The Second Vatican Council is not a “completed history, but rather the beginning of a beginning,” Cardinal Walter Kasper said at a talk last night at the University of Munster, Germany, at which he was a professor 1964-1970. To advance the necessary reception of the Council, it is hardly useful to appeal to a “vague spirit of the Council,” but rather, the documents of the council must be re-read.

After a return to a “new centralism” in the post-conciliar era, it is necessary to recall “subsidiarity as a rule of competence,” the cardinal said. “The higher level intervenes only when the next level cannot handle something on its own.” At the same time, he warned of a “relapse into the notion of national churches.”

It is time to change the “outmoded clericalist atmosphere in the curia,” the cardinal said, for example by having more women in Vatican leadership positions. He is certain that Pope Francis will decentralize the church and strengthen local churches. In general, there is a need for “a different style of exercise of office,” with more emphasis on communication and taking laity more seriously. Francis will move in this direction.

In the question-and-answer period, Cardinal Kasper treated the question of communion for those divorced and remarried. In 1993, as Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, he had released a pastoral letter along with Karl Lehman (then Bishop of Mainz) and another bishop which allowed for such people to receive Communion after serious examination of their conscience. He said last night: “Turning someone away from the communion rail – one doesn’t do that.” He said that priests need clear directions from the bishops in this matter.

The cardinal expressed similar sentiments on the reception of Communion by non-Catholics. He has recommended to such people, “Ask yourself whether you can truly say ‘Amen’ to what is prayed in the Canon [Eucharistic Prayer – ed.] of the Mass. Reflect on this – it is a decision of conscience!”