Kasper family values

Kasper family values February 28, 2014

In a break with 1500 years of tradition a leading Vatican official announced that Catholics should now read the Bible. In an address to a gathering of prelates in Rome last week Cardinal Walter Kasper conceded Scripture might play a role in developing church doctrine. The confession came amidst internal debates over ending the automatic excommunication and damnation of divorced and remarried Catholics — a practice polling data found not to be relevant to most Catholics. The change, experts say, was an admission that the Catholic Church had been out of touch with modern thinking on sexuality — and most other important issues — for centuries.

No, this was not the lede of the Associated Press’ story entitled “Cardinals delve into divorce-remarriage debate”, but the AP did tack very close to the wind with this story on Cardinal Walter Kasper’s address to an extraordinary consistory for the family attended by approximately 150 members of the college of cardinals. The topic of Cardinal Kasper’s address , which was not released to the public, was on the church’s pastoral sacramental support for divorced and remarried Catholics.

The story comes close to hyperbole in its statements about the place of Scripture in the life of the Catholic Church, while also repeating the now rather tired bad Benedict / good Frances (or Walter Kasper) theme.

The tone of the lede sets the direction for the remainder of the story. The “liberal” Catholics are praised while “conservatives” are rubbished.

Cardinals from around the world delved head-on Thursday into one of the most vexing issues facing the church, how to find ways to provide better pastoral care for divorced and remarried Catholics who are forbidden from receiving Communion and other church sacraments. German Cardinal Walter Kasper, a pre-eminent theologian who has called for “openings and changes” in dealing with these Catholics, delivered a two-hour keynote speech to the two-day meeting, which is serving as preparation for an October summit of bishops on family issues.

What does pre-eminent mean? Eminent over whom? Is the point of comparison is the conservative Pope Benedict XVI — the one whose policies call for “openings and changes”?

And, is it correct to say that divorced and remarried Catholics are “forbidden from receiving Communion and other church sacraments?”  The AP doubles down on its assertion in the next paragraph.

Church teaching holds that unless the first marriage is annulled, or declared null and void by a church tribunal, Catholics who remarry cannot receive Communion or other sacraments because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, a problem that has left generations of Catholics feeling shunned from their church.

Again the tone is needlessly harsh. It is correct to say that divorced and remarried Catholics may participate in the worship service of the Eucharist, but not receive.

Other sanctions include being allowed to participate in communal celebrations of Reconciliation and, visit privately with a priest in Confession but not receive absolution. They may serve as an official witness at a Catholic marriage, but not as a catechist, teacher, Godparent or Confirmation sponsor.

However, they may celebrate the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick when in danger of death and have a Catholic funeral and be buried in a Catholic cemetery, have their children baptized and enrolled in Catholic school or religious education program participate in the public spiritual and social life of the parish, but not serve in public ministries or leadership positions. The ban is not universal as the AP suggests — but it is none the less strong.

The article then shifts into the bad Benedict / good Francis mode, adding Walter Kasper to the good team. It states:

Kasper frequently cited the Bible as a source of inspiration in a signal, almost Protestant in nature, that the answer to the problem lay in scripture. He told reporters that Francis had asked him to pose questions to the 150 cardinals to begin a debate on the issue.

This could have come from the Protestant anti-Catholic song book. Catholicism is not Biblical and Catholics are ignorant mackerel snapping left footers. Their teachings float free from Scripture. Which is of course all rather silly.

It is true Scripture plays a greater role in the life of the Protestant churches than the Catholic Church, but the AP’s almost Protestant jib is unfair and unprofessional as it does not explain the role of Scripture in the development of doctrine or in the liturgy of the church. While the Protestant churches have from the beginning encouraged its members to study Scripture and its scholars dominated the field of Scriptural interpretation for centuries that changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu. This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so. It is fair to say the Catholic Church has changed its attitude towards the study of Scripture over the last century, but the AP goes too far when it suggests that it now has discovered Scripture as a source for doctrine.

There was an opportunity here for the AP to tell a fascinating story about an issue close to the hearts of many Catholics. But it chose not to.

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Also, if “the answer to the problem lay in scripture,” why not give an example of Kasper referencing a scripture passage? The example that follows does not mention scripture at all as a “source of inspiration” or an “answer to the problem.”

  • David

    Can you clarify this sentence in your article: “This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so.” in reference to Divino Afflante Spiritu. Does this mean the Catholic Church didn’t allow lay Catholics to study scripture before 1943? I would think that is false, but wanted some clarification.

    • George Conger

      This line comes from Msg Daniel Kutys in an article published on the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. http://www.usccb.org/bible/understanding-the-bible/study-materials/articles/changes-in-catholic-attitudes-toward-bible-readings.cfm

      • David

        Interesting. Thanks for the additional info.

      • Julia B

        I went and read Msg. Kutys’ essay at your link. Methinks he sounds like he was born after Vatican II and believes all the horror stories about the old days. There are many people familiar with Scripture who don’t memorize it to the extent of being able to cite chapter and verse – which is what it sounds like he is talking about. It’s true that Catholics typically don’t get into “proof texting”, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t familiar with the Bible.

  • Julia B

    I have steam coming out of my ears. This reads like a Jack Chick cartoon.

    What’s with this break of 1,500 years and Catholics can now read the Bible? This is outright BS. Bibles were chained in churches b/c they had to be hand made and were incredibly expensive before Gutenberg’s printing press. BTW The famous Gutenberg bibles were Catholic Vulgates in Latin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutenberg_Bible And why 1,500 years? What happened 1,500 years ago that supposedly stopped Catholics from reading Scripture? Makes no sense.

    Most people were illiterate until after the printing press, but I have a beautiful book with color photos of Books of the Hours belonging to well-off literate people in use in England that were defaced after Henry VIII’s time. Where do people think Shakespeare got his knowledge of Scripture – he was educated mainly by a teacher who later went to the Continent to become a priest. The Shakespeare family was Catholic and his father lost almost everything paying fines for not attending the Anglican church.

    David: I also wonder about Catholics not being allowed to read and study the Bible until 1943. As I understand it, Divino Afflante Spiritu was mainly addressing the new methods of textual analysis, making it clear that it was perfectly OK to use modern literary analysis when studying Scripture. I was in grade school when I first learned that the Catholic Church believes that much of the Bible is allegorical, and there were different way of reading different parts of the Bible. The Catholic Mass is loaded with Scripture. Catholic Bibles are full of footnotes. Where does this calumny come from?

    • Rob B.

      “Where does this calumny come from?”

      Easy. The US is predominantly Protestant. I still have to correct students every year and say that yes, Catholics are Christians…

  • Julia B

    Just occurred to me – what is the source for that quotation at the begining of your post referencing the 1,500 year break?

    Also – I went to the linked Pius XII encyclical and, as I remembered, it is 99% about the exegesis of Scripture. It is mainly directed toward scholars and educated, interested lay people. Pius references writings by Popes in the 1800s recommending lay people read Scripture. It’s NOT reversing a prohibition on reading Scripture. Here’s the only part specifically about non-academics [very stilted & stiff translation]:

    9. Nor should We fail to mention here how earnestly these same Our Predecessors, when the opportunity occurred, recommended the study or preaching or in fine the pious reading and meditation on the Sacred Scriptures. Pius X most heartily commended the society of St. Jerome, which strives to promote among the faithful – and to facilitate with all its power – the truly praiseworthy custom of reading and meditating on the holy Gospels; he exhorted them to persevere in the enterprise they had begun, proclaiming it “a most useful undertaking, as well as most suited to the times,” seeing that it helps in no small way “to dissipate the idea that the Church is opposed to or in any way impedes the reading of the Scriptures in the vernacular.”[20] And Benedict XV, on the occasion of the fifteenth centenary of the death of St. Jerome, the greatest Doctor of the Sacred Scriptures, after having most solemnly inculcated the precepts and examples of the same Doctor, as well as the principles and rules laid down by Leo XIII and by himself, and having recommended other things highly opportune and never to be forgotten in this connection, exhorted “all the children of the Church, especially clerics, to reverence the Holy Scripture, to read it piously and meditate it constantly”

  • helen

    About a hundred years ago, I was told, an occasional Lutheran pastor would restrict his confirmation classes to the Bible passages he assigned. (Wasn’t there, so I can’t tell you how he enforced that.) It wasn’t thought of where I grew up.
    But that wasn’t the topic I’m interested in. I also thought that annulments were reserved for Kennedys and the like, until a Catholic here in Texas told me his annulment (in order to marry “in the church”) cost him $25.00. And he took communion at a Catholic funeral we both attended.
    Carry on. : )