Cardinal Kasper and Irish President Press Pope on Women's Roles

Cardinal Kasper and Irish President Press Pope on Women's Roles
by Jerry Slevin

Cardinal Walter Kasper, a highly respected Cardinal and long time theological rival to the ex-Pope, has challenged Pope Francis to act boldly on women’s roles in the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, as reported here:    and here:

Meanwhile, Mary McAleese, the former President of Ireland, now in Rome studying canon law, has also called for greater Church hierarchical roles for women as reported  here:

Pope Francis has gotten some additional honest and pertinent assessments recently, including in “From Benedict to Francis”, an extremely informed, insightful and frank interview with the UK Tablet’s Robert Mickens, here:

Video selections from Mickens’ full interview are also in the recent significant USA/TV/PBS documentary, “Secrets of the Vatican” accessible here:

These interviews and reports arrived against the backdrop of Pope Francis’ pulling Cardinal Pell from Australia in the face of growing investigations and the much anticipated upcoming meeting of President Obama and Pope Francis, discussed further at:

On top of  Obama-Francis’ already likely agenda issues of unaccountable US bishops, Obamacare’s contraception insurance mandate and respect for gay rights, the two leaders will likely have to address Russia’s President Putin’s military invasion of the Ukraine, likely to be especially sensitive following Francis’ recent much publicized Vatican welcome of Putin on Syria issues.

Both Kasper and McAleese sidestepped, at least for now, the volatile matters of women priests and bishops, but their remarks nevertheless showed considerable progress on advancing women’s role in the Catholic Church hierarchy.

Cardinal Kasper’s unexpected interview remarks included substantially (via Google Translate) the following:

“I ask myself how it is possible to prepare for two Synods on the Family {October 2014 and October 2015} without giving a role of primary importance to women? A family cannot exist without women. It makes no sense to speak about the family without listening to what they {women} have to say. I think they {women} need to be called and listened to as of right now, as we enter the preparatory phase.”

Kasper even expressly rejected having women attend as passive “auditors”, as has happened in some past Vatican events when women “listened” and then were permitted to make some token remarks after the main event was over.

Kasper added the following: ”They {women} can hold positions of responsibility … that, even at the highest levels, not necessarily imply the power of jurisdiction related to the ordained ministry, on the Pontifical Councils, for example. … This {excluding women} is absurd. In councils and other bodies in the Vatican, authority may be exercised by women even at the highest levels, with full responsibility.”

These are not the words of some “flaming feminist”. No, they are the words of Cardinal Walter Kasper, the man Pope Francis just had address 150+ worldwide Cardinals in secret at the Vatican on the need to reconsider the “theology of the family”. The 150+ cardinals reportedly focused privately on marriage and family issues. Apparently, the thinking appears to have been that out of 150+ childless and celibate senior men, the group could cobble together some insights into married couples, divorced and single lay Catholics, and their families. Why were not some informed couples and single and divorced lay Catholics just invited to participate as Popes John XXIII and Paul VI did in the 1960′s with the so-called birth control commission?

And why the secrecy? Many of these issues were addressed openly and publicly at Vatican II and during the birth control commission meetings. Of course, the master of ceremonies for the 150+ cardinals meeting was Cardinal Sodano, as dean of the College of Cardinals. It showed. Secrecy prevailed generally.

The well respected Cardinal Kasper’s long talk on marriage was, in effect, censored and dribbled out in selective pieces to non-cardinals, something Kasper’s early mentor, the persecuted Fr. Hans Kung, would fully recognize. If , as reported, Pope Francis’ praised Kasper so highly, why could not all Catholics hear what he had to say without the initial “editing” and “cherry picking”?

Francis may have reconsidered since the text of Kasper’s lecture has reportedly now been seen by some news outlets. Moreover, Kasper likely had some signal from Francis before giving his surprising new interview. Perhaps, Francis has enlisted Kasper to help create a “mess” at the Synod on the Family. Let us hope so.


Robert Mickens studied in Rome in the 1980′s as a seminarian at the top Catholic Gregorian University. He has been The Tablet’s Rome correspondent from 2001 to 2003 and from 2005 to the present. His decade plus of honest and direct reporting from Rome has enabled him to develop a deep team of sources in the Vatican Curia. He also writes the paper’s popular weekly column, ‘Letter from Rome’. Mickens is regularly featured as a Vatican-affairs analyst for the BBC in Great Britain, ABC in Australia and National Public radio in the United States.

Mary McAleese had been President of Ireland from 1997 to 2011, when many of the worst child sexual abuses of Irish Catholic priests were uncovered, mainly in extensive judicial investigations. Before serving as President of Ireland, Professor McAleese was law professor at Trinity College Dublin and later a Vice-Chancellor at Queen’s University Belfast. She is currently studying for a doctoral degree in canon law at Rome’s  Gregorian University. She has had a long-standing commitment to issues of social justice and a keen interest in Catholic social teaching. Hopefully, Francis will often seek her leadership advice.