Cardinal Kasper Responds to Pope Francis’ New Motu Proprio on the Mass

The German prelate told the Register some Catholics who attend the traditional Latin Mass have turned Pope Benedict XVI’s earlier efforts at reconciliation into division.

Cardinal Walter Kasper
Cardinal Walter Kasper (photo: Daniel Ibanez / CNA/EWTN)

VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Walter Kasper has said he believes the “overwhelming majority” of Catholic faithful are firmly against the Traditional Latin Mass and that some of its adherents scandalize them by believing it’s the only true Catholic Mass and rejecting the Second Vatican Council “more or less in its entirety.” 

In a short commentary given to the Register on July 22 in answer to several questions about Pope Francis’ new apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition) that restricts celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal, Cardinal Kasper said he believes some faithful who attend the older Mass have turned Benedict’s efforts at reconciliation into division, and so struck at the “very heart of the unity of the Church.” 

Although he acknowledges the dangers to unity from the Synodal Way of the German bishops — a process he said recently he is “very worried” about — he sees “hope for reasonable solutions and reforms” that “are possible only on the basis of Catholic faith witnessed especially by the Second Vatican Council.”

Cardinal Kasper, 88, retired from serving as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 2010 but has been a key theological adviser for much of Pope Francis’ pontificate. 

Widely known for his theologically progressive interpretations of Vatican II, Pope Francis praised him for a speech he gave ahead of the first Synod on the Family in 2014 that set off a highly contentious debate on admission of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Holy Communion. Due to his closeness to the Pope, he was at the time given the moniker of “the Pope’s theologian.” 

The Register contacted Cardinal Kasper via email for his opinion on Traditionis Custodes, and the German bishops’ Synodal Way. What follows are his remarks in full, reprinted with his permission. 

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“I grew up and was ordained long before the Second Vatican Council, but I never found a rupture between the post-Trent liturgy and the post-Vatican II liturgy. As a student in the earlier 1950s I read J. A. Jungman’s “Missarum Sollemnia” (The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development) and found that Vatican II brought a reform of the Latin rite in the same way that Trent had done. The continuity becomes clear when one sees that every priest is free to use the first Eucharistic prayer (the old “Roman Canon”) — as I do sometimes, and as Pope Francis often does when he celebrates in St. Peter’s. So, the heart of the so called “old Mass” is preserved also in the so-called “new Mass.”  

“You say that there is a growing number of faithful who want the “old rite,” but it’s my experience that the overwhelming majority of the faithful are firmly against it. I know many people are scandalized when they come to St. Peter’s in Rome early in the morning and see that on many altars priests celebrating the “old Mass” without any altar boy and no participation of the faithful. They turn to the empty basilica and say: “Dominus vobiscum”, “Orate fratres” etc.  Some young priests come and want to celebrate the “Latin Mass,” but they don’t know Latin, whereas the great majority of their parishioners prefer to have the Mass in their vernacular language, so this brings division and quarrels in the parish and people leave. I don’t know the results of the survey [nine questions sent by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2020 asking for bishops’ views on the application of Summorum Pontificum], but it seems that Pope Francis received this kind of information, especially information that some people are of the opinion that only the “old Latin Mass” is really Catholic and orthodox. And they use this position in order to reject the Second Vatican Council more or less in its entirety. In this way, the good intention of Benedict XVI becomes turned to its contrary. What was intended to contribute to reconciliation is turned into division, which refers to the very heart of the unity of the Church, and many Catholics are scandalized about this.

“I know that there are also dangers for the unity of the Church coming from the contrary side. As you know, I am no friend of some intentions of the German Synodal Way. But the Roman Curia (which implies the Pope) has already been very clear about some erroneous positions (celibacy, female priesthood, inter-communion, same sex blessings etc.). About other positions, we only have heard some extreme public voices, but until now no synodal decision exists. As far as I know, none of the bishops wants any schismatic act and there is a slowly growing number in the bishops’ conference who are resistant. So, there are fears and suspicions but also still hope for reasonable solutions and reforms, which are possible only on the basis of Catholic faith witnessed especially by the Second Vatican Council.”

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