Cardinal Kasper: Will flattery get him somewhere?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 25, 2015

Did you notice the second half of our news story on Cardinal Walter Kasper’s request for prayers? The Cardinal was introducing a new book. Kasper wanted prayers “because a battle is going on”—the battle to shape a position on divorce, remarriage and the Eucharist “which will not be a rupture with tradition, but a doctrine that is a development of tradition.” And he wanted to promote his new book because…well, why?

When you introduce a new work of non-fiction, your purpose (beyond recognition and profit) is to advance the ideas you’ve packed into that book. Cardinal Kasper wanted to do this very thing, for example, when he introduced The Gospel of the Family just a year ago, in March of 2014. During the run-up to the first Synod on the Family, he wished to set the stage for a change in the Church’s pastoral discipline of refusing Communion to divorced Catholics who have remarried without an annulment. The Gospel of the Family was his best argument.

The proposal touched off enormous controversy. At the 2014 Synod, a substantial majority of prelates opposed the change, because they believe it would at best undermine (and at worst directly contradict) Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage. So now Kasper is actually fighting a rearguard action, pinning his hopes on the second Synod on the Family, to take place in the Fall of 2015. Since the theological work in The Gospel of the Family is remarkably shoddy (as has been amply demonstrated in several learned critiques), and since the Kasper proposal has gained little or no traction, the Cardinal’s trump card is his claim that Pope Francis deeply desires this change.

So why is Kasper hawking yet another book? It turns out the book is a paean to Pope Francis, somewhat shamelessly entitled Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love. Now there is no question that Pope Francis wants mercy to be the hallmark of his pontificate. And there is certainly no question that he is impatient with clericalism and all other forms of self-righteous posturing. These are grave impediments to mercy. But as the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops put it, this pope’s “revolution” is actually a “revolution of language and attitudes, in integral fidelity to the doctrine of all time, the revolution of tenderness and mercy.”

The Church clearly needs this; I for one am torn between enjoying the shake-up and praying desperately for the humility to profit from it. But “revolution” is far too strong a word. Insofar as what Pope Francis is trying to accomplish has legs, it is simply a continuation of a long papal and conciliar effort, easily traceable at least back to the social encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII in the late 19th century, to pry the Church (in her members, clerical, religious and lay) out of a self-satisfied “establishment” mentality so she may be fired anew with apostolic zeal.

But there is no good reason for a cardinal to write and promote a book of this type about his own boss, especially a cardinal locked in a battle for pastoral policies which the majority of bishops believe go beyond “language and attitudes” to the point of infidelity to “the doctrine of all time.” If insincere, such books should never be written. If sincere, they should not be written by those easily suspected of currying favor. And if those who enjoy basking in reflected glory feel compelled to write them, they should be published only after the death of their subjects.

Fulsome praise is spiritually dangerous to the recipient. Therefore, here is my own proposal for a change in Church discipline: Deny Holy Communion to sycophants.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Mar. 27, 2015 6:35 PM ET USA

    When I heard about this book, my first thought was not that Kasper was trying to curry favor with the Pope, but that he'd gotten the Pope's permission to use that strange title and was trying to tell the world that the Pope actually supports his ideas and that every priest, bishop, and cardinal - and all the rest of us - better get on board.