“Doctrine does not change, the novelty regards only pastoral praxis.” This is the slogan that has been repeated for a year now. On the one hand it pacifies those conservatives who measure everything in terms of doctrinal statements, and on the other hand it encourages those progressives who attribute little value to doctrine and confide everything in the primacy of praxis.
A shocking example of a cultural revolution proposed in the name of praxis has been offered to us by the report dedicated to “The Gospel and the Family,”which Cardinal Walter Kasper opened the work of the extraordinary consistory for the Family with on February 20, 2014. The text, defined by Father Federico Lombardi as “in great harmony” with the thought of Pope Francis, merits evaluation in its entirety, also for this reason.
Cardinal Kasper’s starting point is the affirmation that “between the Church’s doctrine on marriage and the family and the ‘real life’ convictions of many Christians, an abyss has been created.” The Cardinal, however, neglects to formulate a negative judgment on these “convictions” antithetic to the Christian Faith, evading the fundamental question: why does this abyss exist between the Church’s doctrine and the philosophy of life held by contemporary Christians? What is the nature, what are the causes of the process in this dissolution of the family? In no part of his report it is said that the crisis of the family is the consequence of a programmed attack on the family, fruit of a concept from the secularist world which is opposed to it. This despite the recent document on Standards for Sex Education from the “World Health Organization” (WHO), the approval of the “Lunacek Report” by the European Union, the legalization of homosexual marriages and the crime of homophobia in many western states.
But we are still asking: is it possible in the year 2014, to dedicate 25 pages on the theme of the family, and ignore the objective aggression which the family – and not only the Christian one – is undergoing all over the world? What could the reasons be for this silence, if not a psychological and cultural subordination to those worldly powers which are the promoters of this attack on the family?
In the fundamental part of his report, dedicated to the problem of the divorced and remarried, Cardinal Kasper does not express even one word of condemnation on divorce and its disastrous consequences in western society. But hasn’t the moment arrived to declare that most of the crisis in the family goes back actually to the introduction of divorce and the facts demonstrate that the Church had been right [all along] in combating it? Who should say this if not a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church? But the Cardinal seems interested only in the “change of paradigm” – that the situation of divorced and remarried calls for today.
Almost as if to anticipate immediate objections, the Cardinal puts up his hands: the Church “cannot propose a different or contrary solution to the worlds of Jesus.” The indissolubility of a sacramental marriage and the impossibility of a new marriage during the life of the other partner “is part of the tradition of faith bound by the Church, which cannot be abandoned or dissolved by appealing to a superficial comprehension of low-cost (cheap) mercy.” But immediately after stating the need to remain faithful to Tradition, Cardinal Kasper, advances two devastating proposals to avoid the perennial Magisterium of the Church in matters of the family and marriage.
In Kasper’s view, the method to adopt is the one followed by the Second Vatican Council on the questions of ecumenism or religious liberty: change the doctrine, without showing that it has been modified. “The Council opened the doors without violating the binding dogmatic tradition.” – he affirms. Opened the doors to what? To the systematic violation, on the level of praxis, of that dogmatic tradition where the words affirm it legally binding.
The first way in the thwarting of Tradition takes a lead from the Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris consortio” by John Paul II, where he states that some divorced and remarried “are objectively certain in conscience that their previous marriage, irreparably destroyed, had never been valid” (no.84). Familiaris consortio specifies however, that the decision of the validity of the marriage cannot be left to the subjective evaluation of the person, but to ecclesiastical tribunals, instituted by the Church to defend the sacrament of marriage. Referring exactly to these tribunals, the Cardinal strikes the blow: “Since these are not divine laws, but have been developed historically, we wonder if at times the juridical path has to be the only way of resolving the problem or if other more pastoral and spiritual procedures would be possible. Alternatively, it could be considered that a bishop may entrust this task to a priest with spiritual and pastoral experience, a penitentiary or Episcopal vicar.”
This proposal is explosive. Ecclesiastical tribunals are the organs to which the exercise of the jurisdictional powers of the Church is entrusted. The three main tribunals are the Apostolic Penitentiary, which judges cases in the internal forum, the Roman Rota, which receives in appeal, sentences from any other ecclesiastical tribunal, and the Apostolic Signatura, which is the supreme judiciary organ, and is similar to the Court of Cassation in Italian tribunals. Benedict XIV in his famous Dei Miseratione, introduced into matrimonial judgments, the principal of a double and equitable, judiciary decision. This praxis guards the search for the truth, guarantees the outcome of a just trial, and demonstrates the importance which the Church attributes to the Sacrament of Marriage and its indissolubility. Kasper’s proposal places in cause the objective judgment of the ecclesiastical tribunal, which would be substituted by a ordinary priest no longer called on to safeguard the good of marriage, but to satisfy the needs of individual consciences.
Returning again to the address of January 24, 2014, to the officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, where Pope Francis affirms that ecclesiastic judiciary activity has a profound pastoral connotation, Kasper absorbs the judicial dimension into the pastoral one, affirming the need for a new “juridical and pastoral hermeneutic,” which sees, behind every case, the “human person.” He asks, “Is it really possible that good or evil in people in second and third instances, is decided only on the basis of acts, that is to say on paper, without knowing the person and the actual situation?”
These words are offensive to the ecclesiastic tribunals and to the Church itself, in which magisterial and governing acts are based on documents, declarations, juridical and doctrinal acts, all aimed at “salus animarum”. It is easy to imagine how the annulment of marriages would spread, introducing de facto Catholic divorce, if not by law, incurring devastating damage to the human good.
Cardinal Kasper seems to be aware of this, since he adds: “It would be wrong to look for a solution to the problem only in a generous widening of the procedures in the annulment of marriages.” It is necessary “to take into consideration also the most difficult question in the matrimonial situation, ratified and consummated between two baptized, where communion in matrimonial life has been irremediably broken and one or both of the spouses have contracted a second, civil marriage.” At this point Kasper cites a declaration from the [Congregation for the] Doctrine of the Faith in 1994, according to which divorced and remarried people cannot receive Sacramental communion, but can receive the spiritual one. This is a declaration in line with the Tradition of the Church. But the Cardinal leaps ahead, by asking this question: “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 reality there is no contradiction in the centuries old praxis of the Church. The divorced and remarried are not dispensed of their religious duties. As baptized Christians they are obliged to observe the commandments of God and the Church. Consequently, they have not only the right, but the duty to go to Mass, to observe the precepts of the Church and to bring their children up as Christians. They cannot receive Sacramental Communion because they are in mortal sin, but they can make a spiritual communion, because even if they find themselves in grave sin, they must pray to obtain the graces necessary to come out of sin. But the word sin does not enter into Cardinal Kasper’s vocabulary and never appears in his report to the Consistory. Why be surprised then, if, as Pope Francis himself said on the January 31 of this year that today “the sense of sin has been lost”?
The primitive Church, according to Cardinal Kasper, “gives us an indication that may serve as a way out” of what he defines as “the dilemma.” The Cardinal affirms that in the first centuries a praxis existed for some Christians, even if their first partner was still alive, they contracted a second relationship after a period of penitence. “Origen – he affirms – addresses this usage, defining it as “not unreasonable”. Also Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus – two Fathers of the Church still undivided! – make reference to such a practice. Augustine himself, otherwise rather severe in this matter, at least in one point seems not to have excluded any pastoral solution. These Fathers wanted, for pastoral reasons, so as “to avoid the worse”, to tolerate that which in itself is impossible to accept.”
It is a pity that the Cardinal does not give his patristic references, because the historical reality is completely different from what he describes. Father George H. Joyce, in his historical-doctrinal study on Christian Marriage (1948) showed that during the first five centuries of the Christian era, no decree by a Council, nor any declaration by a Father of the Church, which sustains the possibility of dissolving the matrimonial bond, can be found.
In the second century, when Justin, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, mention the evangelical prohibition of divorce, they do not give any indication of exceptions. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian are even more explicit. And Origen, even if he looks for some justification in the practices adopted by some bishops, specifies that this contradicts Scripture and the Tradition of the Church (Comment. in Matt., XIV c.23 in Patrologia Greca, vol.13, col.1245). Two of the first Councils in the Church, Elvira (306) and Arles (314) repeat it clearly. In every part of the world, the Church retained the dissolving of the marriage bond as impossible and divorce with the right to a second marriage was completely unknown.
Among the Fathers, the one who treated the question of indissolubility extensively was St. Augustine, in many of his works, from De diversis Quaestionibus (390) to De Coniugiis adulterinis (419). He confutes the ones who complain of the Church’s severity in matrimonial matters and is always unfailingly firm on the indissolubility of marriage, showing that, once contracted it cannot be broken for any reason or circumstance whatsoever. It is to him that we owe the famous distinction among the three goods of marriage: proles, fides et sacramentum [children, faith, and sacrament].
Equally false is the thesis of a dual position (the Latin and Oriental ones) with regard to divorce in the first centuries. It was only after Justinian that the Oriental Church started giving into Caesaropapism, by adapting to the Byzantine laws which tolerated divorce, while the Church of Rome affirmed the truth and independence of its doctrine faced with the civil authorities. As far as St. Basil is concerned, we would invite Cardinal Kasper to read his letters and find in them one passage which authorizes a second marriage explicitly. His thought is summed up by what he writes in Ethica: “It is not licit for a man to repudiate his wife and marry another woman. Neither is it permissible for a man to marry a woman who has been divorced from her husband.” The same can be said about the other author cited by the Cardinal, St. Gregory Nazianzus, who writes with clarity: “divorce is absolutely contrary to our laws, even if the laws of the Roman judge differently” (Epistola 144, in Patrologia Greca, vol. 37, col. 248).
The “canonical, penitential practice” that Cardinal Kasper proposes as a way out of the “dilemma” had the exact opposite significance in the first centuries to what he seems to attribute to it. It was not done to expiate the first marriage, but to repair the sin of the second one, contracted only under civil law, and obviously demanded repentance of this sin, and the abandonment of the pseudo-matrimonial condition.* The eleventh Council of Carthage (407), for example, issued a canon conceived thus: “We decree, according to evangelical and apostolic discipline, that the law does not permit neither a man divorced from his wife, nor a woman repudiated by her husband, to pass to another marriage; but that these persons must remain alone, or that they be mutually reconciled, and if they violate this law, they must do penitence.” (Hefele-Leclercq, Histoire des Conciles, vol. II (I), p. 158).
The Cardinal’s position is made paradoxical here. Instead of repenting from the situation of sin one is in, the remarried Christian should repent of their first marriage or at least of its failure, of which he perhaps is totally blameless. Moreover, once the legitimacy of second-marriage cohabitation is admitted, one cannot see why pre-matrimonial cohabitation, if it is stable and sincere, should not permitted. “Moral absolutes” are falling, which the encyclical of John Paul II Veritatis Splendor had with great force repeated.
But Cardinal Kasper continues serenely in his analysis.
“If a divorced and remarried – 1. Repents of the failure in his first marriage, 2. If he has clarified the obligations of his first marriage, if going back is definitely excluded, 3. If he cannot abandon without other offences to his commitments in the second civil marriage, 4. If however, he makes an effort to live in the second marriage to the best of his possibilities, starting from the faith and bringing his children up in the faith, 5. If he has the desire for the sacraments as the source of strength in his situation, must we or can we deny him, after a time of a new course (metanoia) the sacrament of penance and also Communion?”
Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has already replied to these questions (The Power of Grace, “L’Osservatore Romano”, October 23, 2013) by referring to Familiaris consortio, no. 84 which furnishes the precise indications of a pastoral character coherent with the dogmatic teaching of the Church on marriage:
“Together with the Synod, I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope. However, 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. ”
The position of the Church is unequivocal. Communion to remarried divorcees is denied because matrimony is indissoluble and none of the reasons adopted by Cardinal Kasper allows for the celebration of a new matrimony or the blessing of a pseudo-matrimonial union. The Church did not allow it to Henry VIII, losing [for this reason] the Kingdom of England, and will never allow it, because, as Pius XII recalled to the parish priests of Rome on March 16, 1946: “The matrimony between baptized, validly contracted and consumated, cannot be dissolved by any power on earth, not even by the Supreme Church Authority.”
That is, not even by the Pope, and even less so by cardinal Kasper.
[Roberto de Mattei, Il Foglio, March 1, 2014, supplement Vaticano Esclusivo, p. 4. *Sentence slightly modified by author after publication for greater clarity. Translation by Rorate‘s contributor Francesca Romana.]