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Cardinal Kasper's nose is growing again

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 18, 2014

First Cardinal Kasper claimed that he had never made those shocking comments dismissing the views of African bishops. Then we heard the conversation.

Now the cardinal says that he won’t comment on the taped interview because it was unauthorized and journalist Edward Pentin had not introduced himself. That won’t fly, either. If you listen to the recording, you heard Pentin introducing himself.

Now let’s take a careful look at Cardinal Kasper’s last line of defense: that he was speaking off the record. Again, you can hear the whole conversation , and he never says that it is off the record. Cardinal Kasper is not new to this game. He has dealt with the media—quite skillfully, in fact—for years. He knows the ground rules. If you’re speaking with reporters, and you don’t say that you’re speaking off the record, your statements are fair game.

So why would the cardinal have made such remarkably unguarded comments? His most recent statement offers an interesting clue. He recalls that he was speaking with two other journalists when Pentin made the recording. It seems that he was acquainted with the other two reporters, but not with Pentin. So I suspect he was confident (rightly, as it turned out) that the two reporters he knew would not publicize his disparaging comments about the African bishops. In other words he thought he was talking with allies rather than with neutral observers.

Any objective reporter would have recognized that Cardinal Kasper’s highly impolitic remarks were newsworthy. Even if the cardinal had said they were off the record (which he did not), those comments would likely have lowered the reporters’ opinions of him, exposing him as a Eurocentric snob. So why did he speak that way? Because he knew—or thought he knew—that the reporters were sympathetic to his cause, that they were allies who could be trusted with inside information.

Adept politicians know how to court the media, offering reporters an exclusive interview here, a bit of inside information there, a background briefing now and then. Cardinal Kasper has been making the rounds for months, rallying support for his initiative at the Synod. He has worked the press well; it’s not by chance that the media coverage for his proposal has been overwhelming favorable. But now he is the victim of his own success. He has been profoundly embarrassed because he made the assumption that Pentin, like so many other reporters, would be playing for his team.

Finally, even if the cardinal said that he was speaking off the record (which he did not), and even if Pentin was acting unethically when he recorded the conversation (which he was not), the fact remains that Cardinal Kasper did make those appalling comments. He left no doubt that he views the Synod as an opportunity to address First World problems.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: stpetric - Oct. 21, 2014 10:25 PM ET USA

    I reveal my naivete once again when I find it disturbing that reporters are playing for one team or the other, rather than more disinterestedly reporting the news. Becoming advocates, it seems to me, they're no longer reporters but p.r. hacks.

  • Posted by: Ken - Oct. 21, 2014 8:49 PM ET USA

    "The teaching does not change (on the indissolubility of marriage) but it can be made more profound, it can be different." Okay, so.....what....what? It does not change but it can be different. I........

  • Posted by: Defender - Oct. 19, 2014 4:53 PM ET USA

    Why has the pope said nothing about Kasper's statements, either backing him up or not? One would think that the pope would send Kasper out to someplace that would do him good - how about someplace in central Africa?

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 19, 2014 9:14 AM ET USA

    The problem administratively now is NOT Kasper's but the Pope's. Now "the discrepancy" in Catholic authority is out in the open for the entire world to see... Francis' credulity so far as Church governance becomes even more critical.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Oct. 18, 2014 11:29 AM ET USA

    Kasper also said several times that his views reflect those of the pope himself. If he's capable of lying about the interview you discuss here, he's capable of lying about what the pope thinks. But, if that's the case, and since this is a subject vital to the life of the Church, why does the pope not say simply that he will speak for himself, thank you much? If Kasper said, for example, that Francis shared his appalling opinions of Africans, I think we might hear from the pope, don't you agree?