I thought I’d toss out some impressions of those who have made the current mess in the Church. I have no special knowledge of any of this, but these are indeed my impressions, so other views would be welcome:
Walter Kasper is basically a German engineer. He likes systems that have been thought through and work smoothly and predictably in accordance with well-articulated basic principles. He accepts as a basic reality the German social welfare state that looks after all human concerns and turns the German bishops into well-paid functionaries with large budgets to use as they wish, and he wants to fit the Church seamlessly into that model. Hence the radical disjunction he makes between “praxis” and “doctrine.” By turning doctrine into a sort of decorative accessory, like the British monarchy, that move is the most simple, practical, and reliable way to unify the two in all practical respects. (Germans like thoroughgoing coherence, so it’s not surprising Cardinal Marx has openly suggested changing doctrine as well.)
Francis is quite different. He’s an Argentine who acts like he knows everything (I am told that’s their reputation in Latin America), and a Jesuit who holds his cards close to his chest, follows the results of his inner meditations, and takes an utterly tyrannical view of authority. So he doesn’t care about system. His will is good enough for him.
He’s intelligent but not a thinker. He rejects concepts, logic, and systematic analysis as guides but only cares about how things look to him right now. That seems mostly based on the situations that impressed him in Argentina, for example Peronist politics, conservative clergy allied to people he didn’t like, and people in slum neighborhoods living in disordered conditions who seemed to need special accommodations (the Church as a “field hospital” etc.) and might get poached by Protestant charismatics.
He’s willful and high-handed by nature as well as background. His aversion to reason and theory means he finds it hard to take into account concerns and experiences different from his own. He prefers to insult those who differ, and when they seem likely to cause problems do what’s needed to get rid of them and make them a lesson for others.
So it’s natural for him to pick up on Kasper’s idea of changing “praxis” but not doctrine. The former, especially in the form of doing what seems good to him at the moment, is what he cares about. The latter is rather in the background with him, although he has no inclination to contest it. He’s a “son of the Church” and accepts it all at least notionally although it’s not supremely important to him.
His faith is of a basically concrete and popular type: Marian devotion, the Bible, personal relationship to Jesus, concern about the devil, complaints about the powerful, and lack of interest in theology or history. In some ways it seems that of an entirely uneducated person: if he thinks a crucifix is a wonder-working relic and wants it he’ll pry it from a dead man’s hands and feel no shame. (His recounting of the incident also seems to show an amazing lack of self-awareness.)
All of which seems to leave the Church in the position she’s been for the past 50 years from the standpoint of a social traditionalist, only more so: largely useless at the practical sociological level, but nonetheless ultimately and in principle the only fixed point from which the inhumanity of the modern world can be opposed and overcome. That view depends, of course, on the view that reality and truth, and thus doctrine, are what matter in the long run.
I’d add that how all this plays out depends not only on those at the very top of the Church but also all the other people and tendencies in play, including those aroused by the incredibly ham-handed management of the first session of the Synod. Francis has a strong will but he can also be politic and doesn’t care about consistency. We shall see.
[UPDATE: Francis is indeed a politician. He wants people to support him, and he’s not principled enough to argue and persuade them, so he says different things to different audiences. People who try to put all his utterances together and make sense of them are committing what philosophers call a “category mistake.”]
[SECOND UPDATE: Also see John Rao’s commentary, If You Try to Understand Francis, You Will Lose Your Reason.]