Yesterday, May 6, Pope Francis received the international Charlemagne Prize in Rome. The whole ceremony can be watched here. After the Rome Correspondent of the National Catholic Reporter, Joshua McElwee, tweeted out two pictures of that event – one showing Pope Francis with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, and the other showing him with Cardinal Walter Kasper, I wanted to look into it a little more for myself. It does indeed seem (at the time window around 1hr and 50 minutes of the filmed event) – as McElwee insinuates in his own comments – that Pope Francis expresses a more open cordiality with Cardinal Kasper than with Cardinal Müller. Both of these cardinals sat in the first row close to the pope during the event. Yet, we know that they both stand for very different positions in this current struggle for marriage and the family within the Catholic Church.
As a sign of his own closeness to the pope, Cardinal Kasper recently admitted that it was he himself who convinced the pope to accept this international Charlemagne Prize from Germany. Therefore, since it seems to be Cardinal Kasper who finds more favor with the current pope, it might be worth reviewing some of his recent inconsistent statements, in order to test his sufficient worthiness for being an important counselor of a pope. Such a man certainly should instill a sense of trust among the Catholic faithful.
As was just recently pointed out by Father Claude Barthe in his interview with the Italian Church historian, Professor Roberto de Mattei, it was Cardinal Kasper who – together with Cardinal Karl Lehmann – has been advocating since at least as early as 1993 for the admittance of public adulterers to Holy Communion. Some twenty years later, Kasper was chosen by Pope Francis to discuss this very topic at the Consistory of Cardinals (in February of 2014), a fact which alarmed many faithful Catholics at the time. In the following months, Cardinal Kasper assured the world that “the pope supports me.” Pope Francis, for his part, did nothing to correct this impression.
For example on September 26, 2014, just before the synod opened, Kasper gave an interview to Il Mattino in which he said, “I agreed upon everything with him [Pope Francis]. He was in agreement. What can a cardinal do, except be with the Pope?”
Later in the interview he confirmed again: “I agreed with the Pope; I spoke twice with him. He showed himself content.”
However, after the first Synod of Bishops on the Family in 2014 showed that there was yet strong resistance against Cardinal Kasper’s proposal to admit “remarried” divorcees to Holy Communion, Kasper proceeded to distance himself from his previous claims of papal support and concurrence. In an interview with Raymond Arroyo of EWTN, Kasper contradicted his earlier statements, denying that he had the support of the pope. Here is the transcript of his words, according to the National Catholic Register‘s Rome Correspondent, Edward Pentin:
ARROYO: But you do understand, when a Churchman like yourself, a theologian, an esteemed international figure, a Curial official says: “Here is my proposal, and the Pope agrees with me” that does cause some …
CARDINAL KASPER: Well, this I did not say.
ARROYO: Well you did say, and the quote is: “Clearly this is what he wants,” and “the Pope has approved of my proposal.” Those were the quotes from the time …
CARDINAL KASPER: No … he did not approve my proposal. The Pope wanted that I put the question [forward], and, afterwards, in a general way, before all the cardinals, he expressed his satisfaction with my talk. But not the end, not in the … I wouldn’t say he approved the proposal, no, no, no.
At the time, it was the Vatican expert Marco Tosatti who revealed that it might have been the pope himself who told Kasper to deny that he had papal support. As I reported in June of 2015:
Very importantly – also in the context of a growing resistance in Germany among bishops against the overall Kasper proposal – Tosatti reports that, a month and a half ago, Cardinal Kasper himself visited the Pope, in order to report to him about the situation and the atmosphere in Germany concerning the upcoming October 2015 Synod. Kasper “had to admit [to the Pope] that not all bishops are in accord with him and with the [German] Bishops’ Conference.” The Pope was somewhat indignant about this report, according to Tosatti, and he counseled Kasper to be cautious. “And it can be that one of the fruits of this counsel is: not to put the person of the Pope himself in direct connection with a proposal which will certainly find a strong and decisive opposition at the Synod next October. And it is not certain at all that it [Kasper’s proposal] will pass.”
This would indeed be a good explanation for this “volte face” of Cardinal Kasper in the matter of the pope’s support. And this form of strategic approach would also be in accordance with regard to what Archbishop Bruno Forte just recently related during a conference on the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, namely, that Pope Francis told him during the synod debates on the family not to mention explicitly Communion for the “remarried” divorcees in order to avoid resistance. “Do it in a way that the premises are there, then I will draw out the conclusions.” These were the words of the pope, according to Forte — the man Francis hand-picked as Special Secretary to the synods.
During the synod debates it was clear that the majority of the bishops was not in favor of the “Kasper-proposal.” Kasper’s reputation took further damage when his dishonesty was revealed over demeaning remarks he made about the African bishops during the first synod. When asked in the interview with some journalists – among them Edward Pentin – about the role of the African bishops who resisted some of the more liberal moral ideas, Kasper had said, for example: “But they [the African bishops] should not tell us too much what we have to do.” After Pentin published these remarks, Kasper first denied them. Pentin, forced to publish the audio recording of the exchange to verify the story, thereby forced Kasper to concede the truth.
Moreover, after the conclusion of the second synod in 2015 and the release of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Cardinal Kasper reversed himself again, reiterating his original position: that he indeed did — and does –have papal support. That this is, in fact, the actual truth of the matter has become increasingly difficult to deny.
Only recently, we reported the following about Cardinal Kasper:
In other parts of the interview, Kasper also shows how much the pope has supported him. For example, he recounts how Pope Francis – after he praised Kasper publicly on the first Sunday after his election to the throne of Peter – told him [Kasper]: “I made propaganda for you!” Kasper also recounts that it was he himself who was able to convince the pope to accept the honor of receiving the Charlemagne Prize (one of the most prestigious European prizes). Kasper says: “He [Francis] shortly thereafter then further responded with these words to the question from a journalist as to why he had accepted this prize: ‘That is because of the stubbornness of Cardinal Kasper.’”
It is, therefore, not a surprise that Cardinal Kasper sat prominently in the first row at Sala Regia yesterday, when Pope Francis received that very same prize. But, at what cost has his influence over the Vicar of Christ been gained?