“Many people experience the (church's) doctrine as far from reality. There is a kind of practical schism. Christian couples very committed to the church, for example, do not live the teachings of the encyclical 'Humanae Vitae' regarding birth control. It's a problem that needs thinking about.”
Cardinal Walter Kasper, the renowned German theologian and emeritus president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, told this to La Nacion, a leading Argentinian daily. The interview, conducted by Mariano de Vedia, was published on September 6.
Asked how the church faces "practical schism" today, Kasper replied, “In silence. This problem, in general, is not spoken about. Sometimes because we do not wish to lose a lot of Catholics. Certainly the next synod will have to speak about these themes. The International Theological Commission, in a recent document, highlighted the importance of listening to the voice of the faithful before speaking about a subject.”
Kasper, whom the Pope asked to the give the keynote address to the 2014 synod of bishops on the family, expressed his views on this and other topics just one month before the synod meets again in Rome to come up with pastoral solutions for the many problems experienced by families to day. He did so during a two-day visit to Buenos Aires, where he had participated in an International Theological Conference, hosted by the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA), on the challenges facing the church fifty years after the Second Vatican Council.
Responding to a question on whether there's tension in the Church between doctrine and pastoral action he said, “pastoral (action) cannot go against doctrine, but doctrine cannot be an abstract affirmation. Its interpretation has to be linked to real life. Jesus Christ always talked about the reality of the person, aware that we are all sinners. There can be a certain tension between doctrine and pastoral (action), but this tension is normal and is distinct from practical schism, which causes division.”
He doesn't know whether the synod will address this question of practical schism but said, “I hope so”. The October 2014 synod “didn't talk enough about this,” he said, and speaking as a dogmatic and not a moral theologian, he doesn't have "solutions" to this problem.
Asked whether people can hope for "new things" from the October synod regarding such situations as the divorced and remarried, the cardinal described the latter as “a complex problem.” He recalled that the 2014 synod “discussed positions in favor of an opening (on this matter),” and said “there are different situations, and there's not necessarily only one solution. It's necessary (to have) a fundamental consensus, and it's possible that this basic position can be diversified according to the local realities.”
The cardinal disagreed with the suggestion that while "mercy" is a central theme for Pope Francis, it seems to have been forgotten in the church. It has never been forgotten by “the faithful, nor in popular piety” and “has always been present there,” he said, but he acknowledged that “at times theological reflection had somewhat downgraded mercy as a central attribute of God.” He went on to state that “mercy never denies justice, it surpasses it.”
Commenting on Pope Francis' recent decision to extend to all priests during the Jubilee of Mercy the faculty to forgive women who confess to having had an abortion, Kasper said, “Francis is a pope of surprises. He links pardon with the deep suffering of women who have aborted. In this way the church goes out not only to encounter the sin but also the suffering that remains in the woman long after that traumatic moment.”
When asked whether this papal decision could provoked reaction in conservative sectors, the German cardinal said “it's important to understand that here one is not dealing with 'cheap grace' that is given lightly.” On the contrary, “It requires 'metanoia', that is a sincere conversion. Along with the suffering provoked in the woman that has had an abortion, a true desire to change life is needed.”
Speaking from his own pastoral experience Kasper noted that “it's not easy to admit one's guilt.” As bishop in Stuttgart (Germany) he used to visit prisons and met detainees “who had committed as many as three murders but, with very deep repentance, asked for the sacrament of reconciliation, and I gave it to them.” They remained in prison, “but their attitudes there changed a lot'”
At the end of the interview when asked whether he viewed Francis as “a pope of transition” or as one “who marks a watershed in the Church,” Kasper replied, “Francis conceives of himself as the initiator of a process that goes beyond his pontificate. And I hope it is an irreversible process.”