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Austen IvereighAugust 25, 2008

When Fr Roger Schutz, founder of the ecumenical monastic community at Taizé, in south-east France, attended the April 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II, he received Communion from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. This raised a few eyebrows at the time -- Shutz was a Protestant pastor -- and gave rise to speculation that "Brother Roger", as he was always known, had secretly converted to Catholicism. This idea was supported by what subsequently came to light: that Schutz had repeatedly received Eucharistic communion from John Paul II and received the Eucharist every morning at the Catholic Mass in Taizé.

The question remained unanswered following his appalling death a few months after John Paul II’s funeral at the hands of a knife-wielding, mentally disturbed woman during evening prayer in the church at Taizé.

The community  was at pains to deny that the 90-year-old monk had secretly converted; but this did not put to an end to the speculation that he had. For if he hadn’t been received into full communion, why was a Protestant allowed to do what canon law forbids? And if he had been received by Rome, it might have been ecumenically political to conceal the fact -- which would explain the community’s denial.

Now Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Vatican’s Christian unity council, has shed some light on the question, in an interview with L’Osservatore Romano. Sandro Magister posts the story -- and the interview in full  -- in English here.

Kasper denies that Fr. Schutz "formally" adhered to the Catholic Church. He never left the Protestantism into which he was born. But, says the German cardinal, Brother Roger gradually "enriched" his faith with the pillars of the Catholic faith, particularly the role of Mary in salvation history, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the "the ministry of unity exercised by the bishop of Rome." In 1980, Brother Roger told a meeting of young adult Christians that “I have found my own Christian identity by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the Mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone".

It was in response to this "enrichment" that the Catholic Church "accepted that he take Communion at the Eucharist", says Kasper. 

There is no mention of a special dispensation, either de facto or de iure. Here, therefore, is a Protestant being admitted to the Catholic eucharistic table (one presided by popes, no less) without actually being admitted into full Communion. The Protestant in question was clearly quite exceptional. But the case is surely significant for others. Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England, for example, would be delighted to tick the same boxes marked "Mary", "Real Presence", “primacy of Peter” and so on; should they, too, be admitted to Catholic Eucharist?

That is what I find particularly intriguing about this. It opens up a Pandora’s Box. Surely, if Popes John Paul II and Benedict XV were worried about the border-blurring message which pictures of Brother Roger receiving Communion would send out, they would have told him not to do so in public.

Or put another way: the fact they didn’t means they must be sending another kind of message.

But what?

So while at least we know for sure that Brother Roger did not "convert", other questions seem to take off. Let’s see if there are any answers in this snip from the Kasper interview:

As the years passed, the faith of the prior of Taizé was progressively enriched by the patrimony of faith of the Catholic Church. According to his own testimony, it was with reference to the mystery of the Catholic faith that he understood some of the elements of the faith, such as the role of the Virgin Mary in salvation history, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharistic gifts and the apostolic ministry in the Church, including the ministry of unity exercised by the Bishop of Rome. In response to this, the Catholic Church had accepted that he take communion at the Eucharist, as he did every morning in the large church at Taizé. Brother Roger also received communion several times from the hands of Pope John Paul II, who had become friends with him from the days of the Second Vatican Council and who was well acquainted with his personal journey with respect to the Catholic Church. In this sense, there was nothing secret or hidden in the attitude of the Catholic Church, neither at Taizé or in Rome. During the funeral of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger only repeated what had already been done before him in Saint Peter’s Basilica, at the time of the late Pope. There was nothing new or premeditated in the Cardinal’s act.

In a talk he gave in the presence of Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter’s Basilica during the young adult European meeting in Rome in 1980, the prior of Taizé described his own personal journey and his Christian identity with these words: “I have found my own Christian identity by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the Mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.” In fact, Brother Roger never wanted to break “with anyone,” for reasons which were essentially linked to his own desire for unity and to the ecumenical vocation of the Taizé Community. For that reason, he preferred not to use certain expressions like “conversion” or “formal” membership to describe his communion with the Catholic Church. In his conscience, he had entered into the mystery of the Catholic faith like someone who grows into it, without having to “abandon” or “break” with what he had received and lived beforehand. The meaning of some theological or canonical terms could be discussed endlessly. Out of respect for the faith-journey of Brother Roger, however, it would be preferable not to apply to him categories which he himself considered inappropriate for his experience and which, moreover, the Catholic Church never wanted to impose upon him.

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15 years 7 months ago
That's a fascinating story, Austen, especially when taken with the news story (in the Signs of the Times this week) about Pope Benedict XVI's admission that he has become 'less strict' about administering the sacraments to young people. Here's the piece in case anyone can't access the current issue: Pope Now Less Strict on Sacraments (CNS) Pope Benedict XVI said the church should be generous when it comes to administering the sacraments to young people, recognizing that Jesus would have done the same. The pope spoke about the need to take a broad approach to the administration of sacraments, reflecting the merciful attitude shown by Christ. Federico Lombardi, S.J., the Vatican spokesman reported, 'The pope said, 'I used to be more strict about this, but the example of Christ led me to become more welcoming in cases in which, perhaps, there is not a mature and solid faith, but there is a glimmer, a desire of communion with the church.'' The pope made the remarks in a closed-door meeting Aug. 6 with about 400 priests and religious in the northern Italian city of Bressanone, where the 81-year-old pontiff was vacationing. Although reporters were not allowed inside the city’s cathedral for the one-hour encounter Father Lombardi described some of the give and take in an interview with Vatican Radio. One of six questions posed by priests touched on the pastoral care of children, Father Lombardi said.
15 years 7 months ago
Taize is a wonderful example of how monastic life can inspire young and old across a range of churches and denominations. It is extraordinary sign of ecumenical hope. Was Bro. Roger at the end Evangelical or Catholic? In the interview, Cardinal Kasper seems to be saying: yes. If not fully, exclusively 101% officially Roman Catholic, should he have been receiving communion from Cardinals and Popes? A Benedictine friend of mine, tells us that "This Cardinal, rather on the inside of things, seems to be saying, if I understand rightly: 'Don't sweat the small stuff' when deeper communion is being lived--or something like that." Bro. Roger was a towering ecumenical monk of our time. His life was an invitation to all of us who wish to be nourished by contemporary monastic spirituality. Michael

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