Cardinal Walter Kasper’s Ecumenism: Truth Above All

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An analysis by Sandro Magister of an important address given by the President of the Pontifical Council for Christian unity, Cardinal Kasper on ecumenical efforts.

OMA (Chiesa) – Eight days before it was published on the last day of November, Benedict XVI had announced the release of the encyclical on hope, “Spe Salvi,” to the cardinals gathered in Rome from all over the world, at the meeting that opened the consistory.

For many of them, the announcement came as a surprise.

But the topic at the center of the discussion was not that of the encyclical, but the current state of ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the other Christian confessions.

The cardinals’ meeting with the pope took up the entire day of Friday, November 23. Benedict XVI entrusted the task of introducing the discussion to cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the pontifical council for Christian unity.

17 other cardinals spoke after Kasper’s address. The meeting was held behind closed doors, but the Holy See press office, in a concise summary, related that some of the speakers indicated the implementation of the Church’s social doctrine and the defense of life and the family as some of the more promising areas for ecumenism.

Others proposed continuing with the “purification of memory.” Still others asked for greater attention in using “forms of communication more attentive to not wounding the sensibility of other Christians.”

This last request was also presented in Kasper’s address. Referring to the “Five responses” published last July by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, the cardinal had noted that these “have raised perplexity and have occasioned a certain discontent” in some Christian confessions, especially among the Protestants. And he added:

“It is to be hoped that the form, language, and public presentation of such declarations could be reviewed.”

After the midday break, another 16 cardinals spoke that afternoon.

Some expanded the attention to relations with the Jews and with Islam. There was talk about the “encouraging sign” represented by the letter of the 138 Muslim personalities, and by the visit of the king of Saudi Arabia to the Holy Father.

And in this regard, a few days later a letter was made public from the cardinal secretary of state, Tarcisio Bertone, to Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, with the announcement of a future audience between the pope and the prince, together with some of the signatories of the letter of the 138, and of an agenda of dialogue “on effective respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation”.

A brief response from Cardinal Kasper on a few particular points and a speech by the pope concluded the day.

The Holy See press office has not put Kasper’s address online, nor can it be found on the Vatican website. But it was printed in “L’Osservatore Romano” the following day.

In any case, it makes for very interesting reading. Because it clearly describes – on the part of someone with authority on the subject – the current state of ecumenical relations, in this order:

– with the pre-Chalcedonian Eastern Churches;
– with the Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine, Syrian, and Slavic traditions;
– with the ecclesial Communities born of the Protestant Reformation;
– with the “evangelical” Communities;
– with the Charismatic and Pentecostal Communities.

Kasper accompanies this diagnosis with indications on how to continue this journey fruitfully.