his paper, “Obviously, this is Ratzinger’s formulation.”
In 1999, Walter Kasper, then bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart took issue with this position. The basis of his disagreement: “the relation of the office of the local bishops to the Petrine office as seen in the documents of Vatican II”. I have written about this in the past, here, and more recently more recently here; the formulations of Vatican I and Vatican II differ sufficiently on this topic that it is an on-going issue among theologians.
Specifically, Kasper points out that with this formulation, the document relates two separate foci of authority: “the problem is that the highest authority of the Church has two subjects [which are] inadequately distinguished: the college of bishops in union with the pope, and the pope alone.” Kasper asks “whether the authority and the initiative of the college [of bishops] is practically reduced to a naked fiction, if the pope can at any time bind up [such initiative]… without the formal involvement of the college.”
McDonnell is careful to distinguish that “Kasper formulates the question in terms not of doctrine but of praxis. In other words, the dogmatic tradition of papal and collegial authority and initiative is not in doubt; what is questionable is whether the way that authority and initiative are exercised does not practically nullify or make fictitious the authority and initiative of the college of bishops.
Kasper notes the CDF’s “Pentecost Church” of Acts 2 is the universal Church. He has no objection to this identification, as long as the universal Church is not taken as an abstraction, as long as the concrete historical universal Church is meant, which Kasper holds is Luke’s view. The Pentecost Church was, in fact, “universal and local in its single reality”. “Of course this is a Lukan construction, for, looking at the matter historically, there were supposedly from the beginning a number of communities in Galilee alongside the Jerusalem community.” From the very beginning the Church is constituted “from and in” local churches (231)
The problem with “Ratzinger’s formulation”, according to Kasper, is that “the ontological and temporal priority of the universal Church becomes completely problematic when by some secret unspoken assumption the Roman church is de facto identified with the pope and the curia”.
While acknowledging that the CDF [Ratzinger’s] formulation is a development of the Vatican II understanding, Kasper says it is “a reversal”. “What needs to be criticized, continues Kasper, is the response of the CDF to the ecclesiological threats, namely the declaration that the universal Church is ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular church. Kasper contends that the CDF identifies the una, sancta, catholica, et apostolic ecclesia [“one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”] with the universal Church in a way that excludes the particular churches” (231).
One might (and should remark here) that the characterization of “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” with the church at Pentecost is itself an anachronism [with the word “catholic” not being applicable until Ignatius in 110 AD], but the Roman Catholic Church is nothing if not anachronistic at its very core.
The ontological and temporal priority of the universal church becomes completely problematic when by some secret unspoken assumption (imagine that!) the Roman church is de facto identified with the pope and curia. Again, Kasper is not talking about dogmatic formulation, but about praxis and an undeclared assumption identifying (de facto) universal Church and curia. If this is the case, then the 1992 Letter of the CDF cannot be considered an aid in the clarification of communion ecclesilogy of Vatican II, but must be seen as its dismissal (…). Also it is an attempt to restore Roman centralism, a process which is already an actuality. The relationship between local church and universal Church has been thrown out of balance (231).
Bryan Cross has pointed out that “the disagreement between them was about a hypothetical interpretation of the CDF document in question, and about an open theological question that has not yet been determined definitively or non-definitively by the Church’s magisterium. That sort of disagreement is fully compatible with the Catholic Church’s ability to distinguish essentials from non-essentials.”
That’s doublespeak. The “infallible church” really hasn’t figured out who’s really in charge. Kasper has it precisely correct in this instance. Vatican I has defined papal infallibility, and Vatican II has defined the focus of authority as “college of bishops in union with the pope”. And yet if a pope can overrule the “college of bishops”, then saying that they have authority is no more than a “naked fiction”.
And yet, this “open theological question”, while Bryan thinks it is “fully compatible with the Catholic Church’s ability to distinguish essentials from non-essentials”, has the potential to radically change the power structure. JPII and BXVI will be (to use the words of Raymond Brown) “requoted with praise and then reinterpreted at the same time”. At the moment, Rome always has a veto.
For Ratzinger, Acts 2 suggests “the list of the twelve peoples refers to the universality, with a fourteenth added, namely Rome, undoubtedly to stress the idea of the whole world”. This concerns “the inner beginning of the church”, in time, and according to Ratzinger, it precludes the notion that “the Jerusalem community is at the same time the universal and the local community”.
Kasper points to the plurality of New Testament ecclesiologies, for instance, Luke uses ekklesia for both the local congregation (in the house churches: Acts 1:13; 2:42; 12:12) and for the universal Church (Acts 9:31; 15:14).
The choice is clear here: either Rome has priority, or it doesn’t. Kasper is saying that Rome doesn’t. Kasper is saying that the local churches – “the bishops in communion” – have some say-so that a pope can’t override. The question of what is the ultimate authority is at stake.
Because, if “bishops in communion” have some say-so, then the Eastern Orthodox have bishops too, and their local bishops have a “say-so” in the “communion of bishops”. And they are not fans of “papal primacy”.
Ratzinger understands this, and he argues that the relationship between “pope and bishops” is at stake. “This office of Peter and his responsibility cannot in any way exist, if the universal Church were not already presupposed. Were that the case then it would be a grasping in the void, and would represent an absurd claim” (238).
For Kasper, “if one insists with Ratzinger that the pre-existent Church is only the universal Church apart from the local churches, then one has opted for an ecclesiological abstraction” (241). McDonnell notes, “this warning, from a bishop of Kasper’s credentials, needs to be taken seriously.”
For Ratzinger, however, Kasper’s words are “an attack” (242). Not a personal attack, but against “a text from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”. It is “an emphatic criticism” of the doctrinal integrity of an instrument of the magisterium. Ratzinger’s Roman defensiveness in the face of what Kasper calls “fact” is typical of the way we see the Called to Communion gang assuming their defensive posture in the face of, well, facts that are presented to them. To show how much Ratzinger fears this development, he even compares Kasper’s ecclesiology with that of the Liberation Theology advocate Leonardo Boff (244).
Yes, it seems to me that the Orthodox would say “the office of Peter” is an absurd claim, and that seems to be the kind of signal that Pope Bergoglio wants to give, with his proposed “reform” of the Roman curia and his embrace of Walter Kasper.
It’s true, Kasper “denies that decentralization means a diminished papacy” but rather, he suggests “vigorous exercise of the Petrine ministry would be carried out in a collaborative way such as to avoid making collegiality a naked fiction” (249).
Bryan Cross characterizes this as a small issue, undecided but permissible. But who is “permitting” it? Really this is a “the-pope-is-boss” issue vs “let’s-subsume-the-pope-back-into-the-episcopacy-for-ecumenical-reasons” issue. This is a Cyril of Alexandria vs Nestorius issue. And remember, Nestorius was falsely accused, and the “Ecumenical Council” of Ephesus (431 AD) lent its assent and authority to this false accusation.
“Pope Francis” has telegraphed his intentions. Kasper and Küng and “the Spirit of Vatican II are “in”, JPII and Ratzinger, “not so much” as they say. He is citing Kasper not only with much approval, but the first public thing he says in his first public statement as pope (St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 17 March 2013) could not speak more highly of Kasper. The Kremlinologists would have loved such a signal.
This has great consequence for Ratzinger’s version of the papacy, and what a new version of the papacy may look like. Bergoglio is going to be a point at which the rubber meets the road for the newest crop of Roman Catholic converts. I’m sure they will find themselves disagreeing with him (and rationalizing why they do disagree with him) — even though he is THE Magisterium, and even though, as Piux XII said, “these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: ‘He who heareth you, heareth me’”.
I’m not saying it’s going to be as simple as all that. Bergoglio has already shown the particular Jesuitical trait of “speaking out of both sides of his mouth”.
Still, it seems to me, Bergoglio is giving hope to “the liberals”, and in that way, the CTC gang is going to start changing their tune about “interpretations” real fast as things begin to shake out.