Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Ratzingerian turn I: Cardinal Kasper

In this week's newsletter, the redoubtable Sandro Magister gives us examples of the increasing alignment in the thinking of two key Curial cardinals, Walter Cardinal Kasper and Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo, with Papa Ratzinger. As evidence he gives the salient highlights of a speech that Cardinal Kasper gave recently on the nature of ecumenism, and the full-text of a talk Cardinal Lajolo gave on relations with Islam and immigration (which I'll deal with in a separate post).

On Kasper:
The agreement between Kasper and pope Ratzinger may come as a surprise. Both are accomplished theologians, and are remembered more for the controversies that separate them than for their points of agreement.

The most famous and public of these controversies, in the 1990’s, concerned the relationship between the universal Church and the local Churches, with Ratzinger attributing primacy to the former and Kasper to the latter.

Another controversy between the two, of a more pastoral nature, concerned communion for divorced and remarried persons, with Kasper – together with the other German cardinal, Karl Lehmann – allowing more leeway, and Ratzinger being more stringent.

And again, one recalls the clash between Kasper and Ratzinger over the approval of abortion indirectly granted by Catholic councils in Germany. At the time, the mediator between the German episcopacy and the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith directed by Ratzinger was the nuncio in Germany, Giovanni Lajolo.

But in recent years, Kaper and Ratzinger have shown interesting convergences on other questions of central importance.
The talk was given on May 31 at the Palazzo della Rovere on the occasion of the opening of a new bookstore. Kasper, like most other high-ranking ecumenists, distances himself from those who regard ecumenism as a brushing aside or ignoring serious differences between the various churches and communions, and focuses on the importance of an ecumenism based in "truth and charity." Like the Pope, he is a lot more optimistic about relations with the East, rathern than the churches that were born of the Reformation, especially because of a "loss of substance above all in the field of ethics, especially on questions of life and family." There's much in this talk, but perhaps most interesting is the treatment of conservative evangelicals
But there is an opposite current within Protestantism, and this is the third change mentioned by Kasper. “There are groups, fraternities, evangelical movements that want to live the Gospel and are grateful for the Catholic Church’s firm attitude toward ethical questions. They often form a spiritual network and are linked with groups, spiritual movements, and congregations of a traditional character in the Catholic Church.”
and Pentecostals
The fourth change is that “we have begun a fairly substantial dialogue with the Pentecostals, who with more than 500 million adherents are now the second-largest Christian confession after the Catholic Church, and are especially present in the southern hemisphere, in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. They are showing enormous growth, and some are even speaking of the Christianity of the future.”

In regard to this Pentecostal “tidal wave,” Kasper remarked that “it seems to me that self-critical inquiry is more important than the traditional ecumenical questions. Why are these communities so attractive? What are we missing? How can we improve our pastoral practice? How can we make our parish liturgy more lively? How can we begin substantial and essential catechesis? How can we accomplish healthy renewal and spiritual reinvigoration?”
The Cardinal also addresses those that are often described as "seekers" in the West:
These men and women are not interested in the ecumenism associated with the specialists and the theological controversies that go along with it. “Many of them are nevertheless open to a message or, better, to a fundamental and central Christian witness, expressed in accessible words that they can understand. In this sense many people, and not just Catholics, have understood well the encyclical ‘Deus Caritas Est.’ Here we find ourselves at the beginning of a new ecumenism that is intimately linked to a new evangelization.”
It is good to see that there is an acknowledgement of the importance of relations with evangelicals, but also of the broader, more nebulous (and perhaps, fruitful?) ecumenism that occurs away from the official dialogues.

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