A German cardinal has warned that the Church is “in crisis” and for that reason changes are “inevitable”.

– “Church has no choice but to discuss reform”

“The church is in crisis throughout the Western world”, Cardinal Walter Kasper alerted in an interview last week with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The former President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity affirmed that due to the coronavirus pandemic – a situation in which the Church is struggling to stay relevant to the faithful and the wider world in the absence of public Masses – there is no way to avoid a debate on Church reform.

But Kasper, 87, also said that changes to the Church are needed because the scandals of sexual abuse have “deeply shaken” its credibility, “especially that of its ministers”.

“The Church has no choice but to face a discussion on reform”, theologian Kasper said.

– A return to the Gospel

As to what that abuse- and coronavirus-motivated reform in the Church should look like, the cardinal warned against a “simple innovation that throws the old overboard and considers that it has to reinvent the Church”.

At the same time, Kasper advised against a push to tear down the Church’s structure and ministries, encouraging Catholic leaders and faithful instead to use the pedophilia and COVID-19 crises as an opportunity to bring that structure back into line with the Gospel.

– A reformer sceptical of the German “synodal path”

Cardinal Kasper was the Vatican ‘Minister for Ecumenism’ between 2001 and 2010, and before that he was Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart from 1989 to 1999.

Despite his broad support for Church reforms, Kasper warned last year against the German Church’s “synodal path” reform process that is discussing possible changes to doctrine on priestly celibacy, the place of women in Catholicism, ways of exercising power and authority in the Church and Catholic sexual morality.

“Without renewal from the faith, all well-intentioned structural reforms amount to nothing”, the cardinal said at the time, adding that “structural reforms alone” in the Church would lead to “fatal self-deception” and “deeper disappointment”.

Kasper returned to those sentiments in his interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, restating his warning to those on the synodal path that they should talk about issues “that can be changed in Germany”, instead of changes that depend on the worldwide Church.

If it fails, all-or-nothing talk of sweeping changes will only end in frustration, Kasper cautioned.

– “The Pope’s theologian”

Cardinal Kasper has enjoyed a certain prominence during Pope Francis’ pontificate, ever since the new pontiff four days after his election – on March 17, 2013 – called him a “clever theologian, a good theologian” and praised a book of his on mercy.

“That book did me a lot of good… Cardinal Kasper said that feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just”, Pope Francis said on that occasion of the German cardinal’s work.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.