Friday, January 20, 2006

Happy Kasper Week

Benedict XVI had in his fellow German Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, yesterday afternoon for a private chit-chat.

It's an appropriate time, given the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (that goal'll be accomplished much sooner than Catholic unity, for which we'd need an annual month of prayer) which is an annual highlight of his dicastery's work, and the Pope's presence at the Week's conclusion on 25 January: the annual prayer service with Orthodox and Protestant representatives at St. Paul's Outside the Walls, which is where the Vatican prefers to be ecumenical.

But earlier in the week, "Kasper the Friendly Cardinal" got his game face on at a mega-ecumenical confab in the English city of Durham (whose Anglican bishop, NT Wright, is well-known to most of you). Members of the A-team of the global Catholic press (Cindy Wooden of CNS and a delegation from The Tablet) were in attendance.

According to Wooden, Kasper said some interesting things:
While many of the doctrinal differences that divided Christians for centuries are close to being resolved, different approaches to modern ethical questions are making Christian unity appear as distant as ever, said Cardinal Walter Kasper.

"I am very sad we are not able to speak with one voice on these issues to a world that needs to hear," the cardinal said Jan. 13 at an international ecumenical conference at Ushaw College, a Catholic seminary in Durham....

Cardinal Kasper told conference participants that believing Christians cannot give up hope for Christian unity because church division is "a sin before God and a scandal before the world."
Ooh, he said "scandal." I thought liberals didn't know that word even existed.

Even more interesting was this portion of the remarks:
Differences among Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants over issues such as homosexual activity, abortion, euthanasia and other moral questions "are not on the top of the hierarchy of truths" -- like the belief in Jesus as savior is -- "but they are very emotional and, therefore, very divisive," the cardinal said.

Just five or six years ago, he said, Catholic bishops and leaders of some other churches seemed ready to explore concrete steps their communities could take toward organizational unity.

Since then, however, it has become clear that "both the ecumenical mood and the ecumenical situation worldwide have changed so radically as to virtually run counter to the ecumenical movement toward unity," he said.

In Europe and North America, he said, "the changed situation is evident in a new polarization and fragmentation exemplified by divergent and even conflicting verdicts on ethical problems."
So everything that we keep hearing screamed about as dogma and "the most important things in the life of the church" every day has just been clarified -- by a cardinal of the church who's not a self-anointed anything, no less -- as being on the tier of mere "ethical problems," "not on the top of the hierarchy of truths" should not obstruct the greater good of unity, so long as the participants don't get all self-righteous and make themselves impediments to it.

Hmmmmm.... Either he's right or... he's right. And this works for intra-church spatting, too.

And for those who think that Christian Unity means just making everybody else Catholic, the cardinal's telling you to think again:
"Ecumenical unity is not to be thought of along the lines of the fusion of worldwide megacorporations," he said. Rather, Christians are called by God to be united in their faith in Jesus, in the sacraments, in the proclamation of the Gospel and in striving for holiness, he said.

By committing themselves to holiness and to unity in the fundamental truths of Christianity, he said, Christians will come closer to full unity than they ever could hope to do by planning corporate mergers.

"The fact that the unity of the church is grounded in its participation in the holy does indeed have real consequences for the concrete form of the church," he said.
"Fundamental truths of Christianity" seem to equal serene faith in Jesus, consistent love for neighbor, and a commitment to peace for all.

As I always say, just as they'll know that we are Christians by our love (by our love, by our love), so they'll know that they are Catholics by their anger....

Let's hope it doesn't have to be that way.