He added that Amoris laetitia can be understood only "if the paradigm shift that this exhortation undertakes is comprehended."
"A paradigm shift does not change the previous teaching; it moves the teaching nonetheless into a larger context. So Amoris laetitia does not change an iota in the Church's teaching, and yet it still changes everything. The paradigm shift entails Amoris laetitia taking the step from a legal morality towards the virtue ethics of Thomas Aquinas. Hence the exhortation stands in the best tradition. The new is, in reality, the proven old."
The cardinal cited Aquinas as a support for his understanding of the exhortation, and hearkened back to his February 2014 address to the consistory of cardinals in which he suggested that a "smaller segment" of the divorced-and-remarried might be admitted to Communion. He emphasized the virtue of prudence and concluded that "the norm is not applied in the same mechanical manner to every situation. For its appropriate application, it needs the visual judgement of prudence and the eye of love and mercy."
Prudence, Cardinal Kasper wrote, "does not rescind the words of the Gospel on adultery but applies them. So the statement of John Paul II is also irrevocably valid, according to which a civil marriage during the continuity of the first valid sacramental marriage stands in objective contradiction to the indissoluble sacramental bond of the first marriage. That is immovable Catholic tradition, which is not contradicted in Amoris laetitia, but affirmed."
As a consequence, he acknowledged that "a civil marriage during the continuity of the first sacramental marriage cannot be a sacramental marriage."
He also traced different ways that the tradition has regarded the divorced-and-remarried, saying that Benedict XVI "adhered to the decision of John Paul II to not allow divorced-and-remarried persons to Communion; he did this while he spoke of an encouragement of civilly divorced-and-remarried persons to an abstinent life. With this, he focused on a process of maturity and spiritual growth."
"In this dynamic way of thinking, Pope Francis now goes a step further, in which he places the problem in the process of a comprehensive pastoral care of gradual integration."
According to Cardinal Kasper, St. John Paul II "had already opened the door a little bit" by allowing the divorced-and-remarried to receive absolution if they take on the duty to live in complete continence.
"This clause is basically an admission," the cardinal wrote. "For the abstinence belongs to the realm of intimacy and it does not rescind the objective contradiction between the continuous marital bond of the first sacramental marriage and the legal public marriage … It shows that there is leeway in the concrete elaboration of the dogmatic principles' practical pastoral consequences."
For Cardinal Kasper, Amoris laetitia gets to the root of this leeway by its use of Aquinas' "distinction between the objective deadly sins and their subjective culpable apportionment," with Pope Francis choosing to emphasize the subjective aspect of sin and the role of conscience.
He noted that the exhortation does not draw "any clear practical consequences," but it does adopt premises by which "a changed pastoral practice is allowed in justified individual cases."
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"It leaves open the concrete question of admittance to absolution and Communion," Cardinal Kasper wrote.
"On this question, the Pope has followed the way of the preserved tradition of the teaching to not force contentious questions but to leave it open for the unity of the Church. That does not mean, as some think, that the teaching office is abolished; leaving a question open is itself a momentous decision of the teaching office."
He said that "The direction in which Pope Francis wants to go seems clear," while adding that it is much more important that step-by-step integration of the divorced-and-remarried be "oriented according to its essence towards admittance to the Eucharist as a full form of participation in the life of the Church."
This interpretation "agrees with valid canon law without any difficulties," according to Cardinal Kasper.
"With what right may the Church deny Christians the help of a means of grace that they, moved by grace, strive with their best powers towards a Christian life through prayer, the Christian raising of children, service to the parish, and charitable and social dedication?" he asked.
"Can it be that the Spirit of God proves to be presently effective, but the Church – like Pilate – washes her hands in innocence and is sorry to not be able to do anything? Does it not also pertain to the Church in certain situations to be merciful like our Father?"