"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The case of Brother Roger

Long ago, St. Augustine remarked: “There are some whom God has, whom the Church has not. And there are some whom the Church has, whom God has not…When we speak of within and without in relation to the Church, it is the position of the heart that we must consider, not that of the body . . . All who are within the heart are saved in the unity of the ark” (On Baptism 5). For reasons doubtless known more to the Holy Spirit than to me, I've been thinking a lot lately about that anomaly in the economy of salvation. It just is true that some non-Catholics are in fuller communion with the Catholic Church than some Catholics. That fact calls for theological explanation which not everybody can appreciate—and that fact in turn that is troubling enough, at least to me. But my friend Dr. Phil Blosser has brought to my attention a particular ecclesiological anomaly whose official explanation is even more troubling than the anomaly itself.

Calvinist pastor Roger Schutz, the de facto leader of Taizé who was murdered in 2005 by a deranged woman at a public ecumenical service, had previously been given the Eucharist by then-Cardinal Ratzinger and by Cardinal Kasper, who now serves as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. At long last, Kasper has explained that anomaly. Here's the gist of the explanation:

He denies that Fr. Schutz "formally" adhered to the Catholic Church. And much less did he abandon the Protestantism into which he was born. He affirms, instead, that he gradually "enriched" his faith with the pillars of the Catholic faith, particularly the role of Mary in salvation history, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the "the ministry of unity exercised by the bishop of Rome." In response to this, the Catholic Church allowed him to receive Eucharistic communion. According to Kasper, it is as if there had been an unwritten agreement between Schutz and the Church of Rome, "crossing certain confessional" and canonical limits.

That greatly puzzles me, Phil, and other orthodox Catholics who know and care about such things. If Brother Roger, without evincing any intention of becoming formally Catholic, could receive the Eucharist, then why not traditional Anglican clergy? Why not anybody who believes certain distinctively Catholic doctrines but who, for whatever reason, sees fit to remain formally non-Catholic? What happens to the RCIA? In what sense, beyond the merely empirical, does it remain a norm to reserve the Eucharist for those who are in full communion with the Church?

Since I often disagree with Cardinal Kasper, and certainly don't find him as good a theologian as the countryman of his who occupies the Chair of Peter, I'm not really interested in hearing his answers to such questions. I'm interested in hearing the Pope's. As Ratzinger he was, after all, directly implicated in the case of Brother Roger. Will we hear from the Pope about this? I don't know. Perhaps the answers are already latent in the Church's norms, and I just haven't thought hard enough to make them patent. But right now I can't think quite hard enough to manage that.

Can anybody offer something that isn't just a way of restating the problem?
blog comments powered by Disqus