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Surprise: The Kasper book doesn't really argue for the Kasper proposal!

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 15, 2014

You know that Cardinal Kasper has advanced a proposal that seems to call for a radical change in Church teaching on marriage. You’ve heard that Pope Francis has praised Cardinal Kasper’s new book. So you conclude, not illogically, that Pope Francis agrees with the German cardinal’s proposal. I’m happy to repeat that it ain’t necessarily so.

In that book-- Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life-- Cardinal Kasper barely mentions his ideas about allowing Communion for Catholics who are divorced and remarried, reports Samuel Gregg in a review for Crisis.

Gregg—who is definitely not a supporter of the Kasper proposal—admits that he was surprised to find that Mercy is “an accessible and at times inspiring theological account of the Christian idea of mercy.” His generally favorable review makes it easy to understand why Pope Francis admired the book.

In Mercy, Gregg tells us, Cardinal Kasper “opens his readers’ eyes to the full potential of a sound Christian re-appreciation of mercy.” The cardinal shows how the Christian outlook could transform society, and he argues for the sort of charity displayed by Mother Teresa, rather than the corporate approach of the welfare state.

Even more surprising (in light of his current stance), Cardinal Kasper “laments the widespread breakdown in church discipline since Vatican II,” Gregg writes. “Indeed, he directly cites Saint Paul’s unambiguous words about the impermissibility of approaching the Lord’s Table in an unworthy state.” So one can be enthusiastic about the Kasper book, as Pope Francis is, without necessarily embracing the Kasper proposal; in fact one might even quote Mercy in an argument against the Kasper proposal.

But if Cardinal Kasper is orthodox in his written work, why is he now advancing an unorthodox proposal, siding with Catholic dissidents, and creating practical problems for pastors who uphold Church teachings? For that matter, as he makes public appearances to promote the English translation of his book (which was published in German in 2012), why hasn’t he corrected the widespread impression that Mercy is essentially an argument for the proposal he has advanced? Cardinal Kasper the publicist and activist seems to be at odds with Cardinal Kasper the theologian and author. Gregg finds himself asking “how can we reconcile what appears to be two Walter Kaspers?”

That’s an unsettling question. Still, while we worry over it, we can take some comfort in the knowledge that Kasper the theologian, whose book the Pope has praised, remains safely within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy.

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  • Posted by: Deo Vindice - May. 16, 2014 10:47 AM ET USA

    Unfortunately, this is indicative of the "Here is the law, now do what you want" approach since Vatican II. This breeds confusion that will continue to mislead week souls. What else is new?! I pray everyday for the Church.

  • Posted by: koinonia - May. 15, 2014 7:36 PM ET USA

    "Such is the situation for the Modernists, and their one great anxiety is, in consequence, to find a way of conciliation between the authority of the Church and the liberty of believers." Pope St. Pius X in Pascendi. The description provided by the sainted pope speaks directly to this drive among certain contemporary prelates "to find a way of conciliation..." as above. We cannot reinvent the wheel. There is conflict, but our Church and her Master offer healing and hope. Preach the Gospel.

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