For greater insight into this ecclesial sparring match, we dipped into the NOR archives in order to re-examine an article from our April 2002 issue titled “The Kasper-Ratzinger Debate & the State of the Church” by Philip Blosser, who currently teaches philosophy at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. According to Dr. Blosser, the Kasper-Ratzinger debate was “representative of a much broader conflict” in the Church in those days — a conflict “between those, on the one hand, who are concerned to safeguard the unity of traditional faith and morals, and those, on the other hand, who are concerned with keeping abreast of the changing times.”
Sound familiar? The debates in this October’s synod centered on this same fundamental conflict. And here we thought, with Kasper’s retirement and Ratzinger’s abdication of the papacy, that this debate had been relegated to gathering dust on some back shelf in the Vatican archives. Alas!
Blosser examines Kasper’s 2001 article “On the Church” (published in English by the Jesuit weekly America), which, Blosser tells us, “was directed against Cardinal Ratzinger by name.” Essentially, Blosser says, Kasper “wants to argue that the early Church developed from ‘local communities,’ and that its centralized, hierarchical structure was a late development.” Although Kasper cedes Ratzinger’s point about the “pre-existence” of the Church in the eternal will of God, prior to all the accidents of historical development, he denies that this pre-existence can be used to argue, as Ratzinger does, for the “ontological primacy” of the universal Church over particular (or local) churches. Instead, Kasper hypothesizes a “simultaneous pre-existence” of the two, asserting that “the local church is neither a province nor a department of the universal church.” If particular churches retain the same level of primacy as the universal Church, then the various and sundry practices taking place at the local level rival the authority of impositions in the area of faith and morals “from above” — and from far away, in many cases. One can easily read in Kasper’s formulation an implicit defense of his earlier pastoral letter allowing Holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics in his particular diocese.
Kasper’s article, says Blosser, “is devoted to making the case for greater pastoral flexibility, primarily by stressing the need to ‘balance’ the Church’s legitimate concern for ‘unity’ with a greater allowance for ecclesial ‘diversity’ at the local level.” Yet, as is so often the case with radical ecclesial reformers, Kasper tips the scales in favor of diversity — as he understands it — over unity. In sum, Kasper’s article “is animated by a desire to secure greater ‘pastoral flexibility’ in areas where a gap seems to be widening between the Church’s official positions and the actual practices of many local churches” — and he seeks to do this by decentralizing Church governance.
What’s interesting to me is where one posits authority. If a Pope humbly serves the deposit of faith as handed down from Christ to the Apostles down through the ages, then his service to the Church is to defend that faith. The Successor of Peter, this office, is for something—and not just the exercise of power disconnected from this deposit of faith.
There has to be a pope defending the unity of faith and morals. Diversity is fine in some respects, but not in faith and morals.