Questioning Cardinal Kasper: Five Points

The German prelate claims, “Those are not respectable journalistic methods.” Does he have grounds for such a statement?

We can make more of the Kasper interview controversy than it warrants. However, since Cardinal Kasper is a key figure at the Synod and he has been outspoken in his views regarding a change of Catholic practice, if not of doctrine, regarding certain issues of marriage and family, his dust up over his recent interview published by journalist Edward Pentin is worth some attention. People are rightly concerned with what seems a somewhat dismissive attitude or prejudice toward the views of some leaders of the African churches by Cardinal Kasper.

At first, Kasper denied saying what was attributed to him. As it turns out, he said what was attributed to him. We have not only the published interview but the actual recording of the interview.

Now Cardinal Kasper apparently refuses to comment on the statements he made, telling kath.net this morning: “I will not comment on a private conversation that was secretly recorded, that was not an interview, with two other journalists, that a third whom I do not know at all and who did not personally introduce himself to me… much less authorize. Those are not respectable journalistic methods.” [Translation by Michael J. Miller for CWR.]

Apparently Kasper thinks the interview was understood to be a private conversation.

But:

1. There is no indication in the recording that the conversation was understood to be private. That may have been Cardinal Kasper’s intention. If so, the burden was on him to clarify with the people whose business it is to interview people that his remarks were to be understood as “off the record” or as given “on background” or otherwise not for attribution. If he forgot or for some other reason didn’t clarify the matter, that’s his problem, not the journalists’. There is no evidence he sought to clarify the matter. And even if two of the three journalists understood things as Cardinal Kasper says he understood them, it still doesn’t matter. There was a third journalist present who evidently had no such understanding. When you talk with journalists, the burden is on you to clarify with all of them the terms under which you are speaking to them. If you don’t, then it’s still your problem if they take your remarks to be “on the record”. Since Cardinal Kasper is no novice in this respect, he should know the rules.

2. Cardinal Kasper says that the recording was secret. Well, perhaps he didn’t notice the iphone the reporter says was visible during the exchange. In any case, if Cardinal Kasper didn’t clarify that his comments weren’t for attribution, then the fact his words were recorded on audio as opposed to being only transcribed is not a major point in his favor. There would be a problem if not-for-attribution comments were secretly recorded, because private comments could more easily become public. Pentin would be responsible for an ethical breach. The trouble is, we have no evidence Cardinal Kasper spoke “off the record”

3. The recording indicates that Pentin did introduce himself, contrary to the reported claim of Cardinal Kasper. If Cardinal Kasper didn’t hear him or understand him, that’s unfortunate. It’s also not the journalist’s fault. The responsibility rests with the speaker. If he failed to act responsibility in his own interests, why should the journalist be blamed?.

4. Pentin identified himself as a journalist with the National Catholic Register, which he is. He also happens to be a journalist with Zenit. Zenit published the transcript but the National Catholic Register also published a story about the interview based on Pentin’s transcript. While Cardinal Kasper may have been surprised to see the interview in Zenit, he should not have been surprised to see the National Catholic Register piece featuring some of his comments. Not unless he told the reporter the remarks were not for attribution, which we have no evidence he did.

5. Points #1-4 are irrelevant to the key question, which concerns what Cardinal Kasper said about the Africans. We now know he said what he denied saying . The recording proves it. Either his words mean what they seem to mean or they mean something else. Fine. Sometimes people misspeak. If he chooses not to clarify his words, then he must accept that people will draw their own conclusions based on what he said. I, for one, would be happy to hear Cardinal Kasper say something like this: “I spoke my mind a little too freely. I was tired after a long day. The differences of opinion coming from the African bishops regarding my proposal perhaps made me put things in a way that doesn’t fully reflect my appreciation for the Church in Africa. I apologize for the misunderstanding. I also apologize for denying I said what I said.”

About Mark Brumley 58 Articles
Mark Brumley is president and CEO of Ignatius Press.