by Paul Simmons
On February 20, 2014, at the request of Pope Francis, Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the Unity of Christians, gave a controversial speech to more than 150 cardinals gathered in the Vatican for a “consistory” in preparation for the upcoming Synod on the Family in October. In his speech, the Cardinal called on the Church to allow communion for divorced and re-married Catholics.
Divorced and re-married Catholics are prohibited from receiving sacramental communion because they are living in a state of mortal sin. The Church teaches that marriage is indissoluble – divorce does not break the bond of marriage. Therefore those who divorce and subsequently remarry are living in a state of adultery, and are therefore prohibited from receiving communion. They can, however, say a prayer of “spiritual communion” instead.
Kasper, however, called into question this prohibition, arguing as follows:
Whoever receives spiritual communion is one with Jesus Christ, how then can he be in contradiction with the commandment of Christ? So, why can he not then receive Sacramental communion? If we exclude divorced and remarried Christians from the sacraments (…) do we not perhaps put up for discussion the fundamental sacramental structure of the Church?
In his speech, Kasper laid down his “criteria” for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion:
Jesus said to His disciples: ‘Whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’” – Matthew 5:321. if he repents of his failure in the first marriage, 2. if he has clarified the obligations of the first marriage, if it is definitively ruled out that he could turn back, 3. if he cannot abandon without further harm the responsibilities taken on with the new civil marriage, 4. if however he is doing the best he can to live out the possibilities of the second marriage on the basis of the faith and to raise his children in the faith, 5. if he has a desire for the sacraments as a source of strength in his situation, should we or can we deny him, after a period of time in a new direction, of “metanoia,” the sacrament of penance and then of communion?
The speech sparked an intense debate amongst the Cardinals, with many going public with their objections to Kasper’s proposals via interviews with the press.
Is the Catholic Church on the verge of allowing communion for divorced and re-married Catholics? Doing so would mean a complete reversal on a ruling that is as old as the Church itself. It would lead to devastating changes to the Catholic understanding of the human family and human sexuality. It will also greatly undermine core Catholic teachings on the Sacrament of Marriage, Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Pope Francis: One Mind with Kasper?
In a March 5 interview with the Italian daily “Corriere della Sera”, Pope Francis expressed support for Kasper, praising him for his “beautiful and profound presentation” made to the College of Cardinals:
Cardinal Kasper made a beautiful and profound presentation…he confronted five points; the fifth was that of second marriages. I would have been concerned if in the consistory there wasn’t an intense discussion. It wouldn’t have served for anything. The cardinals knew that they could say what they wanted, and they presented many different points of view that are enriching. The fraternal and open comparisons make theological and pastoral thought grow. I am not afraid of this, actually I seek it. “No one is permitted to know a woman other than his wife. The marital right is given you for this reason: lest you fall into the snare and sin with a strange woman. ‘If you are bound to a wife do not seek a divorce’; for you are not permitted, while your wife lives, to marry another.” – St. Ambrose of Milan, “Abraham” c. 387 A.D.
On the day of Kasper’s lecture, Fr. Lombardi, the Holy See spokesman, said that the Pope’s words and Cardinal Kasper’s are “in great harmony.”
It must be noted that Kasper is one of the pope’s favourite Cardinals, with many writers even calling him “the pope’s theologian”. In his first angelus address as pope on March 17, 2013, Pope Francis publicly mentioned Kasper, praising him:
In these days, I have been able to read a book by a cardinal—Cardinal Kasper, a talented theologian, a good theologian—on mercy. And it did me such good, that book, but don’t think that I’m publicizing the books of my cardinals. That is not the case! But it did me such good, so much good…
The Pope Calls a Divorced and Remarried Woman
On April 25, 2014, in an apparent break from traditional Catholic teaching, Pope Francis was reported to have called remarried Argentine Jacqui Lisbona to say that there was “nothing wrong” in her taking Holy Communion. This despite the fact that she is married civilly to a previously divorced man. Lisbona originally wrote to the Pope to complain of the fact that she was refused Communion by her local priest, who was merely implementing the Church’s rule that unless a first marriage is annulled, Catholics who remarry cannot receive Communion since they are essentially living in a state of mortal sin and committing adultery.
Lisbona reported that in her conversation with Pope Francis, the pontiff told her: “It is an issue we are discussing in the Vatican, because a divorcee who takes communion is not doing anything wrong……There are some priests who are more papist than the Pope.”
As a result of this single phone call, the media screamed their headlines all over the world: “Fracas over divorced stirred by call from the Pope”; “Pope in hot water over personal phone calls”; “Pope tells sinner she should be allowed communion”. If verified, the incident has widespread ramifications for the future of the Church, for here we have a sitting Roman Pontiff openly contradicting the Church’s traditional teachings on marriage.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi went in full damage control mode after the widespread media coverage, clarifying that the calls were part of the pope’s “personal pastoral relationships” and “do not in any way form part of the pope’s public activities”. He acknowledged that media reports about the phone call have been “a source of misunderstanding and confusion”. Finally, he emphasised that “consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.”
A Clear Church Prohibition
The proposals of Kasper – as well as the implicit approval of the Pope as can be gleaned from his actions (allowing Kasper to speak on the issue in front of Cardinals; calling up the divorced and remarried woman to tell her it is okay to receive communion) – are contrary to the clear teaching of the Catholic Church on this matter.
Jesus was very explicit in His teaching on divorce and remarriage: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mk 10:11-12).
Divorced and remarried Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion because they are living in a state of mortal sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says unequivocally:“Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.” – CCC 1385
The Catechism clearly states its prohibition in this matter:
Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions… the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists…Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence. – (n. 1650 Catechism)
Pope Pius XII recalled to the parish priests of Rome on March 16, 1946 that not even the pope has the power to dissolve the bond of marriage: “The matrimony between baptized, validly contracted and consummated, cannot be dissolved by any power on earth, not even by the Supreme Church Authority.“
Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical entitled Familiaries Consortio, re-affirmed clearly the Church’s teaching on this matter:
…the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage. Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.” (Familiaris Consortio, 84)
Other passages in the Bible emphasise the importance of receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord worthily:
“Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body (accepting all the doctrine of the Church and being in a state of grace in full communion with the Church), eats and drinks judgment on himself.” 1 Corinthians 11:27-29
Priests and Cardinals Rebuke Kasper
Many priests and Cardinals have gone public in rebuking the proposals of Cardinal Kasper. Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (the supreme Canonical Tribunal of the Catholic Church), said in an interview with EWTN TV that Cardinal Kasper was “in error”. He says that Kasper’s proposal to allow communion for divorced and remarried Catholics was not implementable: “In my estimation as a canonist I do not think it is possible…I trust in coming days… the error of his approach will become ever clearer.”
He recalled that the teaching of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage is clearly stated by Jesus Himself in the Gospel: “Here we’re not talking about truth that developed over time but here we’re talking about the very words of Christ himself in the Gospel in which he taught – and no one contests – the indissolubility of marriage.”
Burke revealed that the talk of Kasper was received by much opposition before the College of Cardinals: “The fact that he gave the text before the College of Cardinals does not in any way signify that it was well received by all the cardinals.”
Another Cardinal who went public with his rebuttal of Kasper was Cardinal Caffarra, Archbishop of Bologne:
If the Church admits [them] to the Eucharist, she must anyway grant a judgment of legitimacy to the second union. That is logical. But now – as I asked – what to make of the first matrimony? The second, it is said, cannot be a true second matrimony, considering that bigamy goes against the word of the Lord. What about the first one? Is it dissolved? But the Popes have always taught that the power of the Pope does not reach that point: the Pope has no power over a marriage that is ratum et consummatum. The proposed solution leads us to think that the first matrimony remains, but that there is also a second kind of cohabitation that the Church legitimizes. It is, therefore, an extramarital exercise of human sexuality that the Church legitimizes. But with this, the foundational pillar of the Church’s doctrine on sexuality is negated. At this point, one could ask: so why are not free [extramarital or premarital] unions approved? And why not relations between homosexuals? “A wife must not depart from her husband. Or, if she should depart, she must remain unmarried.” – St. Cyprian of Carthage, “Testimonies,” c. 250 A.D.
Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., St. Louis, Missouri, in a letter to Vatican historian Robert Moynihan, wrote:
The German bishops have devised a pastoral plan to admit divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion, whether or not a Church tribunal has granted a decree of nullity of their first marriage…And what of Jesus’ teaching that those who remarry after divorce commit adultery? Admitting them to Communion without a commitment to continence will lead logically to one of three faith-breaking conclusions: (a) our Lord was mistaken in calling this relationship adulterous – in which case he can scarcely have been the Son of God; (b) adultery is not intrinsically and gravely sinful – in which case the Church’s universal and ordinary magisterium has always been wrong; or (c) Communion can be given to some who are living in objectively grave sin – in which case not only has the magisterium also erred monumentally by always teaching the opposite, but the way will also be opened to Communion for fornicators, practicing homosexuals, pederasts, and who knows who else?
Who is Cardinal Kasper?
So who is Cardinal Kasper and why is he pushing for measures that will have devastating effects on the family? Cardinal Kasper is a radical liberal who has called for a “modernization” of the church, frequently clashing with the conservative theology of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: “The church needs to take seriously the legitimate requests of the modern age.”
He has called for a radical re-examining of the Holy Eucharist – the cornerstone of our Faith. In his book “Sacrament of Unity”, published in 2005, Kasper called on the Church to move towards the vision of a “shared Eucharistic meal” with Protestants:
The fact that fidelity to the truth makes it impossible in today’s situation for all Christians to meet around the one table of the Lord and take part in the one Supper of the Lord is a deep wound inflicted on the Body of the Lord. Ultimately, it is scandalous…
Of course, this “shared Eucharistic meal” with Protestants is simply not possible. Doing so would mean the Catholic Church compromising its core teaching in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist through the act of Transubstantiation during the Mass.
Kasper’s latest progressive push for allowing communion for divorce and remarried Catholics is nothing less than a direct, frontal assault on the bedrock of the Catholic faith: the institution of marriage, as well as the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
German Bishops Push for Communion for Divorced and Remarried
German Bishops have actually moved forward on their own on the issue of divorce and remarriage. In October 2013, the Archdiocese of Freiburg, headed by Cardinal Marx (who is part of Pope Francis’ Council of 8 Cardinal advisors), released a document that laid out plans to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, if they promised to enter “a new moral responsibility” with their new spouse. The guidelines recommend that “in justified individual cases divorced should be allowed to return again to the sacraments…A personally responsible decision of conscience and a conversation with the chaplains are prerequisite.”
In response, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the CDF, published an article in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano saying that the practice of withholding Communion from those in a state of mortal sin would remain in place. This was followed by a letter to the German bishops ordering them to revisit their draft document.
The German bishops responded to this with more defiance, with Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Stuttgart saying in November they had voted to adopt the guidelines and expected them to be approved at their next plenary meeting in March 2014.
Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Stuttgart has told a group of German laity that while the indissolubility of marriage is “non-negotiable” for the Catholic Church, the German bishops are going to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, despite clear instructions to the contrary from the Vatican’s doctrinal chief.
Loosening of the Catholic Annulment Process
Another measure proposed by Kasper during his speech in the consistory of Cardinals is that of loosening the Catholic annulment process – an explosive, potentially devastating measure that will lead to more marriage breakups – only this time, with “blessing” from the Church. In particular, Kasper argues for a decentralisation of annulment proceedings from ecclesiastical tribunals. In order to understand the nature of this proposal, we must first understand the distinction between divorce and annulment, as well as the Church’s process for granting of annulments.
The Church prohibits divorce, but it does have a process in place to evaluate requests for annulment of marriages. There is a big difference between divorce and annulment. Divorce is an act recognised by some states/governments that involves the dissolution of the legal marriage contract – it does not, however, dissolve marriage in the eyes of the Church, since marriage is indissoluble.
Annulment on the other hand, within the context of the Church, is a recognition that there was never a valid marriage in the first place (for example, if one of the couples was merely forced into the marriage, etc). A Church-granted annulment, therefore, does not dissolve the marriage bond – it is simply a recognition that there was no valid marriage in the first place.
The process for securing an annulment from the Church is completely different from merely legal annulment proceedings sponsored by the State/government. A church body headed by Cardinals and clergy, called “Ecclesiastical Tribunals”, handle the process of evaluating and studying requests for annulment. It is a lengthy and exhaustive process, akin to a real legal court case, complete with submission of evidence, case facts, and other documents – and rightly so, in order to defend the sanctity of marriage.
Kasper’s proposal is to decentralize the annulment process, and give authority to local priests and bishops to grant an annulment to couples. Kasper said:
According to canon law the evaluation [of annulment cases] is the task of the ecclesiastical tribunals. Since these are not “iure divino,” but developed historically, we sometimes ask ourselves if the judicial way should be the only one for resolving the problem or if other more pastoral and spiritual procedures could also be possible.
As an alternative, one might think that the bishop could entrust this task to a priest with spiritual and pastoral experience as a penitentiary or episcopal vicar… Is it truly possible that the good and bad of persons should be decided at second and third hearings solely on the basis of the proceedings, meaning paperwork, but without knowing the person and his situation?
If adopted, the above measure will have devastating consequences for the Church and for the family. It will conceivably lead to more “annulments”, since the process will be simplified, with authority for granting annulments transferred from the Ecclesiastical Tribunals to local bishops and priests. It will likewise be prone to abuse and loose interpretation, since the rigourous process adopted by Ecclesiastical Tribunals will be replaced with the subjective judgement and interpretation of local pastors.
The Tribunals are there precisely to safeguard the sanctity of marriage and protect the core teaching that marriage is indissoluble. Once subjectivity is introduced in the process, how are we to prevent a local pastor making an erroneous, subjective decision to grant a bogus annulment? This subjectivity will lead to errors in judgement, which will lead to de-facto granting of divorce by local priests.
Assault on the Family and the Eucharist
These two proposals of Kasper – allowing communion for the divorced and remarried, and loosening the annulment process – are nothing less than a direct, full-frontal assault on the family. If adopted, it will mean that the Catholic Church will formally adopt a practice that is in direct contradiction to the very words of Jesus Himself: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery”. It will mean adopting a practice that will be in complete contradiction with what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has taught on the matter.
Another equally devastating consequence if the Kasper proposal is adopted is the widespread desecration of the Holy Eucharist – public sinners living in a state of adultery, who have not repented of their mortal sin through confession, will be allowed to desecrate the Eucharist by receiving the Body of the Lord in a state of grave sin.
The question is this: Does the Pope approve of Kasper’s proposal to allow communion for people living in a state of adultery? From his numerous actions, the answer seems to be YES. If he does support this position, which is clearly contrary to the teachings of the Church, then we have a disturbing problem. Canon law specifically teaches that if a Pope believed in a heretical teaching at the time of his election, as well as after his election, then his election is de-facto not valid.
Why is it that Pope Francis seemingly tolerates, if not implicitly supports, these initiatives that are being pushed forward by the rabidly liberal elements within the Vatican? Could it be that he himself believes that Catholics living in a state of mortal sin should be allowed communion?
If the Pope does indeed support Kasper’s position, how are we to respond to a sitting Roman Pontiff who will clearly then be supporting a heretical position? Do we obey heresy? Or do we proclaim the truth from the rooftops and fight for our Faith?
The stakes are high in this issue. It must be recalled that it was this issue of divorce and remarriage that prompted the formal schism of the Church of England from the Catholic Church: Henry VIII’s request to be allowed by the Church to divorce and remarry was rebuffed by the Catholic Church, prompting him to separate the Church of England formally from the Church – a split that remains to this very day.
When it comes to the Truth, there is no room for compromise, there is no room for re-interpretation. The words of Jesus are clear in this matter. Let us fight to uphold the Word of Our Lord – and to protect the family. Let us take inspiration from the words of Pope Leo XIII, who said: “An error which is not resisted is approved; a truth which is not defended is suppressed.”