In recent interviews, German Cardinal Walter Kasper suggested that while Church doctrine cannot change, it can be adapted and interpreted in different ways, and language can be softened when it is deemed offensive.

If an individual divorces their spouse and enters a new civil marriage without an annulment, the second union is "not a sacramental one," Cardinal Kasper acknowledged.

"That's clear. It's not of the same level as the first one," he said in a video interview with Catholic News Service, released Oct. 2.

However, he continued, it is still "a new situation of marriage" in which a couple is living together and "There is love, there is commitment, there is exclusivity, it is forever."

He urged against using the language of adultery, generally drawn from the words of Jesus that one who divorces his wife and marriages another commits adultery.

Cardinal Kasper said that "to tell them that's adultery, permanent adultery, I think they would feel insulted and offended."

"Such a sexual relationship within a couple has also its positive values, it's not only its negative values," he said, rejecting the idea "that every sexual act is sinful" in such situations.

The most important thing, the cardinal said, is to accompany individuals where they are at, realizing that we are fallen beings and none of us loves God and neighbor fully as we are called to.

"I can encourage them to do according to their conscience when it is a very mature conscience," he added.

Cardinal Kasper has recently completed a series of media interviews leading up to the Synod on the Family, a global gathering of bishops in Rome Oct. 5-19.

While the synod is intended to cover a wide range of pastoral issues related to the family – including marriage preparation, single motherhood, and polygamy – the bulk of media hype has focused on divorce and remarriage since Cardinal Kasper gave a speech on the subject to a group of cardinals in Rome this February.

In that address, the cardinal suggested a change in the Church's practice. Church teaching holds that marriage is a permanent sacrament that does not come to an end if spouses obtain a civil divorce. An annulment process exists within the Church to examine whether the marriage was invalid in the first place. But without an annulment, individuals may not enter into a second marriage while the first marriage is still binding. Individuals who do so may not receive Communion.

In recent months, Cardinal Kasper has been a vocal advocate of changing this practice to what he views as a more pastoral approach based on an individual's conscience.

As part of a final media blitz before the synod, the cardinal also spoke with Vatican Radio in an interview released Oct. 1.

Noting the "gulf" between Church doctrine and the actions of many Catholics, he suggested that teachings on issues such as divorce and contraception be examined.

"(T)he Church will not and cannot change the teachings, the doctrine, but it's a question of the adaption of the doctrine," he said.

Asked specifically about the Church's teaching on the immorality of contraception, as stated in Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, Cardinal Kasper said that "we have to interpret what he said about contraception."

"I think what he said is true," the cardinal said of Pope Paul VI's teaching. However, he rejected the idea that any specific application of the teaching can be deducted.

Rather, he said, "it's an ideal and we have to tell people, but then we have also to respect the conscience of the couples."

Comparing the upcoming synod to the Second Vatican Council, he said the event will be "a listening gathering, listening to what the Spirit says to the Church."

"We have to be realistic, we have to stick to the Gospel, to the doctrine,…but then apply it to the concrete situation of people who are on the way," he said, also stating that "family life is today lived in a very different way, it's not just the ideal we have, but we have to take people as they are and listen to them."