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May 29, 2014
Cardinal Kasper, Continued
By Fr. Gerald Murray *

By Fr. Gerald Murray *

The effort by Cardinal Walter Kasper to change the Church’s discipline regarding the inadmissibility of divorced and remarried Catholics to Sacramental Communion – and thus necessarily her teaching on the nature of sin – continues apace. Having argued before an assembly of cardinals in Rome in February that the Church’s immemorial discipline of refusing to give Holy Communion to those living in an adulterous second marriage must be cast aside, Cardinal Kasper has taken to promoting this idea further in speeches and interviews.

In a May 7 interview with Commonweal, for example, he continued to develop his argument. At one point, Kasper is asked about the question posed by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, “What happens to the first marriage?” He answers: “The first marriage is indissoluble because marriage is not only a promise between the two partners; it’s God’s promise too, and what God does is done for all time. Therefore the bond of marriage remains. Of course, Christians who leave their first marriage have failed. That’s clear. The problem is when there is no way out of such a situation.”

A few observations: If the bond of marriage remains, then the obligation of fidelity to that bond remains. Whether the “failure” that led to the separation of the spouses can be attributed to one or both of them, the bond remains. Faithfulness to God and to the word given to one’s spouse requires that adultery be avoided, and even more, that a pseudo-marriage with another person not be entered into.

The failure of the marriage may or may not mean that a spouse has failed. God will forgive a spouse who admits being a cause of a separation, yet that forgiveness is predicated upon a resolve to either re-establish common life with one’s spouse, or if that is not possible at the present, to refrain from any sin against the unity and exclusivity of marriage.

Kasper’s claim that there are times when “there is no way out of such a situation” is simply not correct. Fidelity is always required in marriage, and is the only Christian way to deal with difficulty, and even tragedy, in married life.  Any other “way out” is a false way.

He states further: 

"The second marriage, of course, is not a marriage in our Christian sense. And I would be against celebrating it in church. But there are elements of a marriage. I would compare this to the way the Catholic Church views other churches. The Catholic Church is the true church of Christ, but there are other churches that have elements of the true church, and we recognize those elements. In a similar way, we can say, the true marriage is the sacramental marriage. And the second is not a marriage in the same sense, but there are elements of it – the partners take care of one another, they are exclusively bound to one another, there is an intention of permanence, they (sic) care of children, they lead a life of prayer, and so on. It’s not the best situation. It’s the best possible situation.

More observations: An adulterous union is never “the best possible situation” for anyone. The “elements of a marriage” praised by Kasper all come at the expense of the “marriage in our Christian sense.” They are essentially counterfeit, as they are ways of living and acting that are owed exclusively to one’s spouse, and cannot be simultaneously shared with anyone else. You cannot have two spouses at once. A civilly re-married Catholic is in no way “exclusively bound” to the new spouse, since he/she remains bound to his/her true spouse.

There can be no real “intention of permanence” because there is no marriage either requiring or permitting permanence, merely a substitute relationship that is carried on in contradiction to the existing permanent bond. Did not the spouse who is civilly remarried intend permanence when he/she made his/her marriage vows before the Church to the spouse he/she no longer cohabits with? That intention can be disregarded, but it cannot be withdrawn; it remains in force.

Later in the interview, Kasper adds: “In no way do I deny the indissolubility of a sacramental marriage. That would be stupid. We must enforce it, and help people to understand it and to live it out. That’s a task for the Church. But we must recognize that Christians can fail, and then we have to help them.”

Here we see that Cardinal Kasper’s proposal involves a clear departure from the teaching and practice of the Church: When a Catholic spouse no longer shares common life with the other spouse, the help that the Church offers is not the facilitation of adultery, but rather the call to fidelity accompanied by the graces offered through prayer, the worthy reception of the sacraments, and the bearing of one’s cross in union with Christ.

The idea that the Church should recognize a pseudo-marriage as an expression of God’s mercy is a contradiction of the Gospel. A married person may have failed to preserve the unity and common life of his marriage, or been the victim of the failure on the other spouse’s part. In either case, God’s mercy will not be found in the Church giving permission to commit adultery in good conscience.

This is why the only possible solutions for those who now regret having entered into an invalid second marriage are: 1) to apply for a declaration of nullity of their marriage if grounds for such exist; 2) to break off the adulterous union; 3) or if this is not possible for serious reasons, then to live as brother and sister and no longer engage in adulterous behavior.

Cardinal Kasper is correct in stating about the indissolubility of marriage, “We must enforce it, and help people to understand it and to live it out.” It is regrettable that he fails to see that his proposal does the exact opposite.


The column first appeared on the site The Catholic Thing (www.thecatholicthing.org). Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is pastor of Holy Family Church, New York, NY, and a canon lawyer.
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