Do you remember that toy called Sock ‘Em Robots in which two plastic robot boxers bashed each other while two kids were controlling their left hooks, blocks and body blows? It came to mind with last week’s clash between two Vatican heavyweights Cardinals Burke and Kasper.
Catholic New Service issued videos featuring the two cardinals expressing their points of view. Video Kasper could be summed up as, “couples in a second marriage show love and tenderness. We should do the same and forgive.” Video Burke was, “Jesus said if a man divorces his wife and marries another he commits adultery. Any questions?” Just as in the Sock ‘Em Robots game, the two pugilists were controlled by other unseen forces.
Kasper is the product of the European Catholic Church of the Second Vatican Council. He comes from Germany where the Catholic Church is an accepted and integrated part of the culture. As such the European Catholics, like members of the Church of England, are inclined to fit in with the establishment, harmonize with the prevailing culture and present the loving, caring, human face of European civilization. European Catholics of Kasper’s ilk feel that the best way forward is to continue to present to the prevailing culture (which they still think is mostly Catholic) a welcoming, forgiving and gentle demeanor. The Catholic Church is, for them, the forgiving father, always waiting at the gate to welcome home the prodigal son with a warm embrace, a forgiving heart and a happy meal.
Kasperian Catholicism is not only a European phenomenon. It is also the main religion of the American Northeast where, as in Europe, Catholicism is the de facto established religion. In this country, we might call Kasperian Catholicism “Kennedy Catholicism.” This religion regards the moral teachings of the Church as “guidelines.” The traditions of the Church are quaint customs to feel nostalgic about, and the dogmas of Catholicism are medieval notions that should be re-interpreted and understood in fresh ways for the modern world. The fact that both Kasperian and Kennedy Catholicism are found in areas where the Catholic faith is the established religion is no coincidence. It is only when a religion is established as it is in these sub cultures that it can afford the luxury of liberalism.
The Burkean boxer, on the other hand, is controlled by a different set of assumptions. Rather than being comfortable within the established Church, Burke seems more aware of the growing conflict between the world and the gospel. For Burkeans, Christ and culture are in conflict and the Church is there to challenge the prevailing mores, not condone them. The Burkean Catholic sees the core faith once delivered to the saints as being unchangeable, and adaptation to the prevailing culture only involves a change in emphasis, a tweaking of presentation or a re-packaging of the unchanging truths.
It fits that Burke is a product of the American midwest. As Kasper’s views are shaped by their environment within a culture where the Church is established, so Burke’s views are bound to have been shaped by the independent spirit of the American midwest, where Catholicism jockeys with secularism and thousands of forms of entrepreneurial and enthusiastic Protestantism. In the midst of religious pluralism, Burke’s penchant for extreme forms of liturgical ceremony and ecclesial costume seems to say, “Darn it. We’re Catholic and we mean to look Catholic! and what are you going to do about it?” The Burkean Catholic is horrified by the prevailing worldly establishment and offers the Catholic faith as a radical cure, not a pacifying placebo.
The Burke/Kasper clash is therefore about much more than the treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics. This is a clash between easy going establishment Catholicism and radical anti-establishment Catholicism. The clash is between two essentially conflicting understandings of the Catholic faith in the world today. One only needs to take a quick look at demographics in a book like John Allen’s The Future Church to realize that Kasperian Catholicism is at the end of its lifespan. European Catholicism of the Kasperian sort is dead and dying. In the present Vatican climate, Burke may seem like yesterday’s man, but his underlying assumptions are the ones that will take the Church into the future.
Before the conclave of 2013, I wrote a series of articles on the cardinals on the lists of papabile. While they come from every corner of the globe, what was impressive about them is that the majority had the foundational assumptions of Burke, not Kasper. Their formation and their present environment is that of being minorities and missionaries. They are used to conflict not compromise, and the idea of a European style established church is completely alien to them. This is why the present debate in the Church must be seen in a much larger context. The current papacy is likely to be relatively short and it is fair to look forward with eyes wide open.
I expect that the next man in white will be more Burkean than Kasperian in his underlying views. He may come from the Philippines, India, Canada, Nigeria or Peru, but he will almost certainly see Catholicism as a powerful force for creative conflict with the world. He will see the Catholic religion as the power for the followers of Jesus Christ not to be conformed to the world but transformed.
Fr Dwight Longenecker is Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Visit his website to browse his books and connect to his well known blog atwww.dwightlongenecker.com Fr. Dwight Longenecker Website: www.dwightlongenecker.comBlog: Standing on My Head. His latest book is The Romance of Religion –Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty