by John Spangler, from Stuttgart
Thanksgivings mingled with the undercurrent of farewells on day two of the assembly. The greetings of Walter Cardinal Kasper were received with affection by the assembly, even as they highlighted the unfinished work of ecumenism, the dialogues, and the greater common work of Christian unity. Kasper, who came “home” to Stuttgart for the greeting (he was bishop of Stuttgart) has been in a farewell tour mode, it seems, and cited the significant friendships that have been forged through long history of ecumenical contact with the Lutherans. If Kasper were the only key figure to retire, that wind may not have prevailed, but with the retirement of General Secretary Noko and the conclusion of the LWF President’s term (Bishop Hanson), the text of the song was thank you, carry on in faith the work of unity, and farewell.
As one would expect, Kasper cited the Joint Declaration on the doctrine of Justification as the highlight of his four decades of dialogue. He said that this work doesn’t belong to any person or tradition, but that “the ecumenical movement is God’s own movement… to bring us together to reconcile ourselves to him.” Whether Catholic or Lutheran, “as Christians,” he said, “we can no longer afford our differences. The dialog must continue. Where there is no communion there is no peace.”
Dialogues are still an unfinished agenda, said Kasper, and “the Catholic church is determined to continue.” Here I suspect an unspoken context is that some among Lutherans who have been arguing against the ELCA’s 2009 decision to permit the ordination of homosexual persons in monogamous, lifelong committed relationships would bring an end to such commitments and common work. Ecumenical partners appear to remain in their commitments, even where there might be significant disagreement on this issue.