Is Cardinal Kasper losing his grip?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Oct 24, 2014

It may well be that the discussion of the Kasper Proposal will continue all through the coming year up to and including the 2015 Synod on the Family. I have expressed the optimistic hope that the proposal is actually now dead, except in the media, but time will tell. Meanwhile, one wonders whether something else may be amiss. One wonders whether Cardinal Kasper himself is beginning to lose his grip.

Increased forgetfulness, a reduced ability to hold multiple ideas and problems in a delicate tension, deterioration of personal judgment, and even the unfortunate intensification of personality traits are all quite common as people grow old. Each person’s experience differs, of course, but we have had no shortage of bizarre news reports concerning the ideas of elderly churchmen as they have lived significantly beyond the ecclesiastical age of retirement.

Always firmly ensconced in the liberal wing of the Church, Cardinal Walter Kasper has often had the modern media on his side. Indeed, like so many men of his type, he has been regarded as extraordinarily adept at managing public perceptions. Although his theology differs significantly from that of Pope Emeritus Benedict, the latter did recognize his ability and place him in charge of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In any case, many of those who share my own views on things Catholic have tended to regard Kasper as what we call “a smooth operator.”

But that smoothness seems to be slipping away, and fast. Over the past two weeks we have seen Cardinal Kasper waffle repeatedly on the degree of papal support he has for his proposal regarding Communion (in some cases) for those who are divorced and remarried. (That the Pope supports the discussion has always been clear.) We have also seen him make outrageous and even defamatory comments about African bishops; then deny that he had made them; then admit them, apologize for them—and threaten reprisals against those who reported them.

See Phil Lawler’s excellent commentary on this sequence, Cardinal Kasper’s unsubtle threat.

In the middle of the Synod, on the same occasion as his remarks about the Africans, Kasper also claimed, apparently without evidence, that he sensed an episcopal majority forming up behind his proposal. Then the rest of the Synod dismantled the Interim Report and, in its final votes, made it clear that there was actually insufficient episcopal support even to formally recommend the Kasper Proposal for further discussion.

And today we learn that Cardinal Kasper cannot account for the Synod’s vote, which he describes as “totally weird”. Moreover, he insists in spite of the vote that the majority of bishops are, or soon will be, on his side.

Cardinal Walter Kasper was born in 1933. He has been retired from official ecclesiastical ministry for three years. It is worth noting that the ecclesiastical “do not use after” date is far more generous than any corresponding restrictions outside the Church.

None of this is conclusive. But Cardinal Kasper is 81 years old. The best course going forward may be prayer offered with a grain of salt.

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: jg23753479 - Oct. 25, 2014 12:19 PM ET USA

    "[W]e have seen Cardinal Kasper waffle repeatedly on the degree of papal support he has for his proposal regarding Communion (in some cases) for those who are divorced and remarried." You're right that age seems to be taking its toll on Kasper; it's easy to forgive him such failings. But Pope Francis has never denied Kasper's assertions in this vein although he is the object of them and in a position to judge their accuracy. THAT is not so easy to forgive or forget.

  • Posted by: geoffreysmith1 - Oct. 25, 2014 7:25 AM ET USA

    The poor man is clearly suffering from dementia, a condition not uncommon in people of his advanced age. He should be allowed to spend the rest of his days in obscurity, away from the cajoling of an evil-intended media, urging him to give them one more heretical sound-bite.

  • Posted by: rickt26170 - Oct. 24, 2014 7:55 PM ET USA

    I doubt it. Kasper was given his unusual position by Francis - that's clear. Kasper is of the same generation of theologians like Schillebeeckx and Roger Haight who argued the Gospel was not history but symbol and hence open to extremely broad interpretation: hence consider divorce, consider homosexuality - it's all part of the living Church. To a European it may seem necessary to accommodate secularism, and worth it to disregard the African Church and the JPII/Benedict wing.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 24, 2014 7:37 PM ET USA

    You think you are being kind to the man by suggesting dementia? No doubt it is daunting to pierce any man with "the spear of Phineas" but you forget we live in the Christian era and God has offered healing in abundance. You would hide any man's sin under the guise of dementia and thus make the dementia permanent? I will say it... Kasper has sinned... He needs to repent, both for his own sake, both spiritual and mental and for the sake of his Church, which he has been called to lead.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Oct. 24, 2014 7:20 PM ET USA

    I have a hard time understanding the comment "prayer offered with a grain of salt." That seems to indicate that prayer is rather useless in this case. The gospel tells us to love and pray for our enemies. Just because we don't agree with him; or because he may be approaching senility that doesn't even make him our enemy. Definitely we should pray for Cardinal Kasper.

  • Posted by: florentine - Oct. 24, 2014 5:55 PM ET USA

    Are you kidding? I've been Catholic since 2001, and even then I was hearing Kasper's unorthodox leanings in regard to Catholic teaching. He's never had much of a grip, and should have been shown the door years ago. All this smultzy patience has allowed for many malignant and unorthodox growths to fester and degrade the great truths, beauty, unity of Holy Mother Church. Jesus was forgiving, but fierce, clear, and never "tolerant" of those persisting in their sins w/out remorse or repentance.

  • Posted by: bernie4871 - Oct. 24, 2014 3:23 PM ET USA

    "Increased forgetfulness, a reduced ability to hold multiple ideas and problems in a delicate tension, deterioration of personal judgment, etc., are all quite common as people grow old" - O, come on now! This person has been saying these things for at least 40 years. Don't blame him on old age. I like old age.

  • Posted by: Defender - Oct. 24, 2014 12:39 PM ET USA

    There are a few more liberal cardinals who should keep out of the media, as well - and some of these are beyond official retirement age, too.