November 14, 2014, Friday — Francis Has His Hand On The Tiller — And He Will Not Change Doctrine

(Continued from Letter #31 of October 21)

Greetings from Rome.

I left off the last letter, almost a month ago, saying I would explain why the mid-October conversation between Cardinal Walter Kasper and British journalist Edward Pentin was the second “revelatory moment” of the October Bishops’ Synod on the Family, and why the Pope’s final message to the Synod was the third “revelatory moment” (the first “revelatory moment” was when Cardinal Peter Erdo, in an unscripted aside at a press conference, revealed that Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte had drafted the controversial passages in the mid-Synod report that later were redrafted or left out of the final report.)

But before beginning those stories, I have to insert a brief “newsflash”: that Cardinal Kasper on November 11 here in Rome, speaking at a small round-table I attended, said there will not be a change in Church doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage, only an effort to make Church pastoral care for individuals in problematic or broken relationships more charitable, effective and helpful.

Kasper and Coccopalmerio on November 11

I attended a round-table the other evening, on November 11, at the Centro Ecumenica Russia on Borgo Pio, a few steps from the Sant’Anna Gate into Vatican City, at which Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke.

Kasper, just back in Rome after a trip to the United States, was joined by Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, one of the leading canon lawyers in the Church, and now President of the Vatican’s most important canon law office, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (he was also, for many years, the private secretary of the late, and important, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan).

The two discussed the October Synod on the Family for an hour and a half. About 25 people were present.

One essential conclusion of the discussion was this: that the Church will not change her established moral doctrine.

Both men said this: that next year, when the Synod reconvenes, there won’t be any change in Church doctrine, only an effort to change the application of the doctrine in specific cases.

Coccopalmerio put it this way: “We never wished to change doctrine, only to change the application of the doctrine to particular cases. The doctrine cannot change.”

Kasper concurred.

This is important. There are many who are wondering, and whispering, about the chances of a “change in Church doctrine.”

Yet while they wonder, and whisper, the very protagonists of the alleged move to change Church doctrine, men like Kasper and Coccopalmerio, are saying quite openly that a change in doctrine is not in the cards.

It is not going to happen.

And this means that those who fear that the barque of Peter is sailing “rudderless,” that there is no helmsman at the tiller, that Pope Francis is falling short in carrying out his mission to confirm his brothers in the faith and in assuring the unity of the Church, are wrong.

(Such suggestions were made, at least in appearance, by Cardinal Raymond Burke in an October 30 interview which instantly spread around the internet —link

To be noted: The Synodal process and Orthodoxy

The second essential conclusion of the evening was something few have noted: that the process of the Synod, with the Pope listening and the bishops speaking freely, had profound ecumenical implications, especially with regard to the Orthodox.

In other words, the Synod showed that the Petrine office can function through a process of discussion with bishops, as occurs in the Synods of the Orthodox Church. The Pope did not take an “authoritarian” role, but simply listened. In the Orthodox understanding, the Pope is sometimes thought of as an “authoritarian” figure, not simply the “servant of unity” and “servant of fidelity to tradition,” that Catholics believe him to be.

What this means — and what has largely been overlooked in the coverage of the Synod — is that the Synod may have been a landmark in ecumenical relations, and may have been intended to be such a landmark.

That is, that the Pope, in his desire to increase the possibility of a positive movement toward Church unity, especially with the Orthodox, wished this Synod to display to the Orthodox world a way of coming to decisions in the Church more in keeping with the Orthodox tradition.

So, while the world was focused on the issues of marriage, divorce, remarriage, and communion, there was also, on a profound level, something happening in the area of reuniting the Roman Catholic Church with the Orthodox Churches.

The Pope has his hand on the tiller

What Kasper said three days ago in the round-table I attended is, in fact, precisely the same thing he said in the overlooked final question in the controversial October 14 “Kasper-Pentin Interview,” reprinted below.

So already during the Synod, Kasper had made quite clear that the press coverage of the Synod, which suggested that a change in Catholic doctrine on marriage might be imminent — and that Francis might preside over or approve of such change — was misleading.

And this further helps to explain why so many Catholics committed to being faithful to the teachings of Christ as handed down from the beginning, experienced a certain anxiety, sometimes verging on panic, by what they were reading about the Synod proceedings.

In fact, Francis is a profoundly faithful Pope, who intends to conserve the deposit of the faith, and will do so — as Kasper himself confirms — in a world in which that deposit is under open attack from the declared enemies of the Church, but also from within the Church, from those who are misled by reports so outrageous that they should not be believed, but which lead many to vacillate in their confidence in the successor of Peter.

Francis does have his “hand on the tiller.” He will not change Church doctrine — Kasper and Coccopalmerio both confirm that.

The Second “Revelatory Moment”

In essence, the Kasper-Pentin conversation on Tuesday, October 14, revealed how human the proceedings of the Synod were.

The proceedings may have been, to some extent, “planned” to end up a certain way, but there were many things “unplanned,” which left the Synod open to  “spin” and misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

The Kasper-Pentin conversation reveals that is a striking way.

In essence, Pentin, a respected journalist who has covered the Vatican for many years, on the night of October 15, interviewed Kasper.

It occurred like this: Pentin met Kasper  — who is now past age 80 — as Kasper was leaving the Synod hall, near the Sant’Uffizio gate, after a long day of discussions. Pentin held out an Iphone, which can be used also as a tape recorder, and identified himself as a journalist. Kasper responded to all the questions, willingly. There were two other journalists also present. (One of the most controversial questions, about the African bishops, was asked by another journalist, not Pentin.)

There was ample room for confusion and misunderstanding. If one listens to the tape of the interview, one can hear the cars of Rome driving by in the background. One might imagine that Kasper did not hear certain questions clearly.

Pentin transcribed and published the interview. (Note: Pentin had introduced himself as a journalist from “the (National Catholic) Register,” a print publication, but he first published the interview on the Zenit web site.)

Certain phrases in the interview, referring to some of the African bishops (Kasper suggested that the European bishops did not need to listen to the African bishops on certain points of moral doctrine) were controversial.

Other reporters then asked Kasper about the interview.

And here came the central moment in this incident.

Kasper, when asked about his remarks, did not distance himself from just a few phrases, but rather denied having given any such interview. (Note: Some suggest that Kasper may have, in fact rightly, denied that he had given an interview toZenit.)

Zenit then retracted the article, taking it down from its website. (!)

So Pentin was now in a difficult position. His integrity was being called into question.

He took a dramatic decision: he published a statement saying Kasper had in fact given him the interview, and, in a still more dramatic gesture, he went so far asto post the entire interview, in a sound file, on the internet, so that anyone in the world could listen to it!

And if one listens to the tape, the interview is all there; Kasper had given the interview.

So Kasper, who had been the “protagonist” of the entire Synodal process — he had been chosen by Pope Francis to give a long presentation to a Consistory in the spring, several months before the Synod, outlining certain possible changes in the Church’s understanding of the doctrine on marriage, divorce, remarriage and communion — seemed, suddenly, to a certain extent, in the eyes of many, especially more “traditional” Catholics, discredited.

For example, one commenter wrote on Pentin’s website: “It makes sense that someone who is so untruthful about Catholic theology as Kasper has been would lie… when there is outrage over his other comments. At least he’s consistent.”

Another wrote: “Thank you, Edward Pentin! I hope Pope Francis would listen this interview.”

Another wrote: “If Kasper has he way, Africans will be denied a voice in the Synod. Why then were they invited if they are to be seen and not heard? This type of unbridled elitism comes from Kasper is extremely regrettable.”

Another wrote: “Oh my! The Cardinal has really put his foot in it! Well done Edward. I’m glad you got the audio. I hope this helps the synod members to distance themselves from what he is espousing! Prayers for C. Kasper!”

This expression, “I hope this helps the Synod members to distance themselves from what he is espousing,” is significant, because, to some extent, it seems that this happened, as the mood of the Synod seemed to change in mid-course, perhaps, if only is a small way, also because of this interview incident.

And so an odd “incident” — an interview given in haste, likely in tiredness, in the dark of the evening, on the edge of a trafficky street, published in a place where the interviewee had not been told it would be published — led to a certain negative shift in public opinion with regard to the leading theological voice of the Synod, Cardinal Kasper.

For those of you who wish to have full documentation, below after the next section, is the complete text of Pentin’s statement about the interview, and the complete transcription of the recording, and, to top it off, a link to the recording itself, if you would like to hear Cardinal Kasper’s voice answering Pentin’s questions.

A relevant conversation with Cardinal Ratzinger

More than 10 years ago, I had a conversation with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI and now Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, which has some relevance to the current situation.

I had been advised by a Vatican official that Cardinal Ratzinger was upset with Cardinal Kasper due to a running debate that was taking place in the press between the two over the question of “universal Church” vs. “particular Church.”

“You should go talk to him (Cardinal Ratzinger), then write about the matter,” the official suggested to me.

Ratzinger — who was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and so the highest doctrinal authority on the Church, next to the Pope — agreed to meet with me.

We met in the library of his private apartment, located just near the Swiss Guard barracks, outside of Vatican City.

Ratzinger had argued in the year 2000 document Dominus Iesus (“The Lord Jesus”) that there was a “universal” dimension to the Church that was required for the true existence of the Church. This meant, among other things, that Rome and the Pope’s Petrine office, serving both to symbolize and to “incarnate” the “oneness” of the Church, were constitutive elements of the Church, essential, necessary.

But Kasper had written articles arguing that the Church fully existed in “particular” Churches, even without a “universal” dimension. His argument was that the “universal” dimension was not “essential” to the celebration of the sacraments in a parish, and that the Church was “fully present” in each “particular Church” even if there were no “universal” reality or authority linking them all. (I am, admittedly, simplifying a great deal, perhaps too much to accurately portray the two positions, in order to give a brief sketch of this debate.)

I asked Cardinal Ratzinger if he was upset with Cardinal Kasper.

“No,” Cardinal Ratzinger replied.

No, he was not upset, he continued, because, he said, for Cardinal Kasper this debate was an “academic” one.

And when the two of them had been professors of theology in Germany, years before, such debates had not only been common, but professionally necessary.

Any theological position may be argued in academic circles without causing scandal, Cardinal Ratzinger continued.

However, he went on, things had changed. He himself had become Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, and Kasper had now been made a cardinal as well, by Pope John Paul II (February 21, 2001), and had been named Prefect of the Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity (March 3, 2001).

In these new circumstances, Cardinal Kasper was continuing to “do theology” as if he were still a German academic, still a professor in a German university — not a cardinal with an institutional role to teach the faith and to avoid any teaching which might cause confusion to the faithful, even if that teaching might interest and stimulate intellectuals.

As a cardinal, Kasper needed to understand that his intellect was now at the service of a different purpose, Cardinal Ratzinger suggested to me.

“He does not understand that yet,” Cardinal Ratzinger said to me. I raised my eyebrows. He looked at me, chuckled, and said in a joking way: “But you will help him to understand”…


Pentin’s Statement on Cardinal Kasper Interview

By Edward Pentin


 In response to a statement from His Eminence Cardinal Kasper denying giving the interview that appeared in ZENIT Wednesday 15th October, I issue the following response:

His Eminence Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke to me and two other journalists, one British, the other French, around 7.15pm on Tuesday as he left the Synod hall.

I transcribed the recording of our conversation, and my iPhone on which I recorded the exchange was visible. I introduced myself as a journalist with the [National Catholic] Register, and the others also introduced themselves as journalists. I therefore figured the interview was on the record and His Eminence appeared happy to talk with us. In the end, I posted the full interview in ZENIT rather than the Register. ZENIT removed the article on Thursday in response to Cardinal Kasper’s denial.

His Eminence made no comment about not wanting his remarks published. It depends on the context, but normally in such a situation, comments are considered on the record unless otherwise requested.

The recording can be downloaded below. A couple of the questions came from the other two journalists and I included them as part of the interview. Some of the quality of the English has also been improved for publication.


If there was a misunderstanding, I apologise, but I stand by the interview that was published as a correct account of the exchange.



Your Eminence, how is everything going in the Synod?

Cardinal Walter Kasper: Everything is very quiet now. This morning it was on fire a little bit but of course that’s because of you – the newspapers!

Yesterday we were told the “Spirit of Vatican II” was in the synod. Do you agree with this?

Kasper: This is the spirit of the Council – this is very true.

Have you seen some movement on the divorce and “remarriage” issue?

Kasper: I hoped there would be some opening and I think the majority is in favor. That is the impression I have, but there is no vote. But I think some opening would be left [to happen]. Perhaps it would also be left to the next part of the synod.

Have you seen opposition growing to your proposals in the last few days?

Kasper: No. In the first phase of the synod I saw a growing majority in favor of an opening. I saw it – but it’s more of a feeling. There was no vote. There will be a vote but not yet.

Do you know how the Holy Father is viewing the synod and how it’s going so far?

Kasper: He has not said – he’s been silent, he has listened very carefully but it’s clearly what he wants and that’s evident. He wants a major part of the episcopacy with him and he needs it. He cannot do it against the majority of the episcopacy.

Is there any sense that he’s trying to push things in that direction?

Kasper: He does not push. His first speech was freedom: freedom of speech, everyone should say what he thinks and what he has on his mind and this was very positive. Nobody is asking: what would the Holy Father think about this? What things can I say? This freedom of speech has been very alive here in this synod, more than in others.

It has been said that he added five special rapporteurs on Friday to help the general rapporteur, Cardinal Peter Erdo. Is that because he’s trying to push things through according to his wishes?

Kasper: I do not see this going on in the Pope’s head. But I think the majority of these five people are open people who want to go on with this. The problem, as well, is that there are different problems of different continents and different cultures. Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.

But are African participants listened to in this regard?

Kasper: No, the majority of them [who hold these views won’t speak about them].

They’re not listened to?

Kasper: In Africa of course [their views are listened to], where it’s a taboo.

What has changed for you, regarding the methodology of this synod? [question from French journalist]

Kasper: I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general criteria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.

There is a lot of concern about your proposal.

Kasper: Yes, yes, there’s a lot.

People are saying that it is causing a lot of confusion among the faithful, and people are worried about it. What do you say to that?

Kasper: I can only speak of Germany where the great majority wants an opening about divorce and remarriage. It’s the same in Great Britain, it’s everywhere. When I speak to laypeople, also old people who are married for 50, 60 years, they never thought of divorce but they see a problem with their culture and so every family has a problem nowadays. The Pope also told me that [such problems exist] also in his family, and he has looked at the laity and seen the great majority are for a reasonable, responsible opening.

But people feel the Church’s teaching is going to be undermined by your proposal if it passes, that it’s undoing 2,000 years of Church teaching. What is your view on this?

Kasper: Well nobody is putting into question the indissolubility of marriage. I think it wouldn’t be a help for people, but if you look to this word of Jesus, there are different synoptic gospels in different places, in different contexts. It’s different in the Judeo-Christian context and in the Hellenistic context. Mark and Matthew are different. There was already a problem in the apostolic age. The Word of Jesus is clear, but how to apply it in complex, different situations? It’s a problem to do with the application of these words.

The teaching does not change?

Kasper: The teaching does not change but it can be made more profound, it can be different. There is also a certain growth in the understanding of the Gospel and the doctrine, a development. Our famous Cardinal Newman had spoken on the development of doctrine. This is also not a change but a development on the same line. Of course, the Pope wants it and the world needs it. We live in a globalized world and you cannot govern everything from the Curia. There must be a common faith, a common discipline but a different application.

The tape of the conversation

Here is a link to the audio tape of the Kasper-Pentin conversation:

(to be continued)

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