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Cardinals criticize Kasper proposal, escalating debate on remarriage/Communion

September 18, 2014

Several influential cardinals have criticized a proposal by Cardinal Walter Kasper to allow Communion for Catholics who are divorced and remarried, in a rare display of open disagreement among prelates, in the weeks leading up to the October meeting of the Synod of Bishops.

Cardinal Ludwig Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Cardinal George Pell, the prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, are among the leading prelates contributing to two new books. The books, which will be released by Ignatius Press just before the eve of the Synod meeting, set out arguments against the Kasper proposal, which is expected to be a major topic of debate during the October session of the Synod.

"When we are in the presence of a valid marriage, there is no way to sever that bond," argues Cardinal Müller. "Neither the pope nor any other bishop has the authority to do so, because it touches on a reality that belongs to God, not to them.”

“Doctrine and pastoral practice cannot be contradictory,” adds Cardinal Pell. "One cannot maintain the indissolubility of marriage by allowing the 'remarried' to receive Communion."

Cardinal Pell has written the foreword to The Gospel of the Family, a book that takes the same title as a book by Cardinal Kasper on the same subject. Cardinal Müller is one of the contributors to the 2nd book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ. The other contributors to the latter book include Cardinals Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra, Velasio De Paolis, and Walter Brandmüller. Clearly stung by the strong criticism of his proposal, Cardinal Walter Kasper complained that his fellow cardinals had not notified him that the books would be appearing. The German cardinal said that such over criticism was “a first,” adding that in academic life he had note experienced such public attacks. He charged that they were waging a “doctrinal war,” and that their criticisms were really aimed at Pope Francis, who has encouraged him in his exploration of ways to provide pastoral support for divorced and remarried Catholics. A report in the French daily La Croix said that Pope Francis was displeased with the appearance of the two books, and instructed Cardinal Müller not to promote the book to which he had contributed. That report seems questionable, however, since Cardinal Müller had been critical of the Kasper proposals in earlier public statements.

When Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, was questioned about the debate, he observed that the early Church had quickly concluded, based on St. Matthew’s Gospel, that the indissolubility of marriage is firmly established as the command of Jesus Christ. Questioned about his proposal, Cardinal Kasper conceded that the Church cannot allow for divorce and remarriage without violating Christ’s command. But he went on:

Although second marriages are not possible, as the Church fathers said, when a ship sinks you need a raft in order to survive. Not a sacramental marriage but the sacramental instruments needed in a situation like this.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Berlin told reporters that most of the bishops in the German-speaking world agree with Cardinal Kasper and support a change in Church discipline. But Cardinal Pell, in his foreword to the forthcoming book, remarks that support for change comes primarily from countries where the Catholic faith is in retreat. “The pressures for this change are centered mainly in some European churches, where churchgoing is low and an increasing number of divorcees are choosing not to remarry,” he writes.

Cardinal Pell argues: "The sooner the wounded, the lukewarm, and the outsiders realize that substantial doctrinal and pastoral changes are impossible, the more the hostile disappointment (which must follow the reassertion of doctrine) will be anticipated and dissipated.”


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  • Posted by: frhugh1967 - Oct. 10, 2014 9:33 AM ET USA

    Lots of Cardinals, and the Pope have not criticised the Kasper proposal!

  • Posted by: christhavemercy821235 - Sep. 21, 2014 6:28 AM ET USA

    I want to get the book but it seems it is not out yet, at least not on Amazon. Let's all pray and fast for our Pope. Civil remarriage is considered the worst kind of Adultery according the CCC because its unique natures of Public and Permanent character and a plain rebellion against Christ's commend in the Gospels. So if the Church feels she has the liberty to rebel against the Head of the Church, Christ Himself, can I still be a Catholic?

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 19, 2014 11:26 PM ET USA

    It's good to hear (finally?) very clear teaching on that topic.