Roberto de Mattei, an Italian historian, has written about Cardinal Walter Kasper’s Feb. 20 address to cardinals on marriage and the family, calling it a “resounding revolution of culture and praxis.”
The column, authored by the chair of the history department at the European University of Rome, appeared in Il Foglio March 1 immediately following the full text of Cardinal Kasper’s address; it was translated into English by Francesca Romana at Rorate Caeli March 2.
de Mattei characterized the cardinal’s address as an example of the slogan, “repeated for a year now,” that “doctrine does not change, the novelty regards only pastoral praxis.”
“On the one hand it pacifies those conservatives who measure everything in terms of doctrinal statements,” de Mattei wrote, “and on the other hand it encourages those progressives who attribute little value to doctrine and confide everything in the primacy of praxis.”
“Immediately after stating the need to remain faithful to Tradition, Cardinal Kasper advances two devastating proposals to avoid the perennial Magisterium of the Church in matters of the family and marriage,” de Mattei wrote.
The prefect emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity had delivered his address at the extraordinary consistory on the family, to some 150 cardinals, as well as Pope Francis.
The historian said that Cardinal Kasper began his address on those divorced and remarried reflecting on the “abyss” that exists between Church teaching and the convictions of many Christians.
“The Cardinal, however, neglects to formulate a negative judgment on these ‘convictions’ antithetic to the Christian Faith … in no part of his report it is said that the crisis of the family is the consequence of a programmed attack on the family, fruit of a concept from the secularist world which is opposed to it.
de Mattei faulted the cardinal for failing to “express even one word of condemnation on divorce and its disastrous consequences” in the section of his address which concerned the divorced and remarried.
“But hasn’t the moment arrived to declare that most of the crisis in the family goes back actually to the introduction of divorce and the facts demonstrate that the Church had been right in combating it?”
“In Kasper’s view,” according to de Mattei, the method to deal with the crisis of divorce is to “change the doctrine, without showing that it has been modified.”
The historian said this would be to open the doors to “the systematic violation, on the level of praxis, of that dogmatic tradition where the words affirm it legally binding.”
de Mattei criticizes Cardinal Kasper’s use of papal documents and addresses, magisterial documents, and the Church fathers, to support his proposals.
According to de Mattei, “the first way in the thwarting of Tradition” advances from the cardinal’s use of Bl. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation “Familiaris consortio.”
That document specifies, he said, that the judgement of a marriage’s validity is up to “ecclesiastical tribunals, instituted by the Church to defend the sacrament of marriage.”
Noting that Cardinal Kasper suggested alternatives to such tribunals – including the task being entrusted to a priest – de Mattei pointed out that the use of tribunals “guards the search for the truth, guarantees the outcome of a just trial, and demonstrates the importance which the Church attributes to the Sacrament of Marriage and its indissolubility.”
He said that “Kasper’s proposal calls into question the objective judgement of the ecclesiastical tribunal, which would be substituted by an ordinary priest no longer called on to safeguard the good of marriage, but to satisfy the needs of individual consciences.”
de Mattei called the cardinal’s words “offensive” to the tribunals which are based on documents and acts “all aimed at the ‘salvation of souls,” adding that “it is easy to imagine how the annulment of marriages would spread, introducing de facto Catholic divorce, if not by law, incurring devastating damage to good of human persons.”
The historian then discussed Cardinal Kasper’s suggestion that because those who are divorced and remarried can make an act of spiritual communion, they might also receive sacramental Communion, calling it a “leap ahead.”
“The centuries old praxis of the Church,” de Mattei noted, has “no contradiction.” Those who have remarried while their spouse is still alive “are in mortal sin, but they can make a spiritual communion, because even if they find themselves in grave sin, they must pray to obtain the graces necessary to come out of sin.”
He then turned to the cardinal’s use of the Church Fathers – in which he suggested that such leaders as Origen, St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and St. Augustine, supported a practice in which Christians could enter a second relationship, while their spouse was still alive, “after a period of penitence.”
“It is a pity that the Cardinal does not give his patristic references, because the historical reality is completely different from what he describes,” wrote the historian.
“Father George H. Joyce, in his historical-doctrinal study on Christian Marriage (1948) showed that during the first five centuries of the Christian era, no decree by a Council, nor any declaration by a Father of the Church, which sustains the possibility of dissolving the matrimonial bond, can be found.”
de Mattei added that Church fathers of the second century “do not give any indication of exceptions” to Christ’s prohibition of divorce, and that in the next century “Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian are even more explicit.”
“And Origen, even if he looks for some justification in the practices adopted by some bishops, specifies that this contradicts Scripture and the Tradition of the Church,” de Mattei wrote, citing the theologian’s commentary on Matthew.
“In every part of the world, the Church retained the dissolving of the marriage bond as impossible and divorce with the right to a second marriage was completely unknown.”
The historian also explained that Eastern Christianity did not begin “adapting to the Byzantine laws which tolerated divorce” until well into the sixth century.”
According to de Mattei, “the ‘canonical, penitential practice’ that Cardinal Kasper proposes as a way out of the ‘dilemma’ had the exact opposite significance in the first centuries to what he seems to attribute to it.”
He explained that “it was not done to expiate the first marriage, but to repair the sin of the second one, contracted only under civil law, and obviously demanded repentance of this sin, and the abandonment of the pseudo-matrimonial condition. The 11th Council of Carthage (407), for example, issued a canon conceived thus: ‘We decree, according to evangelical and apostolic discipline, that the law does not permit neither a man divorced from his wife, nor a woman repudiated by her husband, to pass to another marriage; but that these persons must remain alone, or that they be mutually reconciled, and if they violate this law, they must do penance.’”
According to de Mattei, “once the legitimacy of second-marriage cohabitation is admitted, one cannot see why pre-matrimonial cohabitation, if it is stable and sincere, should not permitted. ‘Moral absolutes’ are falling, which the encyclical of John Paul II ‘Veritatis Splendor’ had with great force repeated.”
The historian recounted Cardinal Kasper’s five conditions under which a person divorced and remarried might receive confession and Communion, and noted that the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, “has already replied to these questions by referring to ‘Familiaris consortio.’”
“The position of the Church is unequivocal,” said de Mattei. “Communion to remarried divorcees is denied because matrimony is indissoluble and none of the reasons adopted by Cardinal Kasper allows for the celebration of a new matrimony or the blessing of a pseudo-matrimonial union.”
“The Church did not allow it to Henry VIII, losing the Kingdom of England, and will never allow it, because, as Pius XII recalled to the parish priests of Rome March 16, 1946: ‘The matrimony between baptized, validly contracted and consummated, cannot be dissolved by any power on earth, not even by the Supreme Church Authority.’”
“That is,” de Mattei added, “not even by the Pope, and even less so by Cardinal Kasper.”