WASHINGTON (RNS) — Just days before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opens its annual fall meeting, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, often called the pope’s theologian, had a not-too-subtle message for the American church.
Kasper told a standing-room-only crowd at Catholic University that Pope Francis wants a “missionary church” with an open door, not “a self-centred, self-pitying church immersed in its own suffering.”
The cardinal, who was awarded the university’s medal for “excellence in scholarship and leadership in religious studies,” spoke Nov. 6 as the Catholic world continues to sift through the fallout from last month’s contentious synod on the family.
Not everyone sees Francis as “the beginning of a new spring in the church,” said Kasper. “Every pope will have his opponents and enemies.”
Critics see Francis and the say-what-you-really-think-synod as potentially dangerous — an erosion or softening of doctrine or a revolution in morality.
Conservatives, led by Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis, have blasted the pope for encouraging a wide-ranging discussion on all kinds of families, gay and straight, at the synod. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said media coverage created an image of devilish confusion over doctrine on sexual ethics and marriage.
But Kasper would have none of that. He repeated a familiar refrain: “The pope is not a liberal. He is a radical.”
By radical, he means returning to the origins of a church rooted in mercy, said the cardinal, author of a new book, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life.
In his lecture, he described Francis as “a pope of surprises” and “a Jesuit through and through” with “a holy impatience with our divisions.”
He said the pope’s view is that “the churches are too wrapped up in their own concerns. ... The church cannot be self-centred, revolving around itself, but a church on the move,” at the centre of human existence, not the periphery.