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In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt published today, Cardinal Walter Kasper reiterates in a less controversial form his comments on Africa. He says:

It’s different in Africa than it often is in Europe. Everyone knows that. What I wanted to say was: I would never involve myself in Africa, and conversely African bishops are not able to judge the situation in Europe as we ourselves are.

Kasper’s viewpoint was also taken up by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who said in the Synod:

What the Catholic Church is trying to do is a sociological adventure. . . Finding a common language on such existential themes as sexuality and marriage in Africa, Asia, Manhattan and (the Roman district of) Trastevere is actually not possible.

The Germans have a point. As Michael Brendan Dougherty observed, “when you rule out Scripture and Tradition, yeah, it becomes hard to find a universal language in the Church.” 

One also runs the risk of offending Africans when your insistence that they not speak to the European situation echoes the dismissals they hear in other contexts. As Obianuju Ekeocha wrote in reply to Kasper’s remarks: 

As an African woman now living in Europe, I am used to having my moral views and values ignored or put down as an “African issue” or an “African view point.” I have had people imply that I am not sophisticated or evolved enough in my understanding of human sexuality, homosexuality, marriage, sanctity of human life from conception, openness to life and the so called “over-population.” So as a result, in many circles, any contributions I make in discussions are placed in second or third rung.

The real problem with Kasper and Marx’s rhetoric is that it uses cultural difference as a stalking horse for doctrinal change. The incidental, no doubt accidental, condescension is unfortunate but hardly surprising given their larger error. 

The insistence of bishops from one particular European culture notwithstanding, all Christians are incorporated into a new culture, a new cultus, through their baptism in Christ. This culture can be more or less real and felt, but Christians have for centuries understood that it cannot exist without common language, common formulations, which all can be expected to understand and in the forming of which all are heard. 

* * *

Excerpts from Cardinal Walter Kasper’s interview with Die Welt, published 22 October 2014.

Die Welt: On both the most controversial points, dealing with homosexuals and the remarried, the synod was not able to come to a common concluding declaration. Is the way not blocked?

Kasper: These points are seen differently in various cultures. In Africa or in lands with Muslim majorities, for instance, they see things otherwise than we do. That’s a discussion that can’t be completed in two weeks. It requires a long period of gestation. That’s now ongoing.

Die Welt: You yourself want to open a path to the sacraments again for the remarried, under certain conditions. At this point, that’s forbidden. Why could you not convince your colleagues?

Kasper: As far as the concluding document goes, the voting was totally weird. The point concerning the remarried, which did not achieve the required majority, was indeed not my position. The determination on this point should have concerned a choice between two positions: the traditional and then mine. One could not even vote for one or the other, but rather only affirm that the synod discussed both. But some of the synod fathers did not even want that to be known to have been determined, for whatever reason. But my proposal has therefore not been rejected. On the contrary, a majority spoke for an opening.


Die Welt: In the end, how will the Church decide?

Kasper: I am convinced, that in the end we will achieve a wide consensus and make a step towards homosexuals. A step to more respect, to more recognition of the fact that homosexuals also have something to contribute in the Church. It cannot be that they are simply excluded. They are children of God and belong to the family of God.


Die Welt: Do you know where the Pope stands on the ethics of the family? You are always described as “a confidante of the Pope.”

Kasper: Oh God. The Pope has read a book by me. He had me deliver a speech concerning the remarried, that I gave in February in Rome before the cardinals. Consequently, a certain respect arises. But I would not call myself “a confidante of the Pope.”

Die Welt: But you have an impression of him. What does Francis want?

Kasper: He has let me know several times that he wants an opening. After all, he really comes at things not so much from the perspective of doctrine but rather from the perspective of rich pastoral experience.

Die Welt: It matters not whether one speaks about reformers or guardians—everyone says, the Pope sees it as they do. One side must be wrong.

Kasper: I don’t think it’s correct to want to drag the Pope to one side. Francis wants to hear all sides. Naturally I do not know whatever particular decisions he will make regarding the ethics of the family. But my personal estimation is that he will take a step forward.


Die Welt: At the edge of the synod there was an uproar about an interview in which you spoke about the African participants in the synod as follows: “They should not tell us too much what we hate to do.” What did you mean by that?

Kasper: It concerned how to deal with homosexual couples. It’s different in Africa than it often is in Europe. Everyone knows that. What I wanted to say was: I would never involve myself in Africa, and conversely African bishops are not able to judge the situation in Europe as we ourselves are. It was then ripped out of context and interpreted as if I had said: Africans should keep their mouths shut. That’s nonsense.

Die Welt: When the quotes were published, you then denied having given the interview. Later a recording appeared on the Internet. Why did you deny the interview?

Kasper: Because it wasn’t an interview, but rather a casual conversation. I came out of the synod hall, saw a familiar face, presented myself to the three journalists and engaged in casual conversation. Were I to give an interview, I would be much more precise and give final approval of the wording. But nothing was provided to me for me to authorize. If an African should somehow feel offended, then I would be sorry. I spoke afterwards with several African bishops; many of them know me. I’ve been in Africa frequently. They didn’t understand the uproar at all.

Die Welt: The American curial Cardinal Raymond L. Burke called your quotes “racist remarks,” supposedly “profoundly sad and scandalous.” What’s actually gone wrong that cardinals can accuse cardinals on the other side of racism?

Kasper: I won’t enter into polemics. Everyone can form his own judgment about such comments.

Die Welt: If we assume that the cardinals will not come to agreement on controversial points at the synod in 2015 either—what will happen then? Will everything remain as before?

Kasper: There will be more participants than this time, which already produced another configuration [of clergy]. The present concluding paper has in any event already surrendered the opinion that one may not even talk about sacraments for the remarried. It is thus inconceivable that in the end we will say the same thing as before. The Pope has a final word. I am no prophet. But a man who has hope that something will give.

Translation: Leroy Huizenga

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