In a recent interview with Commonweal, Cardinal Walter Kasper discussed his proposal that divorced and remarried persons might receive Communion, suggesting that Christians aren't called to be heroic.
“To live together as brother and sister? Of course I have high respect for those who are doing this,” he told Commonweal's Matthew Boudway and Grant Gallicho, referring to divorced partners who have entered into a new civil marriage.
“But it's a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian.”
A divorced and remarried couple living as brother and sister, he said in the article published May 7, “could also create new tensions … normally it’s also the sexual relations in such a communion, so I can’t say whether it’s ongoing adultery.”
The president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity came to the fore after a Feb. 20 address on marriage to a group of cardinals, controversial for its comments on remarriage and the reception of Communion.
According to La Stampa, Cardinal Camillo Ruini has reported that the vast majority of cardinals present at the consistory – about 85 percent – expressed opinions contrary to those laid out by Cardinal Kasper.
Cardinal Kasper's interview with Commonweal began with a discussion of mercy, which he juxtaposed with justice; he suggested that there be should be greater mercy within the Church regarding both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s “criticisms of some theologians” and “the question of Communion for divorced and remarried people.”
With respect to this question, he told Commonweal that a failed marriage is a shortcoming which “has to be confessed.”
“Penance is the most important thing,” he said, highlighting the importance of repentance and “a new orientation,” living the “new quasi-family or the new partnership” in a Christian way.
“My question – not a solution, but a question – is this: Is absolution not possible in this case? And if absolution, then also Holy Communion?
He asserted that “there are many themes, many arguments in our Catholic tradition that could allow this way forward.”
It was at this point that the cardinal stated that the average Christian is not meant for heroism.
Saying that for divorced and remarried persons to live and brother and sister is heroic, he added that “people must do what is possible in their situation.”
He noted the importance of finding a position “between rigorism and laxism,” citing St. Alphonsus Liguori, patron of moral theology, as an example of this. “We aren’t in bad company if we rely on him.”
Cardinal Kasper did not mention that St. Alphonsus Liguori flourished when the rigorist teachings of Jansenism were still en vogue in much of moral theology.
The cardinal responded to his critics – mentioning Cardinal Caffarra by name, though the Archbishop of Bologna has been joined by at least Cardinals Mueller, Brandmueller, Bagnasco, Sarah, Re, Ruini, and De Paolis – by professing that marriage is indissoluble and that when someone is divorced and enters a new union, “the bond of marriage remains.”
Yet he said that if a person repents of the failure of their marriage, “God provides a new chance -- not by cancelling the demands of justice: God does not justify the sin. But he justifies the sinner.”
“Many of my critics do not understand that distinction,” Cardinal Kasper claimed.
“I respect those who have a different position, but on the other hand, they must see what the concrete situation is today. How can we help the people who struggle in these situations?”
He acknowledged that in such situations, the “second marriage” is “not a marriage in our Christian sense,” adding that he would be “against celebrating it in church.”
Cardinal Kasper drew an analogy between such a second marriage, and other Churches and ecclesial communities, which have “elements of the true church” and yet lack its fullness.
“It’s not the best situation. It’s the best possible situation. Realistically, we should respect such situations, as we do with Protestants.”
The cardinal professed: “In no way do I deny the indissolubility of a sacramental marriage.”
“That would be stupid,” he said.
The Church “must enforce” marriage’s indissolubility, he stated, as well as “help people to understand it and to live it out.”
“But,” he added, “we must recognize that Christians can fail, and then we have to help them.”