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Cardinal Walter Kasper: “The Church is a communion of reconciled differences”

"This Pope is in continuity with his predecessors. Moreover, the Holy Father is confronted with a complex question: within the same Church, the same faith, many different cultures intertwine." Thus the problem “is not related to progressives and conservatives but rather to the coexistence of very different cultures.” For the future, “I want to see a thriving Church, and a thriving Church is characterized by a diversity of opinions”

trer“The cacophony of the past cannot become a harmonious symphony.” However, “we have made considerable progress to learn to play as a musical ensemble.” Cardinal Walter Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, uses metaphorical images to describe the current ecumenical season of the Catholic Church and of those born of Luther’s Reformation. The cardinal participated in a meeting, held in the city of Trent, promoted by the Italian Bishops’ Conference – CEI – in conjunction with the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, marking the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation. The event was characterised by in-depth debates and discussions on the major themes that unite and those that divide the Churches. However, the challenge of unity is not confined to the dialogue between Christian Churches; it equally involves the Catholic Church at internal level. The goal of “unity in diversity” is the future of ecumenical dialogue as well as of the Catholic Church and of its multifarious members.

Your Eminence, you have referred to a “developing communion” and to an “ecumenism that is always on the move.” It appears that the fruits reaped after 50 years of dialogue are few. Further progress is expected to take place. What is your reply?

Indeed, it is necessary to make further steps forward; with no doubt. However, we need to be in communion with the ancient Church of the past and with the Church of today. This criteria deserves special attention. We can’t expect to create a new Church. That is not possible, and that’s also why tradition is very important. But tradition is not a restraining factor. It is a thrust for renewal. Suffice it to mention women’s diaconate. Bruno Forte is right when he says that a male ministry cannot be applied to women as it is. It is necessary to be innovators. I consider this to be the right key.

Lutherans ask for Eucharistic sharing. It is unconceivable?

No, it’s not unconceivable. Vatican II envisages openness on this theme. I think steps forward should be made especially as regards mixed marriages. We want the married couple to go to church together, we can’t divide them before the altar when they are living together, praying together, living together.

While on the one side there is a request to move forward, on the other we witness – even recently – a movement that is reluctant to follow the processes initiated by Pope Francis. Such resistance and opposition come from within the Catholic Church.

This Pope is in harmony with the sensus fidelium. The great majority of the faithful are favourable to the Pope. But some bishops unfortunately are not attuned to the faith of the people. This is a problem. We need to support this Pope and progress with him. He is in harmony also with the tradition.

But this situation causes confusion. A divided Catholic Church is not a testimony to the external realm. What is your opinion?

There are differing opinions also inside our Church. This is true today as it was in the past. I want to see a thriving Church, and a thriving Church is characterised by diverse opinions. Ultimately, consensus must be reached. However, this consensus should not be monotony. That is not possible. The Church is a communion of reconciled differences.

It’s possible to have different opinions while believing in the same Gospel. Some urge not to override the Gospel. Others believe that the present times require different, up-to-date approaches. What is the right balance?

The Gospel does not change. There is only one Gospel. But the Bible comprises four Gospels and in the four Gospels we find divergences in John, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Thus unity in difference and difference in unity is found already in early Christianity. The tension that continued to date is bound to continue until the return of our Lord.

How is the Church of Pope Francis taking shape? The Jubilee of Mercy has come to an end. It was an important Jubilee that made known many aspects of this Pope’s Church. What is the balance of the Year, in your view?  

The Pope has placed the core of the Gospel, a merciful God, at the centre. In the theology of the past decades we tended to overlook this aspect of Mercy. It’s also an answer to the signs of our times. We are living an era of fierce violence, of terrible injustices. Many people have been wounded. The proclamation of Mercy is the answer of Christianity. Pope Francis guides the Church along the right path. The preaching of Divine Mercy is to be found also in John XXIII and in Paul VI. This Pope is in continuity with his predecessors while he is confronted with a challenging question: many different cultures intertwine within the same Church, the same faith. I personally experienced this diversity of cultures during the Second Synod on the Family. We weren’t facing a problem related to progressives and conservatives but rather to different cultural views on marriage and the family, ranging from Africa, to Asia, to our Western culture. There ensues that as Westerners we cannot impose our views on them just as they cannot impose their views on us. That’s what I mean by unity in diversity. This is the future of the Church.

We live in a globalised world and the Church must not be afraid of diversity. Is this the challenge?

The Church is the first reality that experienced globalization since its onset. That’s why she should not fear globalization. However, globalization is not uniformity. This is a very important aspect. There must be room for diversity. The Papacy has gained importance precisely for this reason, because the Pope is the point of reference, the symbol of present trans-cultural unity.

You are a scholar of Luther. Do you think that Luther would have written his 95 theses had Pope Francis lived in that time?

Luther was a man of the late Middle Ages while Pope Francis is the Pope of post-modernity. It’s hard to draw a comparison between the two, but if a Pope like Pope Francis had lived in that epoch history would have been different. In fact the responsibility of the Church’s division is not only of Luther but also of Rome and of the bishops who weren’t open to a Reformation that was necessary at the time.

Are we ready to reform the Church today?

We are living a new situation. Ecumenism today starts from what we have in common. We face differences in the awareness of what we have in common. It’s a new situation.

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