Friday, September 19, 2014


Back in February, I was sitting in a Rome restaurant with a member of the College of Cardinals the day after retired Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany had delivered an impassioned appeal to fellow members of the church’s most exclusive club for relaxing the church’s ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion.

Kasper had been tapped to speak to the cardinals by Pope Francis in advance of an Oct. 5-19 Synod of Bishops on the family. Francis certainly knew what Kasper was likely to say, since back in 1993 he had been one of three German bishops who tried to loosen the Communion ban, only to be slapped down by Pope John Paul II’s Vatican.

I asked the cardinal what he made of Kasper’s speech. He put a pained expressed on his face, paused as if to measure to his words, and then delivered the following verdict.

“That guy,” he said, “is off his rocker.”

This cardinal’s opinion was that the teaching of Jesus on divorce – “What God has joined, let no one separate” – was as clear as anything in the Bible, and thus that Kasper was basically spitting in the doctrinal wind.

Our conversation was on background, but in recent days the anti-Kasper backlash has burst into full public view.
Five high-ranking cardinals have published a book pushing back against Kasper’s view that Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment — meaning a declaration from a church court that their first union was invalid — ought to be able to receive Communion and the other sacraments of the church under certain circumstances.

The opposition features Cardinal George Pell, an Australian who is Francis’ finance czar, and whose muscle under this pope was recently confirmed when he managed to get his protégé named his successor as the Archbishop of Sydney; Cardinal Gerhard Müller, a German who serves as the pope’s doctrinal czar; and American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a hero to Catholic traditionalists and cultural warriors everywhere.

On the other hand, Kasper also doesn’t lack for allies. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, coordinator of Francis’ council of cardinal advisors, is one, and Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, is another.
Ravasi recently used a Vatican news conference to say that even the earliest Christian communities recognized exceptions to the ban on divorce.

While the cross-fire among Princes of the Church certainly ratchets up the drama for next month’s Synod of Bishops, three observations suggest a dose of caution about how excited observers ought to be.
  • This is hardly the first time that cardinals have disagreed in public, despite the Vatican’s preference that this sort of indecorum be kept indoors. 
  • Back in 2001, Kasper himself engaged in a public exchange of views with a fellow German Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI, over which came first: the local church or the universal church. The debate was conducted mostly in the pages of the Jesuit-run America magazine.

    Kasper’s emphasis on the local church was understood as an argument for decentralization, while Ratzinger’s defense of the universal church was perceived as a case for a strong papacy.
    In 2010, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, called out Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s former secretary of state, for blocking a sex abuse investigation against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, the late Mexican Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado.

    In that case, Schönborn was brought to Rome for a kiss-and-make-up session with Sodano, though a Vatican statement issued at the time never actually said that Schönborn was wrong.
    In the United States, when the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago appealed for common ground among liberal and conservative Catholics in the early 1990s, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston famously replied that there already was common ground in the church in the form of the Catechism, the official compendium of Catholic doctrine.

    Law would later resign in disgrace amid sexual abuse scandals in Boston, but that didn’t stop many bishops from agreeing with his critique of Bernardin’s initiative.

    One could go back further back in time for other examples, but the point is that cardinals cross swords in public all the time.

    One has to remember that cardinals are the second most important officials in Catholicism after the pope, and like VIPs in any other bureaucracy, they’ve risen up the ladder by trusting their judgment and believing that they’re right most of the time. Put enough of these A-type personalities in a room, and disagreements are inevitable.

  • There will be no dramatic showdown on the synod floor when the protagonists in this debate face off against one another. 
  • Yes, Kasper will be in the synod, named to that role by special papal appointment, and Rodriguez Maradiaga will take part on behalf of the bishops of Honduras. Yes, Pell will be there too, by virtue of his Vatican office, as will Burke and Müller.

    However, each will make his own case without a House of Commons-style question time, and the informal rules of relationships among Catholic prelates dictates that you don’t try to eviscerate one another in public. They will embrace, laud one another for their wisdom and service, and otherwise seem like the greatest of friends.

    The exchange will be genteel and indirect, which won’t make the disagreement any less real, but it will require some decoding for outsiders to penetrate.

  • It’s important to remember that however amusing it may be to see top Catholic officials trading barbs, to some extent it’s all sound and fury signifying nothing, because a Synod of Bishops is merely an advisory body to the pope, who remains the supreme decision-maker
  • Frankly, cardinals can think whatever they want to about who should and shouldn’t be able to receive Communion. Under Catholic law, however, there’s only one person who has the authority to tweak those rules, and it’s the pope.

    Canon 331 of the Code of Canon Law, the body of law for the Catholic Church, states that the pope has “supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power,” which basically means that the buck stops on his desk for pretty much everything.

    As a result, the only meaningful question heading into next month’s Synod of Bishops isn’t what Walter Kasper or Gerhard Müller thinks, however fun it may be to watch them trade blows.

    The question is what Pope Francis thinks, and assuming he addresses the synod at some point, as other popes have done, perhaps we’ll get a hint of which way he’s inclined to go. Francis has already called another, larger synod for 2015, so no immediate decision is expected, but we may get a hint of which way he’s leaning.

    Assuming that happens, it will be real news. For now, cardinals jousting in public? Always fun to watch, but fundamentally … been there, done that.


Anonymous said...

The REAL problem here begs this question: Why would the pope of the Catholic Church be "irritated" at the publication of a book that defends the family?

Something is terribly wrong and it goes all the way to the top.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Francis finally realizes the destruction that he has wrought with his careless remarks and "Who am I to judge" slogan. He bit off a bit more than he could chew..Or he did not think he would have so much resistance to his master plan of "mercy"

Anonymous said...

Just the fact that Francis is opening up for discussion the idea that people living in mortal sin should be allowed reception of communion without prior sorrow, amendment of life and confession, is itself a scandal beyond belief.

Francis keeps saying the Church needs to be "merciful" to these people. I have to ask again what Church and what time period does Francis think we are living in?

#1 - 99% of today's "Catholics" do not know the difference between mortal and venial sin.

#2 - even if they did know the difference, they don't care because no one is going to tell them what they can and cannot do.

#3 - Who are we kidding. No modern "Catholic" gives a dam that the Church says divorced and "remarried Catholic" can't receive communion. They don't feel bad or hurt because no one is going to tell them what they can or can't do.

#4 - Nobody cares what the Church teaches anymore because the Church does not uphold Her own teachings and allows those teachings to be compromised or ignored. Example: Cardinal Bravo, he is in a position of power and sends a holy priests to a dangerous cesspool in South Africa for daring to speak the truth.

#5 - And for those just itching to mock my use of the # sign, grow up and use your mind and concentrate on what I have written. Be rational and use that reason to argue your position. Be a grown up. The Faith is important and deserves to be treated in an adult manner.

And remember speak truth fearlessly and undiplomatically is not being unmercifully or mean or negative. It's the truth.

And yes I am crying the "sky is falling" with regard to the Church, because it is falling. And yes this is for Pater Ignotus, you aren't clever, you are just a modernist who is unable to rationally lay out your position without denigrating Tradition and those who are faithful to it. That statement is not uncharitable but true. Yes it is direct and not politically correct. Put on your big boy pants and deal with it.

Anonymous said...

Anne Catherine Emmerich:

April 12, 1820: "I had another vision of the great tribulation. It seems to me that a concession was demanded from the clergy which could not be granted. I saw many older priests, especially one, who wept bitterly. A few younger ones were also weeping. But others, and the lukewarm among them, readily did what was demanded. It was as if people were splitting into two camps."

May 13, 1820: "I saw the relationship between the two Popes. I saw how baleful would be the consequences of this false church. I saw it increase in size; heretics of every kind came into the city (of Rome). The local clergy grew lukewarm, and I saw a great darkness. Then, the vision seemed to extend on every side. Whole Catholic communities were being oppressed, harassed, confined, and deprived of their freedom. I saw many churches close down, great miseries everywhere, wars and bloodshed. A wild and ignorant mob took to violent action. But it did not last long."

They are now demanding something from him. The Protestant doctrine and that of the schismatic Greeks are to spread everywhere. I now see that in this place (Rome) the (Catholic) Church is being so cleverly undermined, that there hardly remain a hundred or so priests who have not been deceived

Our Lady of Akita:
The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, and bishops against other bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their Confreres. The Church and altars will be vandalized. The Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

"Just the fact that Francis is opening up for discussion the idea that people living in mortal sin should be allowed reception of communion without prior sorrow, amendment of life and confession, is itself a scandal beyond belief."

Pope Francis is asking people to acknowledge they are sinners, all of us, gay, straight, divorced or not remarried without an annulment or not.

He is asking us to go to confession and His Holiness is promoting the Sacrament of Reconciliation in a way no modern pope has done and has gone himself publicly to an unsuspecting priest!

Cardinal Kasper's solution, while off the wall a bit, is still promoting a period of penance and reconciliation for those he is advocating to be allowed by to the Communion Rail.

But with that said in defense of both the pope and Cardinal Kasper, if the Church allows divorced and remarried Catholics (without an annulment) to receive Holy Communion, then no one should be barred including those in civil same sex marriages and any of us with mortal sins. We just acknowledge we are sinners but with no intention to change anything. This is a dangerous slope and this is what the other cardinals are warning the pope and the church in the only way they know they can.

Ultimately though, another pope will reign things in. It always happens this way historically.

I personally believe as so many high ranking cardinals have said and in the last week or so that what will be adjusted is the annulment procedure. I hope it will be too.

I am most concerned about Protestants who want to become CAtholic who find the annulment procedure a stumbling block to them. It seems to me that all Protesstants allow for divorce and remarriage in their churches.

For a marriage to be a sacrament even for two baptized Protestants, they must, must, I underscore, believe what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage. How can they when they are Protestants?

There should be an extremely streamlined annulment procedure for Protestants in irregular marriage situations who wish to become Catholic!

MR said...

It's good to know that at least some of the Cardinals know that Kasper is "off his rocker".

JusadBellum said...

What evidence do we have that a Cardinal Kasper's idea of mercy actually results in flocks of people coming back to Church, living more chaste and holy lives, and seeking the Lord more wholly?

For that matter, what evidence do we have that an aggressively progressive ecclesiology and pastoral praxis does anything but gut the Church and lose the next generation to atheism?

When 12% of all ordinands of 2012 went through a Franciscan University of Steubenville conference.... no hot bed of progressive 'catholic-lite' living... don't we have hard data that the Church grows from higher standards not lower ones?

Cameron said...

Why should there be preferential treatment for certain people for annulments? Shouldn't Protestant marriages--as putatively valid Christian, sacramental marriages--hold the same theoretical place in terms of the faith the Church has in them as marriages between two Catholics or between a Catholic and a non-Catholic Christian performed in witness of the Church?

If Protestants wanting to become Catholic get thrown down the express line, what does that say for our faith in the ability of non-Catholic Christians to marry validly?

The necessary logical deduction there is that Protestants marry validly less often than Catholics, and how can we know that?

Not to mention everyone's juicy-yet-still-fruitless favorite topic, EcUmEnIsM!

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

For a marriage. Any marriage to be sacramental the baptized couple has to accept the Catholic understanding of marriage. A Protestant couple is less likely to accept this compared to a well prepared Catholic couple. They would still need an annulment but the grounds could be expedited on the lack of Catholic understanding . Keep in mind their marriages are valid but not sacramental.

Cameron said...

How is a Protestant marriage nonsacramental?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Any marriage that ends in divorce and then placed on trial in an ecclesiastical court of law in the Church can be declared null and void as a sacrament if the couple at the time of the marriage did not have the Catholic understanding of marriage, primary in this regard is its permanence, life long commitment. There are other grounds to in terms of an incapacity to make a life long commitment, deception of some kind and no desire to be faithful to one's spouse.

I'm not calling into question the presumed sacramentality of a protestant marriage, I'm saying that for Protestants who wish to become Catholic and are in second marriages that their annulment procedure focus on the Catholic understanding of marriage and if they had it or not at the time they married their now divorced spouse.

Catholics who enter marriage in the Church should be held to a higher standard in the annulment procedure since they should know what the Church teaches about marriage when they get married in the Catholic Church.