Walter Kasper

His Eminence
Walter Kasper
President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

Cardinal Kasper (left) with Cardinal Danneels
See Rottenburg-Stuttgart (Emeritus)
Appointed 3 March 2001
Installed 21 April 2005
Term ended 1 July 2010
Predecessor Edward Idris Cassidy
Successor Kurt Koch
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of Ognissanti in Via Appia Nuova
Ordination 6 April 1957
by Carl Joseph Leiprecht
Consecration 17 June 1989
by Oskar Saier
Created Cardinal 21 February 2001
by Pope John Paul II
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Birth name Walter Kasper
Born (1933-03-05) 5 March 1933
Heidenheim an der Brenz, Germany
Nationality German
Denomination Roman Catholic
Previous post
  • Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart (1989–1999)
  • Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (1999–2001)
  • Cardinal-Deacon of Ognissanti in Via Appia Nuova (2001–2011)
Motto Veritatem in caritate ("truth in charity")
Coat of arms
Styles of
Walter Kasper
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal

Walter Kasper (born 5 March 1933) is a German Roman Catholic Cardinal and theologian. He is President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, having served as its president from 2001 to 2010. Since the death of Carlo Maria Martini, he has become one of the main figures of the liberal wing of the Catholic Church.

Early life

Born in Heidenheim an der Brenz, Germany, Kasper was ordained a priest on 6 April 1957 by Bishop Carl Leiprecht of Rottenburg.

From 1957 to 1958 he was a parochial vicar in Stuttgart. He returned to his studies and earned a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the University of Tübingen. He was a faculty member at Tübingen from 1958 to 1961 and worked for three years as an assistant to the conservative Leo Scheffczyk and the liberal Hans Küng, who was banned from teaching by Vatican authorities owing to his critical views on contraception and papal infallibility.

He later taught dogmatic theology at the Westphalian University of Münster (1964–1970), rising to become dean of the theological faculty in 1969 and then the same in Tübingen in 1970. In 1983 Kasper taught as a visiting professor at The Catholic University of America. He was editor of the Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche.

Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart

Kasper was named Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Germany's fourth largest Catholic diocese, on 17 April 1989. He was consecrated as a bishop on 17 June that same year by Archbishop Oskar Saier of Freiburg im Breisgau; Bishops Karl Lehmann and Franz Kuhnle served as co-consecrators. In 1993 he and other members of the German episcopate signed a pastoral letter which urged allowing divorced and civilly remarried German Catholics to return to the sacraments, to the disapproval of then Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II.[1] In 1994, he was named co-chair of the International Commission for Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue.


He was elevated to the cardinalate by Pope John Paul II in the consistory of 21 February 2001, as Cardinal-Deacon of Ognissanti in Via Appia Nuova.

Upon the death of John Paul II on 2 April 2005, Kasper and all major Vatican officials, in accord with custom, automatically lost their positions during the sede vacante. He was a cardinal elector in the 2005 papal conclave. On the following 21 April, Pope Benedict XVI confirmed him as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

On 21 February 2011, he was promoted to the dignity of Cardinal-Priest pro hac vice. This means that the title is his personally, but that the church of Ognissanti remains a cardinal diaconate and his future successor to the title would revert to being a deacon.

Kasper was the oldest cardinal eligible to vote in the Papal conclave of 2013. His 80th birthday was on 5 March 2013, a few days after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. His eligibility to serve as an elector ended when that conclave concluded.

Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

On 3 March 1999, Kasper was appointed secretry of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity – and as such, President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews – and resigned from his post in Rottenburg-Stuttgart.

Reconciliation with Jews

He was critical of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document Dominus Iesus (2000), which he believed was an offense to the Jewish people.

In 2003, he wrote a text called Anti-semitism: A wound to be healed for the European Day of Jewish Culture.[2] On 10 July 2004, at the Latin-American Rabbinical Seminary of Buenos Aires, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation and the Angelo Roncalli Committee presented Kasper the "Memorial Mural Award" for his lifetime dedication to the causes of understanding and reconciliation between Jews and Catholics.[3]

International Theological Commission

Kasper is a member of the International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. He has repeatedly led official delegations of the Vatican on the annual visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. In August 2007, he led the Roman Catholic delegation to the funeral ceremony of Patriarch Teoctist of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

Society of Saint Pius X

In January 2009, Kasper told The New York Times that he had little, if any, input on whether to lift the excommunication of four bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X.[4] Kasper was distancing himself from the scandal that ensued when it transpired that one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, was found to have claimed that reports about the Holocaust were exaggerated and that no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers. As the Vatican official responsible for relations with the Jewish religion, Kasper felt it necessary to comment on the action and the process leading up to the lifting of the excommunications. He said that: "Up to now people in the Vatican have spoken too little with each other and have not checked where problems might arise". He said that in lifting the excommunications "there were misunderstandings and management errors in the Curia."[5]

Comments on Britain

In September 2010, Cardinal Kasper withdrew from the papal visit to Great Britain, after reportedly saying that Heathrow Airport gives the impression of a Third World country and that the United Kingdom is marked by "a new and aggressive atheism".[6] In an interview with a German magazine, he was quoted as saying: "When you land at Heathrow you think at times you have landed in a Third World country". Kasper's secretary explained it as "a description of the many different people that live in Britain at the moment".[7] He said that when one wears a cross on the British Airways "you are discriminated against", a reference to the British Airways cross controversy. British Airways said that Kasper had been "seriously misinformed" in his claims about the airline, and that "It is completely untrue that we discriminate against Christians or members of any faith".[6]

A spokesman for the Church in Britain said that Kasper's remarks were not the views of the Vatican or of the Church.[6] The cardinal's secretary said that Kasper had decided not to travel because gout made it difficult for him to walk.[7] He also explained the cardinal used "aggressive atheism" to describe people like Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist, who have been very critical of the Pope and talked about making a "citizens arrest" of the Pope while in Britain.[7]

Criticism of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion

Cardinal Kasper has criticized the Church of England policies in relation to female priests and the elevation of women to the episcopate. He expressed his views in the address given to the Church of England Bishops' Meeting at 5 June 2006.[8] He said that the ordination of women as bishops would "call into question what was recognized by the Second Vatican Council (Unitatis Redintegratio, 13), that the Anglican Communion occupied 'a special place' among churches and ecclesial communities of the West." He warned that the "restoration of full church communion... would realistically no longer exist following the introduction of the ordination of women to episcopal office."[9] He spoke at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, criticizing sharply the departures from Christian orthodoxy taken on women clergy and episcopate and even more by some member churches of the Anglican Communion on allowing the blessing of same-sex unions and non-celibate homosexual clergy. He called at the occasion for a new Oxford Movement to rise among Anglicanism.[10]

Pope Francis

Pope Francis, on 17 March 2013, four days after his election as Pope, called Kasper "a clever theologian, a good theologian" in the course of a sermon in which he reported that Kasper's book on mercy "did me a lot of good".[1][11]

Proposal of admission at communion of remarried couples

Cardinal Kasper proposal to admit to communion the Roman Catholic couples who have remarried, while still being legally married according to the Church's doctrine, is the most controversial question in which he has been involved so far in Pope Francis' pontificate. On 21 February 2014, Kasper said at the cardinals Consistory held in Rome that "The Church cannot question the words of Jesus on the indissolubility of marriage. Whoever expects the Consistory and the Synod to come up with “easy”, general solutions that apply to everyone, are mistaken. But given the difficulties which families today face and the huge rise in the number of failed marriages, new paths can be explored in order to respond to the deep needs of divorced people who have remarried as part of a civil union, who recognise their failure, convert and after a period of penance ask to be re-admitted to the sacraments."[12] The proposal was met with hostility by the most conservative members of the College of cardinals, including Gerhard Müller, Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller, Carlo Caffarra and Velasio De Paolis, who co-authored the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, released in English on October 2014, to refute Kasper's proposal.[13] Kasper later admitted that he didn't have Pope Francis' support on his proposal.[14]

2014 General Synod

During the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2014, Cardinal Kasper told reporters that since African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries have a "taboo" against homosexuality, "they should not tell us too much what we have to do."[15] Once the story broke, he denied that he made any such comment. The reporter who wrote the story, Edward Pentin, subsequently produced a recording of the conversation, which verified that the Cardinal had made those statements.[15] Cardinal Raymond Burke called Kasper's remarks "profoundly sad and scandalous".[16] Kasper subsequently confirmed that he had had the conversation, and offered this response for one of his remarks:

If one of my remarks about Africans was perceived as demeaning or insulting, then I am honestly sorry. That was and is not my intention, and not my view at all. No one will deny that Africa's culture is different from Europe's in many respects. But I have been in Africa too often not to esteem African culture highly.[17]

Kasper also said parts of the Catholic media were engaged in a "deliberate dirty tricks" campaign against him, and said that "The fact that Catholic media (and unfortunately a cardinal in person) should participate in it, in order to tear down another position morally, is shameful."[17][18]

Book on the Eucharist

Cardinal Kasper published a book entitled Sacrament of Unity: The Eucharist and the Church, in 2005, a reflection on the Eucharist partly inspired by John Paul II's encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. He insisted on the sacrificial character of the Eucharist, an aspect somewhat overshadowed after the Council.

Book about Jesus Christ

Cardinal Kasper's book Jesus The Christ (1974) treats Christology in three manners: a contemporary approach, a historical approach and a factual approach. After these three approaches have been exhausted, the Christological themes of resurrection, mystery, and priesthood are treated. Ecclesiology is seen as part of Christology in this book because the Church is oriented towards Christ in his person, since Christ did not only say things, but he also did things.[19]


Cardinal Kasper has published 15 books on subjects related to theology and Christology.


  1. 1 2 Coday, Dennis (17 March 2013). "Francis preaches mercy, forgiveness on first papal Sunday". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  2. Anti-semitism: A wound to be healed
  3. Cardinal Walter Kasper distinguished by the Wallenberg Foundation and the Angelo Roncalli Committee
  4. Healing schism, pope risks creating another
  5. Glatz, Carol (3 February 2009). "Vatican official laments lack of communication that fueled controversy". Catholic News Service. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  6. 1 2 3 BBC News: Pope aide pulls out of trip after Third World jibe
  7. 1 2 3 Palmer, Richard (16 September 2010). "Pope's aide calls 'atheist' Britain Third World land". Daily Express. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  8. ENGLAND: Forward in Faith welcomes remarks by Cardinal Walter Kasper, Virtue Online, 6 June 2006
  9. Church of England's Impending Ordination of Women Bishops Poses Ecumenical Challenge, Virtue Online, 10 July 2014
  10. At Lambeth, Cardinal Kasper Calls for Another Newman, Article by Sandro Magister, Espresso Online, 31 July 2008
  11. Pope Francis (17 March 2013). "Angelus". The Holy See. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  12. Kasper's proposal for remarried divorcees, Article By Andrea Tornielli, Vatican Insider, La Stampa, 21 February 2014
  13. Cardinals Collaborate on Book to Defend Church Doctrine on Divorce, Remarriage, Article By Elise Harris, National Catholic Register, 9 September 2014
  14. Cardinal Kasper Backpedals on Papal Endorsement of Controversial Proposal, Interview by Raymond Arroyo, National Catholic Register, 4 June 2015
  15. 1 2 "Kasper's comments breed online controversy over racism charges". Catholic News Agency. 17 October 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  16. "Cardinal Burke to CWR: confirms transfer, praises pushback, addresses controversy over remarks by Cardinal Kasper". Catholic World Report. 18 October 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  17. 1 2 "Cardinal Kasper apologizes for remarks about Africans; says he is victim of "shameful" attacks". Catholic World Report. 20 October 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  18. "Kardinal Kasper entschuldigt sich für Afrika-Äußerungen" (in German). 20 October 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  19. Walter Kasper, Jesus the Christ, translated by V. Green, Kent — New Jersey 1976, p.16

Further reading

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Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Georg Moser
Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart
Succeeded by
Gebhard Fürst
Preceded by
Edward Idris Cassidy
President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
3 March 2001 – 1 July 2010
Succeeded by
Kurt Koch
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