Cardinal Walter Kasper
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‘Don’t use Pope Francis to push your own agenda’: Cardinal Kasper admonishes opponents

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Pope Francis is neither a “conservative” nor a “liberal,” but a “radical,” says the German prelate sometimes described as the pope’s favourite theologian. Cardinal Walter Kasper, who led the charge at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family last month to push for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, spoke at the Catholic University of America on Thursday.

Kasper disavowed both the labels and the “critical voices that say this Pope does not please us” who have tried to “undermine” and “appropriate Pope Francis in their own way.” He said, “That can happen if one claims him for their own reform concepts, especially those who are widespread in the Western World.” 

Kasper was speaking at CUA to receive the 2014 Johannes Quasten Award, the only academic award given by the University’s School of Theology and Religious Studies, for “excellence in scholarship and leadership in religious studies.” The cardinal spoke on the “Theological Background of the Ecclesiological and Ecumenical Vision of Pope Francis.”

In many interviews leading up to the Synod, Kasper was accused by critics of campaigning for his faction and of placing himself as a virtual mouthpiece of Pope Francis. Following his explosive address to the February Consistory of Cardinals, for which Kasper was hand-picked by Pope Francis, the German cardinal, the acknowledged leader of the Church’s extreme “liberal” wing, has travelled the world, particularly in the US, spreading his message, and accusing opponents of “fundamentalism.”

In May, during a trip to New York, Kasper told America magazine and other US news outlets that Pope Francis agrees with the claim that 50 percent of marriages are sacramentally invalid. The cardinal also downplayed the notion of “heroic virtue” for those who voluntarily refrain from committing adultery or other sexual sins, calling it an unreachable ideal that is “not for the average Christian.”

“We cannot as human beings always do the ideal, the best. We must do the best possible in a given situation,” the cardinal said at that time. “It’s a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian.”

A month before the Synod, Kasper was again claiming to speak for the pope when he told Italian media that he was the victim of an ideological campaign. Kasper said, “The target of the controversy is not me, but the Pope.”

He told Il Mattino that the pope did not want a “doctrinal war in the Synod.”

“I’m not naïve,” Kasper said. “I knew that there are other positions, but I didn’t think that the debate would become, and now is shown to be also, without manners.”

About the uproar following his Consistory address in which he laid out his “suggestion” that the Church could simply overlook adultery, and offer Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, Kasper said, “Not one of my fellow Cardinals ever spoke to me.”

“I, instead, [spoke] twice with the Holy Father. I agreed upon everything with him. He was in agreement. What can a cardinal do, except be with Pope? I am not the target, the target is another one.”

In Washington last week, Kasper again claimed to speak for the pope, saying that Francis “wants to initiate a new beginning for the Church.” The Church, he said, must not be “self-centered,” or “revolving around itself, but a church on the move.”

“Mission is [the] paradigm for the Church,” Kasper said. “Francis wants to leave behind … the self-centered, pitying church immersed in its own suffering. Pope Francis was elected pope in order to lead the Church out of the crisis, which has become evident. Pope Francis is a man of … patience. He takes it seriously. He’s not obsessed with achieving short-lived results.”

This pope, he said, can be best understood in the context of Liberation Theology, a stream of thought that is dominant in Argentinean Catholicism, despite it being strongly opposed by Pope Benedict throughout his career. Kasper called it a “theology of the people and of their culture.”

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“It does not want to instruct the people, but to listen to their wisdom,” he said. “On the basis of this theology, (Francis) is averse to all clericalism. He wants the participation of the whole people of God in the life of the Church, as well as men, laity, and clergy, young and old. He stresses the importance of the sensus fidei and says the Church must open its ears to the people. Pope Francis wants a magisterium that is a listening magisterium.”

Although at the closing of the Synod Pope Francis himself admonished the bishops to unity, Kasper continued to play up the old conservative/liberal dichotomy, telling his CUA audience that some prelates are wary of Pope Francis, whom he called “a pope of surprises.” These, he said, “do not really trust this new style. For more people, it’s the beginning of a new spring. For others, it’s a temporary cold spell.”

“Every pope will have his opponents and enemies.”

Kasper’s performance contrasts sharply with a similar appearance three days before by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who is reported to have carefully avoided any mention of the Synod in his own speech in Washington last week.

At CUA on Monday, Müller, who was outspoken several times against the “progressivists” at the Synod, declined a Q&A after his lecture. He also refused to answer questions from a reporter for Aleteia who had waited to to talk to him after his homily at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on November 2.

Aleteia’s Mark Stricherz reported that there was “grumbling” about the lack of interaction with the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, who he described as adopting a “traditionalist position on Christian family life,” a view, he said, that is “unlike” either Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl or Cardinal Kasper.

“Although Müller talked and talked, he chose his words with care. Like a political candidate who fears that a verbal gaffe will alienate supporters, in Washington Müller avoided any mention of the work of the Synod on the Family,” Stricherz wrote.

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