Cardinal Walter Kasper has defended Pope Francis’ attitude towards remarried divorced persons. “Pope Francis has not questioned at all the doctrine of sacramentality and indissolubility, and he is completely on the ground of tradition,” said the former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in an interview with the Cologne Internet portal on his 30th anniversary of bishophood on Monday.

Pope Francis, in his remarks on communion for divorced people in his 2016 apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family “Amoris laetitia”, seeks a spiritual discernment that leaves a leeway such that divorced Catholics can return to the Mass. “That was also the position of the young theologian Joseph Ratzinger,” recalled Kasper.

It is “about the distinction between objectively serious sin, which does not necessarily and in every case mean subjectively serious sinfulness”. The Church must “guide the individual to the path of the commandments of God, but it can not substitute for the individual’s personal conscience.” In the case of the divorced and remarried, this requires a differentiated judgment in each case.

“Little chance” for women priests

Kasper sees “little chance” for a priestly ordination of women in the Catholic Church. The Church has to keep renewing itself, but it can not be reinvented, he said. In all the churches dating back to the first millennium – the Catholic, Oriental Orthodox and Byzantine – there are no “priestesses”. Until the last third of the 20th century, this also applied to the Anglican and Lutheran churches.

Kasper referred to “unresolved ordeals” in the Anglican Communion because of the ordination of women. “I do not want that in my church, and there is no consensus in the worldwide Catholic Church, quite the opposite.”

It is quite different with the renewal of the synodal structure of the Church, inspired by Pope Francis, which “should replace an autocratic, vainglorious priestly, episcopal understanding and open up a new coexistence of bishops, priests and laity,” said the cardinal. “Such recourse to the structure of the ancient Church would be the most conservative renewal imaginable, with which any diocese can start tomorrow, giving women rights of participation in all internal church matters.”

Discussion about title “Pope Emeritus” needed

Asked about his impression of the relationship between Pope Francis and his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who lives in the Vatican, Kasper described it as “very good” and “really brotherly”. Nevertheless, he sees a need for discussion regarding the regulations for dealing with a retired Pope. “The title ‘Pope Emeritus’ has its problems and they will certainly be discussed again,” he said.

With regard to his speciality field, ecumenism, the cardinal stated that the Churches in Europe are becoming smaller in numbers and more marginalised in society, and must therefore “speak with as one mouth as much as possible”. Setting one Church against another is “nonsense, there we only lose”. Therefore, from this point of view, ecumenism is “very, very important and I think steps forward are possible”.

Kasper judged the condition of the Church in his homeland Germany very critically. “Germany is only one part of the universal Church and a not very lively one at that,” he emphasized.