Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Sungenis on Cardinal Kasper

Bob Sungenis yesterday posted an article taking Cardinal Walter Kasper to task over some remarks the cardinal made concerning the Church's mission to the Jews.

Mr. Sungenis claims that Kasper is a "heterodox, liberal theologian to the core." First of all, Sungenis uses the two adjectives here as synonyms, when they are not: one can be a "orthodox liberal" theologian, and I think Cardinal Kasper can safely be described as such. But he is most certainly not heterodox, as one would see if they have ever read any of Kasper's theological works.

Now, the passage which Mr. Sungenis, the one to which he keeps returning throughout his essay, is this statement by the Cardinal, quoted in a CNS piece: "This does not mean that Jews in order to be saved have to become Christians."

Sungenis claims that this appears to be a heretical statement, one that has never been "taught or sanctioned in all of Catholic history." It seems to me that Sungenis has misinterpreted Kasper to mean that it's okay for Jews to reject the Gospel, because they can be saved anyway. This is obviously not the Cardinal's point; he is simply reiterating the Lumen Gentium teaching that one need not be a visible member of the Catholic Church to be saved.

Mr. Sungenis also interprets two quotes from the cardinal, in a way which I believe changes their meaning. First, Kasper said, "mission understood as a call to conversion from idolatry to the living and true God does not apply and cannot be applied to Jews." After actually quoting this passage in its entirety, Mr. Sungenis complains about this "false conclusion": "mission understood as a call to conversion...does not apply and cannot be applied to Jews." Note the ellipsis: Mr. Sungenis removes the Cardinal's clause about conversion from idolatry. Why does Mr. Sungenis do this? In my reading all Kasper is saying is that -- regarding missionary activity to the Jews -- we're not talking about conversion from idolatry, i.e. from a false God, because the Jewish God is not a false God!

The second instance of what I believe to be misinterpretation follows immediately. Kasper states, "no Catholic missionary activity toward Jews as there is for all other non-Christian religions." Note the qualifier: as there is for all other non-Christian religions. Note it, because Mr. Sungenis removes it when he re-quotes Kasper: "Notice the absolutism of his statement: 'NO Catholic missionary activity toward Jews..." That means nothing, nada, zilch.' "

Mr. Sungenis claims that Kasper is making an absolute statement about no mission to the Jews, but the qualifier seems to me to indicate the opposite.

[Update: this post has been edited to remove portions which were uncharitable towards Mr. Sungenis. I do want to point out that I do give Kasper the benefit of the doubt, as Mr. Sungenis infers: what I've read by him ("Jesus the Christ" and "The God of Jesus Christ", as well as his work on faith) has generally been very good, and the esteem in which JPII evidently holds him also leads me to give him that benefit.]

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