19 October 2022, The Tablet

Kasper says Germany's synodal path has failed

Kasper says Germany's synodal path has failed

Participants in front of the Synodal Path logo during the fourth synodal assembly in Frankfurt, Germany last month.
CNS photo/Julia Steinbrecht, KNA

Cardinal Walter Kasper, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has said the German way forward on its “synodal path” is a failure.

In an interview with the International Catholic Review Communio on the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Kasper said the Church would only have a future if it continued on the path taken by the Second Vatican Council in synodal fellowship – a path that the German synodal path “had failed to take”. 

“The Church only has a future if it continues on the path that the Council set out on – not in a bookkeeping (“buchhalterisch”) way – but in creative loyalty and synodal fellowship by listening to God’s Word and to one another together. In my and other people’s opinion the German ‘synodal path’ gives the impression that it can and feels it has to discover a new Church and must push through its own agenda”, he explained.

This German way forward had “unfortunately failed”, he said and added, “that means that I, for my part, put all the more hope in the World Synodal Process that Pope Francis has launched”. The Catholic Church must not concentrate only on itself but on the Gospel Message and on the “wounds of the world”, he emphasised.

In his first Angelus address Pope Francis cited Kasper's book “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life” (2012) saying he had recently read it and it had done him much good.

The Council should not be seen as a break with tradition but as a “new departure to a more alive and comprehensive understanding of tradition and catholicity”, the cardinal explained in his interview. 

The question of the correct understanding of the Council had above all been discussed under the by words “hermeneutic of rupture” or “hermeneutic of continuity”, he recalled, but in order to do justice to the Council as a whole it was necessary to go deeply into the texts and into the editorial history of the Council – a theologically challenging and demanding undertaking that was still ongoing. 

At the same time the Council and its documents had meanwhile become a part of church history. Pope Francis belonged to a post-Council generation who regarded the decisions and documents as facts from which it was necessary to think further. “And that raises the question of the yet undetected future potentials in the Council texts,” Kasper pointed out. 

The question of the Church’s relationship to the world must be re-examined, he said. The corresponding Council document “Gaudium et spes” had been determined by an “optimistic outlook”, of the time, Kasper recalled, but meanwhile developments such as secularisation and the priestly sexual abuse crisis had not only led to a massive loss of trust in the Church but had also made the “crisis of faith in God” (“Gotteskrise”) more visible – something that was not yet evident at the time of the Council, the cardinal recalled.

In the Western World it was no longer a case of atheistic protest against God or of the denial of God’s existence but of widespread indifference to the question of God. In such a situation in the final instance renewing church structures was “irrelevant for the majority of people and is only of interest for church employees”, Kasper pointed out. This meant that regarding the question of God, post-conciliar theology must go “deeper than the Council was able to” and look into the “metaphysical homelessness of modern human beings.”

In view of the ongoing debates on church reform it would also be a good thing to take another look at what the church constitution Lumen gentium said on the common priesthood of all the faithful, the cardinal said. The Council had highlighted the co-responsibility of the laity but that did not mean that there was “rivalry or opposition” between lay Catholics and priests and bishops, he underlined.


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