Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, was a guest at the Anglican Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. Anglicans' most important consultative body is facing the threat of a split over disputes such as the ordination of homosexuals and women as bishops. Kasper spoke with Catholic News Agency Friday in Canterbury about impact of crisis on ecumenism.
CBA: Cardinal Kasper, are you concerned about the Anglican Communion..?
Kasper: I have hope that the Anglican Communion will stay together. If you are for unity and work and pray, you are for the unity of another church, not its division. My impression is that it will stay together, but with very great difficulty. I said here at the conference to the Anglicans: we wish you to stay together. But we have to find a solution that is honest. You can't just tolerate each other, you have to be able to recognize the voice of the Gospel in each other.
CBA: What are the implications of the Anglican crisis for ecumenism?? Do you see ecumenical progress in jeopardy?
Kasper: I do see a danger there. The Anglican Communion was one of the first with whom we began dialogue after the Council. And we made great progress, in a wide variety of views: on the Eucharist, on authorities, and in the end also on Mary – quite unexpectedly. It would be irresponsible to let that lie now. But new ies have intervened to complicate the relationship. There is the ordination of women. Before, there was a serious discussion about the recognition of Anglican ordinations and ministries – that's blocked now. And then the question about human sexuality; that's where problems have broken out that we didn't have in the past with the Anglicans. We just have to stay tuned now and discuss these difficulties.
CBA: How much would it affect the ecumenical balance of the Christian churches if, after this conference, Anglicans were to swing more to a conservative, more to a liberal, more to an evangelical or more to a Catholic direction??
Kasper: Anglicans classically describe themselves as a "via media" between Protestantism and Catholicism. It is a difficult balance to keep. At the moment, there is a danger that the Catholic element will be weakened and the evangelical element will become too prominent. I would like to see a return to the fathers, to common roots; that is, a new Oxford movement. But it's not that the Catholic would just be gone. I have heard many voices that go in this direction. My interest is to support and encourage this Catholic part. If the Anglican Communion keeps the balance, it can continue to play an important role. In the history of ecumenism, your theology has played a central role, and it would be a shame if it no longer did so.
CBA: How do they deal with Anglicans who turn to the Catholic Church over contentious ies like ordaining women bishops?
Kasper: Many defected then when the Church of England introduced women's ordination; likewise in America. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ied a provision in the 1990s that Anglican priests could be ordained after a time, even as married people. Communities that became corporately Catholic were also able to retain elements of Anglicanism afterwards. That would also be the model now, if priests and bishops decided to go the Catholic way. It may also be that entire congregations will defect. The important thing is that we are not fishing in someone else's pond. But we recognize the decision of conscience of each individual. When someone wants to become Catholic and knocks, we open the doors and of course our hearts as well. How many that will be this time, we do not know yet. I do not consider the figures quoted in the press to be very reliable.
CBA: What lessons can Rome learn from the inner-Anglican dispute??
Kasper: That it does the church no good if it adapts too quickly to the modern mentality. The church must first and foremost remain grounded in the Gospel. It is not culture that determines the interpretation of Scripture, but Scripture should determine the interpretation of culture. But what we can also learn is the effort to listen to each other. This synodal element sometimes comes a bit too short in our church. The way Anglicans treat each other here is a good Christian witness. I only wish that in the end a decision will also come out of it.