Cardinal Kasper, Divorce, What is a traditional Catholic to believe?

The current topic of agitation within the Church is the controversy coming from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. There appears to be a group of Cardinals lead by Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, arguing for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist. This obviously goes beyond mere Church discipline, as careful thought about the nature of this teaching makes clear. The reason Catholics who are divorced and remarried can’t currently receive can be summarized as follows:

1) The Church would say a second “marriage” is impossible so long as the first spouse is alive. It is until “death to us part”. The Church would say the second marriage then constitutes adultery. (It should be obvious that in the case of the Church issuing “a declaration of nullity” there is no second marriage, since the first marriage never really existed in reality in spite of appearance.)

2) Adultery is a grave sin.

3) To receive in the state of mortal sin is itself a sin.

It is pretty hard to see a way to allow divorced Catholics to receive communion without denying one of the three statements above. One could argue for a simpler streamlined or altered annulment process, and still hold to the traditional teaching re marriage, but Cardinal Kasper has explicitly rejected this, and seems to favor the concept that the Church should reject the idea the a second marriage constitutes adultery. This rejection is made explicit in a recent interview with an Argentine publication called La Nacion, which is summarized here . Specifically he rejects the idea what he has in mind is some tinkering with the annulment process, as he puts it:


“There are situations in which annulments are possible. But take the case of a couple with ten years of marriage, with kids, which in the first years had a happy marriage, but for different reasons fails. This marriage was a reality and to say that it was canonically null makes no sense.”


What Cardinal Kasper wants is to essentially excuse the divorce in confession and then if the second marriage appears to be “Christian” recognize it. At least this seems to be the implications of a recent interview which can be read here .

It is difficult to see how to reconcile this line of thought with the teaching of the Catechism:


“Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ — “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery “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. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. 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” (CC 1650)


Not to mention the words of Christ in the Gospels as mentioned:
“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; cf. Mt 19:9).


Of note there is great division within the Synod since there has been a significant critique of his position lead by multiple Cardinals, among them the irreplaceable Cardinal Raymond Burke who is head of the Apostolic Signatura ( sort of the Catholic Church’s Supreme Court). He and 3 others have written a short book from Ignatius Press in response, available from Amazon at this location.
An interesting interview with Cardinal Burke can be viewed on You Tube .


Underlying this debate is the sense promoted by the Catholic left that Pope Francis is on the side of Cardinal Kasper. There are several potential explanations for this. They range from simply political desire to move the Church in the direction of leftward change by asserting such change is what the Pope intends, and therefore is inevitable and indeed proper, something going on from the beginning of this papacy and that we have discussed previously in one of our original posts, see “the Spirit of Pope Francis”
On the other hand the fact that Pope Francis does not personally dispel such notions and even makes some comments supporting them tends to give credence to the idea that some sort of change not consistent with the traditional understanding of marriage indissolubility is being at least considered. Specifically at the close of Cardinal Kasper’s introduction to the Synod Pope Francis stated:

“Yesterday, before going to sleep – although I did not do this to put myself to sleep – I read or rather re-read the work of Cardinal Kasper, and I would like to thank him because I found profound theology, and even serene thinking in theology. It is pleasant to read serene theology. And I also found what Saint Ignatius told us about, that ‘sensus Ecclesiae,” love for Mother Church. It did me good and an idea came to me – excuse me, Eminence, if I embarrass you – but the idea is that this is called ‘doing theology on one’s knees.’ Thank you. Thank you.”


So it is hard not to believe that Pope Francis is not somewhat sympathetic to Cardinal Kasper’s position.


So what to make of this mess? What can we say with certainty? I will make three points:


1) The Church will not reverse its teaching that divorce and remarriage are not permitted. We know this because the Church is infallible and has taught this for a very long time. Were the Church to accept the Kasper position as is, then it would amount to a reversal of teaching, and a statement that “we were wrong”. But if the Church is wrong about a teaching so clear and so connected to an obvious command of Christ, it is pretty hard to see how the Church would be a reliable teacher of anything. The Holy Spirit will not allow a complete collapse like this, even if Pope Francis has a mind to proclaim it.


2) On the other hand some sort of de facto legalistic recognition of divorce and remarriage might occur, in multiple ways. Such a change would have some basis in truth, and even validity for some Catholics, but it will be misapplied in such a manner as to flirt with heresy. This is the “Spirit of Vatican II” approach, and it’s what I both fear and to some extent expect. This can occur in a number of ways. One possibility we might imagine is the argument that in our current culture many, indeed most people entering into marriage do not understand it to be a permanent union and thus were never married. Since this affects so many people it is impractical to have them all go through a complex annulment process, so one merely needs to chat with a priest, admit and perhaps confess one had a faulty or (do we still say sinful?) conception of marriage, be forgiven and move on. This of course would have the practical effect of recognizing divorce in a de facto manner, and I believe would be a disaster. This is not to say that on a limited scale such a situation might not actually exist and may even be a valid reason to declare a marriage null in some cases. So in and of itself the idea that this applies to some folks is not necessarily wrong. The problem will be that this lack of true consent will be viewed as the norm, and divorced ( pardon the pun) from a traditional annulment process that would explore if this sort of thing really applied and is not just being used as an ad hoc excuse for an easy annulment that justifies a civil divorce and remarriage. I am not sure however if the Holy Spirit’s guarantee of infallibility protects against this sort of corruption.  The issue is that as a practical matter it should not be presumed most people have this faulty understanding, indeed one would think that most Catholics who go through Pre-Cana marriage prep should know what their vows mean. Still with this kind of error the Church would not be teaching something that is false regarding “faith and morals” but would be saying something false about the internal state of people entering into marriage. I can imagine the Holy Spirit looking at the current mess that is his Church and saying ok, for now have it your way… and letting us reap the whirlwind for a time.


So what are we to do? Most of us who are deeply troubled by this cannot immediately influence it, but we can do a couple of things to help indirectly:
1) Pray very hard for the Cardinals and Bishops on the side of tradition. Men like Cardinal Burke, they are facing a very difficult battle, fast for them, say a rosary for them. We do not know all of them but God does, and Our Lady does.


2) Pray for the Church in Africa. “What does Africa have to do with any of this?” you ask.  They are in reality the cavalry here. In fact recent comments by Cardinal Kasper indicate how concerned the liberals in the Church are about the African Church. Bishops from Africa were reportedly excluded from contributing to the summary document of the Synod. Cardinal Kasper made patronizing comments about the African Bishops which have been discussed in multiple blogs, such as by Elizabeth Scalia on her blog as well as by Fr. Z on his blog . The fact that Cardinal Kasper felt a need to site the orthodoxy of Africa as a problem is evidence to me of why they are in fact going to rescue the Church and probably the rest of the planet. Of note the Church is Africa is growing and the Church in the West is dying. So God’s vote looks pretty obvious to me. Mysteriously however sometimes those who are closest to God also seem to experience the most earthly suffering and there is no doubt Africa is in the midst of great suffering, from a terrifying Ebola epidemic to unrestrained Muslim fanatics perpetrating slaughter. They need our prayers, and the world will ultimately need their Catholicism. Pray for them.


3) Do not despair yourself. It is getting easy for those on the side of tradition to believe that the center will not hold. As fear and confusion increase it might be easy to fall prey to cults and heterodox movements that look “traditional” but in reality are just nuts. One thinks of all kinds of SSPX like movements and those further to the right. We need to believe that as confused as things might get, God will not let the Church under the Pope (even a Pope who holds heterodox views if it be possible) to go completely off the rails. The Church has lived through all kinds of major crisis, from Arianism, through the Avignon papacy, through the Reformation and the French Revolution and so forth. It always finds a way to survive. Remember Christ’s promise that the gates of hell will not prevail.


In the meantime say the Rosary!


3 comments for “Cardinal Kasper, Divorce, What is a traditional Catholic to believe?

  1. October 18, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    Re: (3) “… (even a Pope who holds heterodox views if it be possible) …”

    It is possible both that a Pope holds heterodox views and that such a Pope preaches them because it has happened before. Least disputed is the case of John XXII (1316-1334), who, as even the Catholic Encyclopaedia admits:

    “Before his elevation to the Holy See, he had written a work on this question, in which he stated that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment. After becoming pope, he advanced the same teaching in his sermons.” (Kirsch, Johann Peter. “Pope John XXII.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. @

    John XXII did backtrack, admitting his pronouncements were not definitive, and ultimately recanted near his death. But this error was not corrected until his successor, Benedict XII, issued the dogmatic bull Benedictus Deus (1336). An English translation can be found here: The original Latin can be found in Denzinger 1000/530 here:

    More disputed are the cases of Pope Honorius, who was ostensibly condemned by the Sixth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople III), which was ratified by Pope Leo II, and of Pope Liberius, who may have signed formulae of varying degrees of Arianism, albeit under duress.

    In all this, it is important to attend to the precise wording of the First Vatican Council concerning papal infallibility, which requires the Pope to speak ex cathedra (as enumerated by that council) in order to invoke that infallibility. (First Vatican Council, Sess. IV, Ch. 4; available in English @

    Otherwise (i.e. when not speaking ex cathedra), what the Pope says only has a claim to the ordinary and universal magisterium such that what the Pope says is infallible only if it agrees with what the Church has always taught. That is, if a Pope says something contrary to what the Church has always taught (e.g. John XXII on ‘deferred beatific vision’), then, regarding that speech, that Pope simply does not enjoy infallibility.

    In short, it would be impossible for a Pope to declare ex cathedra something contrary to what the Church has always taught. But it would not be impossible for a Pope to declare publicly something contrary to the faith, even, God forbid, in an official document as long as that document does is not pronounced ex cathedra.

    Especially in this age of confusion, it is important for Catholics to know the limits of papal infallibility (and, further, also of authority, though that is another topic), lest their faith be needlessly threatened by the scandal of this or that papal pronouncement, whether past or present.

  2. Michael DePietro
    October 18, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    Thanks for your comments, I agree their are limits to papal infallibility and not every comment made by the Pope enjoys the same level of protection by the Holy Spirit from error.

  3. Matt
    October 20, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    Great post, thank you.

Leave a Reply