Ignatius Press into the Breach: Trumping the Kasper Proposal

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Oct 22, 2014

Ignatius Press deserves the gratitude of English-speaking Catholics for its publication of three books in direct response to the Kasper Proposal, as part of the discussion encouraged by Pope Francis leading up to the synods on the family. These books succeed in refuting the arguments in favor of the Kasper Proposal, situating the problem of the family within a proper understanding of Divine mercy, and urging the Church toward an evangelization which places a Christian vision of marriage and family at its very heart.

For those unfamiliar with the Kasper Proposal, it was an idea developed by Cardinal Walter Kasper that in some cases couples who had divorced and remarried outside the Church could, after a period of penance, receive communion again without abandoning what Christ regards as an adulterous relationship. Kasper found support for this proposal in some aspects of early Christian practice, occasional patristic texts, the long practice of the Orthodox churches in “tolerating” second marriages, and even the “sense of the faithful” in our own time.

This Proposal generated an important discussion prior to the 2014 Synod on the Family. And although the Synod rejected it, the problem of the dissolution of the family in the modern world obviously remains, including the vexing difficulties posed by divorce and remarriage. The three books by Ignatius Press do a superb job of not only responding to Cardinal Kasper’s specific proposal but also moving beyond it to more fruitful ways to address a grave dislocation that lies at the heart of the modern experience.

Refuting Cardinal Kasper

Let us take these successes in order, beginning with the most extensive of the three books, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church. Edited by Robert Dodaro, OSA, this is a masterful collection of essays examining the key theological and pastoral data which Cardinal Kasper emphasized in his Proposal. Following a superb first chapter by Fr. Dodaro, appropriately entitled “The Argument in Brief” and ably summarizing the book as a whole, Remaining in the Truth of Christ includes exemplary treatments of the following topics as they relate to divorce and remarriage:

  1. Paul Mankowski, SJ: On the Scriptural data
  2. John M. Rist: On the practice of the early Church
  3. Archbishop Cyril Vasil’, SJ: On the approaches of the Orthodox Churches
  4. Walter Cardinal Brandmüller: Catholic doctrine and practice from the Middle Ages to the Council of Trent
  5. Gerhard Ludwig Müller: On the indissolubility of marriage, the civilly remarried, and the sacraments
  6. Carlo Cardinal Caffarra: On sacramental ontology and indissolubility
  7. Velasio Cardinal De Paolis, CS: On the divorced and remarried, Eucharist and Penance
  8. Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke: On canonical nullity as a search for truth

These essays ably refute the arguments which Cardinal Kasper used to buttress his proposal. An appendix includes the Latin and English texts of key Magisterial statements on marriage and divorce, and more such texts on the Sensus Fidei (incorrectly perceived by Kasper as a reason for change). Taken as a whole, this is a definitive work of Catholic scholarship on a complex topic. It belongs in every Catholic institutional or extensive home library.

Gerard Cardinal Müller

The current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerard Cardinal Müller is a worthy successor in the Church’s top theological post to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who of course became Pope Benedict XVI. Insofar as the controversy over the Kasper Proposal reflects something about the pontificate of Pope Francis, it must be remembered that the Pope has chosen Müller and not Kasper as the man on whom he relies for the theological work he uses to formally guide the Church. Cardinal Müller was among the first to join the lists against the Kasper Proposal.

The smallest of the three books under consideration here, which is entitled The Hope of the Family, is the republication in English of a formal “dialogue” on the problems facing the family between Cardinal Müller and the editor-in-chief of Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos. In many ways, this is the most accessible of the three books because it uses an engaging question-and-answer format. Nonetheless, Cardinal Muüller responds with significant insight and theological depth. Those who have read similar work by Ratzinger will recognize here the same rich connections among all the various aspects of the Faith in addressing marriage and family life.

Cardinal Müller places the Catholic vision of marriage in the all-important context of Christ’s spousal love for His Church, which makes the family, in the profoundest sense, a domestic church. He also recognizes the importance of presenting an adequate anthropology to a culture so seriously injured in its perceptions by the so-called sexual revolution. He understands that modern families may often be described as “sick with selfishness”, living according to an impoverished individualistic notion of family. And he recognizes the importance of training priests to minister not just to individuals but to the family as a significant whole. These ideas, of course, only skim along the surface of this exchange, which repays careful reading on every page.

The Gospel of the Family

Appropriating the title of Kasper’s book, Ignatius Press ups the ante in its own volume, subtitled “Going beyond Cardinal Kasper’s proposal in the debate on marriage, civil re-marriage, and communion in the Church.” The book is co-authored by Juan José Pérez-Soba, a priest of the Diocese of Madrid who serves as the director of international research in moral theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family in Rome, where he is a professor of pastoral theology; and Stephan Kampowski, a professor of philosophical anthropology at the same Institute, and also the coordinator of the master in bioethics formation jointly offered by the JPII Institute and the Bioethics Institute of the University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.

We are talking about two of the best men in this field here, and their purpose is not to refute Cardinal Kasper but to open up a more authentic vision of what a gospel of the family ought to mean. The introduction is provided by the redoubtable George Cardinal Pell of Sydney. One of Pell’s introductory remarks is telling:

The health of an organization can be gauged by observing the amount of time and energy devoted to the discussion of various topics. Healthy communities do not spend most of their energies on peripheral issues, and unfortunately the number of divorced and remarried Catholics who feel they should be allowed to receive Holy Communion is very small indeed.

The word “unfortunately” is interesting. What Cardinal Pell and the authors of the book are saying is that, “unfortunately” for those who would like to invest enormous time and energy in the Kasper Proposal, the far larger crisis of marriage and family as a whole demands that the Church focus positively on the family as a keystone of the New Evangelization. This is what Pérez-Soba and Kampowski try to accomplish in five cogent chapters, whose titles nicely outline the book:

  1. Announcing the Gospel of the Family in a Sex-Saturated Culture
  2. The Truth of Sacramental Marriage: Where Mercy and Faithfulness Meet
  3. The Experience of the Primitive Church: Faithfulness to the Gospel of the Family
  4. A Life Given in Time: Rebuilding the Moral Subject
  5. A Pastoral Ministry of Mercy: Living the Truth in Charity

An Appendix offers thirty key questions for the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family, and their answers.

Perhaps it is the title of the Conclusion to The Gospel of the Family which best captures the point of this excellent book: “A Gospel, Rather than a Problem.” As a matter of fact, this is essentially the rallying cry of all three of these books. An authentic vision of marriage and family lies at the heart of the Gospel. Contrary visions do not require our accommodation; they rather demand a rich, family-centric evangelization which draws others into the truth and freedom offered by Jesus Christ through His Church.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: shrink - Oct. 23, 2014 7:58 AM ET USA

    It's great to see Mankowski is back in the saddle. The left will regret this.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Oct. 23, 2014 12:42 AM ET USA

    Thanks for posting these three important works. Fr. Fessio needs our daily prayers.