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Posted April 17, 2005 at 3;30 a.m. CDT
Germany's Kasper: No need for 'clone' of John Paul II

By Stacy Meichtry

After a week of nonstop reports that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s papal prospects were being pushed by prelates in search of doctrinal continuity with John Paul II, the man widely recognized as the theological czar’s leading opponent in the Roman Curia came forward and called on the faithful to not pine for a “clone” of John Paul II.

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In a candid sermon before hundreds at Santa Maria in Trastevere, Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany aimed to debunk perceptions that John Paul’s legacy should be seen as a litmus test for future popes. 

“Just as it is forbidden to clone others, it is not possible to clone pope John Paul II,” Kasper said. “Every pope ministers in his own way, according to the demands of his era. No one was ever simply a copy of his predecessor.”

Italian newspapers are reporting that a dominant faction of John Paul loyalists has emerged in the College of Cardinals and picked Ratzinger as their front-runner. Reform-minded moderates, meanwhile, have failed to unite behind a single candidate.

On Saturday Corriere della Sera of Milan described Kasper as a core member of the moderate wing that is now moving to block Ratzinger’s candidacy.

As the head of the Vatican’s ecumenical affairs office, Kasper has openly sparred with Ratzinger over the years. He was a vocal critic of Ratzinger’s Dominus Iesus, a document that reasserted the superiority of Catholicism over other faiths and Christian denominations. He has also called for curial reform and decentralization of Vatican power, positions that contrast sharply with Ratzinger’s autocratic reputation.

Rivalry between the two Germans can be traced back to their native country when Kasper, as a bishop in Rottenburg-Stuttgart, backed a pastoral letter encouraging divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to take sacraments. Ratzinger, already John Paul’s theological watchdog, rejected the letter.

Some Vatican watchers consider Kasper a dark horse candidate for the papacy. Since John Paul’s death, many cardinals have identified curial reform and collegiality as top concerns. Kasper is highly regarded for the combination of pastoral and curial experience he brings to the conclave. 

Although Kasper is known as an atypically open curial official, he has kept a low profile since John Paul’s death. According to a spokesman for the Community of St. Egidio, a progressive religious movement that organized Saturday’s Mass, Kasper was scheduled to officiate at Santa Maria in Trastevere two months ago, prior to John Paul’s final health crisis.

On Saturday, Kasper opened his sermon with candid reflections. “It’s easy to guess what I’m thinking about. We are about to elect a new pope in next week’s conclave,” he said. While Kasper was cautious to avoid going into description on the next pope, he concentrated a large portion of his homily on the importance of finding a candidate with strong pastoral skills—a quality that some say Ratzinger lacks.

“Like the Gospel says, the pastor needs familiarity, mutual caring and reciprocal trust between him and his flock,” Kasper said. “Let’s not search for someone who is too scared of doubt and secularity in the modern world.”

Earlier Saturday, the Vatican’s official spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls continued to deny the existence of pre-conclave politicking. In a characteristically terse statement that announced the closing of the General Congregation, he reported that the rapport between the cardinals’ at the daily pre-conclave meetings had been “one of great familiarity.”

“That allowed them to find great consensus on the general themes faced in the discussions,” he said, adding: “I can also confirm that in no congregation were names ever brought up.”

Stacy Meichtry is a freelance journalist based in Rome. He is reporting and writing for NCR during this period of papal transition.


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