Damian Thompson

Cardinal Kasper: You can’t talk to Africans about homosexuality. Whoops!

Cardinal Kasper: You can't talk to Africans about homosexuality. Whoops!
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Say what you like about H.E. Walter Card. Kasper, he speaks his mind. Normally this suits liberal Catholics. Today they're wishing he had maintained a prudential silence.

In an interview with Edward Pentin of ZENIT published just as the fathers of the Carry On Synod on the Family thought things were calming down, the retired German cardinal held forth on Africans and how they don't get it on the subject of homosexuality and really there's no point in talking to them because they're such bigots.

I paraphrase. Here is the exchange:

Kasper: The problem, as well, is that there are different problems of different continents and different cultures. Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.

Pentin: But are African participants listened to in this regard?

Kasper: No, the majority of them [who hold these views won’t speak about them].

Pentin: They’re not listened to?

Kasper: In Africa of course [their views are listened to], where it’s a taboo.

Pentin: What has changed for you, regarding the methodology of this synod?

Kasper: I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general criteria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.

Yikes. I'm tempted to say, you walked right into that one, Your Eminence, but Pentin doesn't play tricks and anyway his own views on homosexuality are only slightly more progressive than those of the Westboro Baptist Church.

What this demonstrates is that, as I blogged on Tuesday, allowing the gay issue to loom large in the Synod was a massive blunder because it pits the developing world against the West. In liberal London, gayness means the gaudy print of Judy Garland that a priest friend of mine has on his wall. In Kampala it means anal sex. The worldwide Catholic Church has until now managed to bridge this cultural gulf by selective turning of a blind eye while emphasising the non-negotiability of its teachings on sex. Whether this is hypocrisy or pragmatism depends on your point of view.

I cannot for the life of me understand why Pope Francis, who himself has a tendency to shoot from the hip, decided to open the Synod debates with the musings of Kasper, who regularly sprays his audiences with theological bullets. A marksman he ain't.

Now he sounds like an Anglican – and not just because he thinks aloud on matters of the utmost sensitivity. One of the insoluble problems of that Anglican Communion, in which I try not to take pleasure, is that the liberals who patronisingly celebrate the 'richness' and 'deep wisdom' of African and Asian societies can't come to terms with their anti-gay attitudes. Older liberals, especially, have to be careful not to slip back into the mindset of their youth, when Africans were by definition unenlightened. And Cardinal Kasper (b. 1933) does not 'do' carefulness.

It's worth noting, however, that there's a double paradox at work here. Some Catholic right-wingers aren't big into anti-racism, shall we say, and recoiled at the ebullient African liturgies barely recognisable as Masses that the former papal MC, Archbishop Piero Marini, forced St John Paul II to sit through. Now they get to play the anti-racist card. As I keep saying, all very Anglican.