For those who thought the Synod and the many reports and controversies swirling around it couldn’t be any more surprising, surreal, confusing, and conflicted, tighten your seat belts. The past 36 hours or so have provided another drama within The Drama, and while some might dismiss it as just another example of the push, pull, and politics of such ecclesial events, it could prove, in hindsight, to be a turning point.
First, the background. As CWR’s managing editor, Catherine Harmon, explained, Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany was interviewed yesterday by veteran Vatican journalist Edward Pentin, who writes frequently for ZENIT and National Catholic Register, as well as other outlets, including CWR. In this specific ZENIT interview, Catherine summarized, “the German cardinal said he believes ‘a growing majority’ of the synod participants are in favor of his controversial proposals about Communion for the divorced and remarried. Cardinal Kasper also emphasized the differences between the challenges faced by the Church in the West and the Church elsewhere, stating that the problems of the African Church, in particular, are ‘impossible’ for the synod to solve. Likewise, he said, the African bishops “should not tell us too much what we have to do.” There was then this surprising exchange:
[Kasper:] Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.
But are African participants listened to in this regard?
[Kasper:] No, the majority of them [who hold these views won’t speak about them].
They’re not listened to?
[Kasper:] In Africa of course [their views are listened to], where it’s a taboo.
What has changed for you, regarding the methodology of this synod?
[Kasper:] I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general criteria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.
Needless to say, those remarks caused a furor. Then, this morning, Cardinal Kasper issued a denial, telling kath.net [an Austrian Catholic news website], “I am shocked. I never said such a thing about Africans and would never say such a thing either. I declare: no one from Zenit contacted me in recent days and weeks.”:
Rome (kath.net, October 16, 2014). The retired Curial prelate Cardinal Walter Kasper, in speaking with kath.net on Thursday afternoon, denied alleged statements of his about African bishops. His exact words were: “I am shocked. I never said such a thing about Africans and would never say such a thing either. I declare: no one from Zenit contacted me in recent days and weeks and no one asked me for an interview. No one from Zenit got an interview from me.” Kasper also announced that he would take the Zenit news agency to task. In its summary of the Zenit interview, kath.net pointed out from the beginning that it was unclear whether the interview had been authorized in the first place by the Curial cardinal. [translated for CWR by Michael J. Miller]
ZENIT removed Pentin’s interview, but as of this writing had not issued an explanation. Was Cardinal Kasper correct? Had Pentin, a highly respected journalist with an exemplary record of good work, fabricated the story? Or misreported what Cardinal Kasper had said? Or perhaps reported the Cardinal’s remarks in an underhanded way, without letting the prelate know he was “on record”?
Those questions appear to have been answered, to a large degree, with a statement by Pentin that contains an explanation, a transcript, and—most importantly—an audio recording of his conversation with Cardinal Kasper. Pentin explains, in his statement, that he and two other journalists (one British, one French) spoke with Kasper “around 7.15pm on Tuesday as he left the Synod hall.”
I transcribed the recording of our conversation, and my iPhone on which I recorded the exchange was visible. I introduced myself as a journalist with the [National Catholic] Register, and the others also introduced themselves as journalists. I therefore figured the interview was on the record and His Eminence appeared happy to talk with us. In the end, I posted the full interview in ZENIT rather than the Register. ZENIT removed the article on Thursday in response to Cardinal Kasper’s denial.
His Eminence made no comment about not wanting his remarks published. It depends on the context, but normally in such a situation, comments are considered on the record unless otherwise requested.
Questions, however, remain. Since Pentin had the recording and has such a good record, why did ZENIT remove the interview? Why no explanation or apology or something along those lines?
Even more importantly, in my mind: Why and how could Cardinal Kasper deny giving an interview when it seems readily evident that he not only gave the interview, but did so willingly and with knowledge that he was on record? It may have been that he did not realize the interview would appear on the ZENIT site, but that, of course, would not explain his remarks. After all, he said, ““I am shocked. I never said such a thing about Africans and would never say such a thing either.” And yet he did.
So, what to make of it? Is it just damage control, made necessary by the controversial, even embarrassing, nature of the remarks? Does Cardinal Kasper feel that he was, in fact, somehow misunderstood or manipulated? Or, worse, does Cardinal Kasper think he can intimidate reporters who are simply doing their job? Considering that Cardinal Kasper’s proposals about divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion are front and center in the Synod—and that he has presented himself as pursuing the interests of Pope Francis—such questions are troubling and demand good answers.
In the meantime, as a final note, Pentin wrote a significant piece yesterday for the National Catholic Register, titled, “Evidence Emerges of an Engineered Synod,” in which he states, in writing of the controversial Relatio issued this past Monday:
So whoever was behind the release of the document most probably knew the impact it would have, and effectively sent it over the heads of everyone, including the Pope. When I asked Father Lombardi today if the Holy Father had seen it before it was published, he returned to the fact that it is standard procedure to send out the report — remarkably for such a sensitive document — without even the Pope or the synod presidents having to see it.
But there are other examples of this being engineered. The restrictions on reporting on the synod, ostensibly to free up discussion, is perhaps the most obvious. The move has been criticized by Cardinals Mueller and Burke, among others.
Other examples can be seen at the daily press briefings, where a picture of unity and harmony is often conveyed, but it’s one at variance with what one hears coming from individuals in the synod hall. Interestingly, it has been observed how little Jesus is mentioned during these briefings, replaced by the generic language of welcome, feelings and accompaniment.
In his interview with the Register published yesterday, Cardinal Burke said what is being presented to the media does not tally with what’s happening in the assembly. “What is coming out does not reflect the reality, in my judgment,” he said. “I am speaking very openly about it because I think it is my moral obligation.” And he added people “are pushing the agenda” of Cardinal Kasper and his proposal for the divorced and civilly remarried.
Some have said this synod reminds them of the methods used to hijack the Second Vatican Council. Veteran Vatican watchers say such engineering is unprecedented in the modern Church.
As I said, tighten the seatbelts. The ride may become even more bumpy before a decent landing site is located.