Kasper’s Apprently Intentional Ambiguities

Kasper’s Apprently Intentional Ambiguities October 2, 2014

In his writings and talk on marriage, Cardinal Walter Kasper remains ambiguous but, or rather therefore, untrustworthy. He writes like a man trying to pull a fast one. Steven J. Kovacs notes in a New Oxford Review review of Kasper’s book The Gospel of the Family (the emphasis is mine):

Cardinal Kasper correctly notes that someone in such a situation requires the sacrament of penance before receiving Holy Communion. Our Lord Himself said, “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). The Church has always recognized adultery to be a mortal sin, and persons in such a state are not properly disposed to receiving Christ in the Eucharist and would increase their guilt were they to do so (cf. 1 Cor. 11:27-29). In arguing his proposal, Kasper repeatedly emphasizes that the Church must show Christ’s mercy and forgive the divorced and remarried, and he states, “If forgiveness is possible for the murderer, then it is also possible for the adulterer.”

But really, who in the Church today is arguing that adultery is an unforgivable sin? The real issue here is not that the Church needs to be more willing to forgive the repentant sinner but that the sinner needs to repent! When Christ forgave the woman caught in adultery, He said, “Do not sin again” (Jn. 8:11), yet Cardinal Kasper says that the Church should administer Holy Communion to divorced-and-remarried persons while they continue to live in a state of sin, contrary to authentic repentance.

The divorced and remarried Catholic who wants to receive communion properly is in a horrible situation, and the  Church’s pastors (the pope, say) understand this.

The Church understands that it is possible that a Catholic may find himself in a place where a second civil marriage has been contracted and regrets about the first marriage are now present along with good intentions going forward. But the Church cannot pass judgment on the subjective state of individual souls; God alone can do this. Therefore, when a person expresses a desire for the Eucharist yet remains in an objectively and manifestly sinful situation, such as the divorced and civilly remarried do, the Church is obliged in charity to withhold the sacrament (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2384; Code of Canon Law, can. 915).

For true repentance to be shown, and thus absolution and reception of Communion possible, the parties in question must separate. If extraordinary circumstances prevent a complete separation, then at the very least all sexual relations must cease (cf. Catechism, no. 1650), and then Holy Communion may be received only if there is no danger of public scandal.

Although repentance by and forgiveness of the divorced and remarried are central to his proposal and are discussed at length, Cardinal Kasper makes no mention of these essential requirements. The closest he comes is when he says, ambiguously, that a “period of reorientation” would be needed, but since he clearly accepts that the individual remains in the second civil marriage, he most likely has something else in mind.

A man as learned as Cardinal Kasper knows the rules. As Kovacs notes, he surely knows that no one claims that marital failures can’t be forgiven — that he has set up a straw man — and he surely knows that forgiveness requires the penitent actually to repent, and he surely knows what repentance means in this case. If he wants to challenge the teaching, as his evasive rhetorical techniques suggest, he should do so straightforwardly. The reader should not have to guess, from a close parsing of his words, that he most likely has something else in mind.

My thanks to William Tighe for the link and the selection of the quote.


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