Author Topic: The Ratzinger / Kasper debate revisited  (Read 3144 times)

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Offline John Larocque

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The Ratzinger / Kasper debate revisited
« on: October 15, 2009, 02:15:34 PM »
Fascinating series of essays on the Cardinals Kasper/Ratzinger debate a few years ago on universal vs. local ecclesiology, all agregated here on this blog:

Here's one from a traditional Anglican:

Kasper is arguing, in the midst of a world-wide crisis of authority and credibility in Anglicanism, for an Anglicization of the Roman Church. The Anglican disease is the disease of wilful autonomy. Ours is a polity which tolerates (thus far at least) any and every local 'adaptation of doctrine'. It has, at the centre, no regulating structure or legislative authority. Some, like Archbishop Peers of Canada, have argued passionately against even modest proposals to establish some pattern of inter-provincial regulation. Fears have even been voiced of 'Carey's Curia', and of a neo-Papal authority being accorded to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Traditional Anglicans in some provinces, who are hounded and persecuted for holding opinions which, in other provinces are mainstream and unexceptionable, cannot but admit that Ratzinger has a point. There is clearly a sense in which a Church which has no central authority and no means of reaching a common mind has ceased to be a Church. It has degenerated into an arena of competing ideologies.

But, paradoxically, their experience also gives them some sympathy with Kasper. For, they will ask (having seen entryists gain control of province after province) what happens if the entryists take the final citadel and assume the supreme authority? Liberal Roman Catholics long ago adapted the doctrine of papal infallibility to mean the infallibility of the next Pope but one (who, of course, inevitably, will share their views!).


But what conclusion should we reach on the central question? You will draw your own conclusions; but mine accord with those of Cardinal Avery Dulles:

'The ontological priority of the Church universal appears to me to be almost self-evident, since the very concept of a particular church presupposes a universal Church to which it belongs, whereas the concept of the universal Church does not imply that it is made up of distinct particular churches... the Catholic Church must be on guard against degenerating into a loose federation of local or national churches. She has learned much from the experience of Gallicanism and analogous movements in past centuries. In this age of globalisation and multiple inculturation, it is more imperative than ever to have a vigorous office that safeguards the unity of all the particular churches in the essentials of faith, morality and worship.'

Meanwhile, Archibisohp Chaput of Denver, (famous for disinviting Senator Biden to communion) offered this comment:

An alternative to the tensions between fragmentation and centralization in the Western church seems to present itself in the experience of the Orthodox churches. The Orthodox have come through centuries of persecution with their sense of liturgy, tradition and doctrine intact--and all without the benefit of a centralized authority analogous to the papacy. Cardinal Kasper's approach to ecclesiology will have strong appeal to Orthodox thinkers, and it makes him invaluable for the work of ecumenism. In fact, in discussing this article, Metropolitan Isaiah, Denver's Greek Orthodox hierarch, a friend and colleague in local ecumenical dialogue, praised Cardinal Kasper for "captur[ing] the spirit and identity of the accepted by Orthodox Christianity."

At least two obstacles exist, however, to adopting the Orthodox model as a remedy for the present condition of our local Catholic churches. Reverence for tradition in the East runs deep. It did once in the West as well. But both within and outside the church, "tradition" has been under assault for decades in the West. American culture is deeply skeptical of the old, the venerable and even of history itself. That is why the sociologist Christopher Lasch described Americans as locked in a permanent present, permanently restless, permanently eager for change. American Catholics are not immune to this weakness; in fact, quite the contrary. And while West European cultures have much longer memories, they seem no less eager to forget their patrimonies and get on with the process of secularization--which, at least in the Netherlands, now includes infanticide, assisted suicide and euthanasia. Western Christians hoping to root unity in "tradition" will at the moment be sorely disappointed.

Nor can liturgy suffice. Most practicing Orthodox experience the eucharistic liturgy as deep, organic and sacrosanct. It is the food that sustains Orthodox life. Many Western Catholics are blessed with the same devotion. But for the past 35 years we have operated on the liturgy as surgeons work on a patient--exteriorizing and objectifying it in a way that has tended to remove it from the realm of the sacred and transfer it to the realm of the functional. We've compounded that with disputes over language with deep doctrinal implications. To assume that we will now unite around our worship in a manner that guarantees the unity of the local churches with the universal church would be nai"ve.

Cardinal Kasper, of course, does not suggest this. He understands the gravity of the opportunities and problems facing the church, and his intellect is matched by his obvious love for the church. He is also right when he says that Catholics have room both for his and Cardinal Ratzinger's approach to ecclesiology. John Paul II opened the door in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1995) to a reconsideration of the form and manner in which the Petrine ministry is exercised. In fact, as one of my Greek Orthodox priest friends has suggested, "The conciliar approach, which Cardinal Kasper upholds as properly reflecting pastoral considerations, and the primatial authority of the universal church, which Cardinal Ratzinger maintains as critical to maintaining the dogmatic and doctrinal integrity of the Christian faith, are mutually complementary."

I believe that is true. My hope is that the polemicists who will do the work of interpreting Cardinal Kasper will also take the time to share his deep faith and his loyal love for the church--the same faith and love he shares with Cardinal Ratzinger.

The reaction of Cardinal Dulles (cited above in the Anglican piece) can be found here: