The Crisis of Ecumenism, According to Cardinal Kasper

A Delicate Project "Totally Different from Relativism"

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ROME, MARCH 7, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The ecumenical movement risks losing young people unless it can produce a vision for the future, says the cardinal who oversees the cause.



Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, recently delivered an address evaluating ecumenism. The address appears in the latest edition of the Italian biweekly Il Regno.

"To a certain degree, the crisis of the ecumenical movement is the consequence of its success," the German cardinal writes.

"The more we come closer to one another, the more painful is the experience of not yet being in full communion among ourselves, which creates a certain dissatisfaction and frustration," he states.

Moreover, "the new generation of faithful and priests has not lived through the council and does not understand how things have changed," Cardinal Kasper observes.

In this context, he mentions three key challenges:

--"In the first place, we must promote ecumenical formation and the reception of ecumenical results. The results of ecumenical progress have yet to penetrate the heart and flesh of our Church and of the other Churches."

--"In the second place, we must clarify and renew the ecumenical vision. We need a new ecumenical language and impulse. We run the risk of losing a whole generation of youths if we are not capable of giving them a vision."

--Third, Cardinal Kasper appealed for the harmonizing of dialogue and identity. In this context, he emphasizes, "One can see what the problem and advantages of ´Dominus Iesus´ are, which highlighted the question of identity."

"Dominus Iesus" was the August 2000 declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the uniqueness and salvific universality of Jesus and the Church. Though criticized for sounding less than ecumenical, it basically reiterated magisterial teaching on the nature of the Catholic Church.

"We must underline clearly that serious ecumenism is something totally different from confessional indifference and relativism; it tends to gravitate around the highest common denominator," Cardinal Kasper states.

The cardinal then reviews the situation of relations between Catholics and other Christian confessions.

"We are increasingly conscious of the fact that an Orthodox Church does not really exist," he contends. "At the present stage, it does not seem that Constantinople is yet capable of integrating the different autocephalous Orthodox Churches; there are doubts about its primacy of honor, especially in Moscow."

He continues: "With Moscow, dialogue at the universal level at present is very difficult; the situation is improving with Greece; in the Middle East, in the territory of the ancient See of Antioch, the situation is completely different and there already is almost full communion."

Cardinal Kasper points out the tensions within the Lutheran world on the question of ministries as well as tensions in the realm of the Anglican Communion.

Given the above, he believes that over the next few years, ecumenism must progress "at two, or even more, speeds."

However, he cautions, "we must avoid giving the impression of ´divide et impera.´ We would engage in bad ecumenism if we created new divisions in the other Churches or confessional families, or if we tended to a new form of ´Uniatism.´" The latter -- considered a pejorative term in the East -- signifies the Eastern Christians who left the Orthodox Church to join Rome.

"A two-speed ecumenism is something very delicate. However, in the present situation there is no realistic alternative," Cardinal Kasper concludes.