Book-tours can be risky affairs. There’s always the chance you’ll say something during your tenth radio interview of the day which you retrospectively wish you’d phrased differently. Then there’s the possibility you’ll play up to a live audience and make some truly imprudent comments.
In a few short May days in New York, Cardinal Walter Kasper managed to do all that and more. In one radio discussion, for instance, Kasper thoroughly muddled the Church’s teaching about contraception. In another setting, he directly undercut the American Catholic bishops’ authority by comparing a theologian whom they have determined to hold positions incompatible with Catholic doctrine with Saint Thomas Aquinas. Given Pope Francis’s desire for bishops conferences to take on a larger role in dealing with dissent, one wonders if Kasper realizes just how un-collegial his comments were.
Things got worse in a subsequent Commonweal interview. Here Kasper made the remarkable claim that “heroism is not for the average Christian.” Actually, your Eminence, it is. All Christians are called to heroic virtue. Yes, we’re all sinners and obeying the Lord isn’t always easy. Nevertheless, to be a Christian means being willing to witness to the truth, not to mention embracing the Cross as we seek to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Sometimes it even means martyrdom—just as Saints John Fisher and Thomas More were martyred for, among other things, theirunwillingness to compromise the Lord’s teaching concerning marriage’s indissolubility.
The Cardinal’s comment about adultery in the same interview left even more to be desired. “Adultery,” he said, “is not only wrong sexual behavior. It’s to leave a familiaris consortio, a communion, and to establish a new one. But normally it’s also the sexual relations in such a communion, so I can’t say whether it’s ongoing adultery.”
Adultery, however, isn’t a question of leaving a communion. It is to freely choose toviolate an existing indissoluble communion, thereby breaking one of the commandants which Christ was especially insistent that His followers embrace. And while your marital communion exists with one person, it’s impossible to be in a marital communion with anyone else while your spouse is alive. To say this isn’t “rigorism.” It’s simply to apply to the act of adultery the basic logic of the truth that Christ Himself disclosed to us about marriage and its roots in the order of creation.
It was, then, with low expectations that I began reading the book that Cardinal Kasper was promoting during his recent American sojourn. To my surprise, however, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life is neither a collection of flippant remarks nor teeming with obscurities. Instead I found an accessible and at times inspiring theological account of the Christian idea of mercy.
Read it all.