Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has spoken for the first time about Anglicanorum Coetibus, the apostolic constitution for Anglicans.

In a Nov. 15 interview with L’Osservatore Romano, the cardinal began by talking about a late night telephone call he received from Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury. Cardinal Kasper was, at the time, in Cyprus for the latest round of the joint Catholic-Orthodox theological commission.

“We talked about the meaning of the new apostolic constitution, and I reassured him about the continuation of our direct dialogue, as indicated by the Second Vatican Council and as the Pope wants,” Cardinal Kasper said. He added that the archbishop replied by saying “that this reaffirmation was very important to him.”

The cardinal said Williams “has maintained a balanced attitude since he was informed. Our personal relations are friendly and transparent. He is a man of spirituality, a theologian. Actually, today the only obstacle to ecumenical dialogue comes from internal tensions in the Anglican world.”

The apostolic constitution, he stressed, “is really understood as coming from the Second Vatican Council and the direct dialogue” that has come from it. He said there had been “great hopes” the Church and the Anglican Communion would come closer in relations, also because of a common tradition. But the expectations were “a little disappointed, especially recently” because of internal developments in the Anglican Communion, and he highlighted the problems over the ordination of women, women bishops, the consecration of a homosexual bishop, and the blessing of same-sex unions.

Cardinal Kasper said it wasn’t only pro-Catholic Anglicans who have been critical of the Anglican Communion’s direction; most of them are evangelicals, but he said they are not likely to become Catholics.

Cardinal Kasper said that the genesis and significance of the new apostolic constitution grew out of the direct experience of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

“A group of Anglicans asked freely and legitimately to enter the Catholic Church. It was not our own initiative. They turned first to our council, and as president I replied that it is the competence [i.e. responsibility] of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

The cardinal wished to sweep away any confusion because, he stressed, “over these days I’ve read so many improbable journalistic reconstructions.” The council, he said, “has always been informed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and it is not true that it has been cast aside. We have not directly participated in the talks, but we were made aware, as is right. The constitution was prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We saw the draft and put forward our proposals.”

Cardinal Kasper said we “certainly cannot oppose if an Anglican or a group of Anglicans wants to enter into full and visible communion with the Catholic Church. The Pope opened the door with kindness. He showed a road. He offered a real possibility that certainly is not opposed to ecumenism.” The cardinal added that this is all explained in the Vatican II decree Unitatis Redintegratio. “There is no contradiction,” he said. “Moreover, the idea of a planned corporate reunion seen in the new constitution has been there from the beginning of the dialogue with the Anglicans.” Indeed, according to Cardinal Kasper, the patient efforts of ecumenism have meant there is “already a bridge that unites us, and a closeness that makes possible such an important step.”

He added: “To think, as some commentators have, that the Pope made this decision because he only wants to ‘enlarge his empire’ is ridiculous.”

The Holy Father was to meet the archbishop of Canterbury Nov. 21 at the Vatican.

The cardinal said the hard work is to come, and it’s now necessary to “take note of how things are and go forward together.” He warned against “speaking in the abstract” and suggested waiting for developments. “First we need to know specifically who and how many Anglicans are determined to seize this opportunity.”

He added: The Church must examine “case by case” who these people are. “You cannot only be a Catholic because you are in disagreement with the choices of your own confession; how it’s not sufficient to just sign the Catechism of the Catholic Church, even if it is a meaningful choice. That’s why I want to reiterate: You must look at this on a case-by-case basis and not generalize.”

The cardinal predicted it will not be an easy decision for Anglican bishops and pastors to make also from the standpoint of social position. Among the practical issues to be addressed, Cardinal Kasper pointed to “concern among some Anglican bishops and pastors about sharing their dioceses: one part that enters into the Catholic Church and another that remains Anglican. How to manage a separation like that? And then church buildings: Who do they belong to? Who determines if a building is owned by the state or municipality or the community, if it’s Catholic or Anglican?”

Concerning the Traditional Anglican Communion, Cardinal Kasper said: “Nearly two years ago, their representatives asked to be incorporated into the Catholic Church. But they have not taken part in the talks. Now, however, they’re getting on board a train that is already in progress. Okay, if they are sincere, then the doors are open. But we do not close our eyes to the fact that since 1992 they have not been in communion with Canterbury.”

He added: “We must respect conscience and freedom of conscience. Conversion, then, is a personal matter: There is the freedom of grace, the freedom of human decision.”

On the sensitive issue of priestly celibacy, for Cardinal Kasper, there are no points to be clarified, as there is no change in the discipline of the Church. He said the Orthodox were particularly interested in understanding the nature of the ordinariate’s personnel. “I pointed out that this is not a Church sui iuris (of its own laws),” he said, referring to his recent meeting in Cyprus, “and there will not be a leader of a church but an ordinary with delegated powers.”

The L’Osservatore article ended by saying that for Cardinal Kasper, there will be no “negative consequences” to the publication of the apostolic constitution, also on the Protestant side: “Among all Christians it is widely recognized that the Pope wants to continue ecumenical dialogue as generated by the Second Vatican Council.”

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.