ROME, December 20, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Despite a recent strongly worded clarification from Rome, confusion is continuing to be stirred up over the Catholic Church’s practice of refusing Communion to those who are divorced and remarried. A prominent curial cardinal, and favourite of Pope Francis, has defied the Vatican’s doctrinal office, saying that he expects a change.
Cardinal Walter Kasper has said bluntly, and in direct opposition to the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), that the rules will shortly be changed to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to be admitted to Holy Communion.
In an interview with the German language paper Die Zeit, which was later picked up by Vatican Radio, Cardinal Kasper (who is himself a member of the CDF) said, “Christians who want to live by faith with the Church, who acknowledge that they have made mistakes by the breaking of the first marriage, which they also regret - for them it should be a way back fully to participate in Christian and ecclesial life.”
“What is possible with God, namely, forgiveness, should help to achieve this even in the Church,” he said.
In November, during a talk at the University of Munster, Kasper followed up on the theme, saying, “Turning someone away from the communion rail – one doesn’t do that.”
The Church, basing its teaching on Christ’s words in the Gospel of Luke, does not recognize the existence of divorce. Persons who have divorced civilly and remarried, therefore, are considered to be objectively in a state of grave or “mortal” sin as adulterers, and therefore precluded from receiving Communion.
The controversy was rekindled in October this year when the Archdiocese of Freiburg released a document laying out plans to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion if they promised to enter “a new moral responsibility” with their new spouse.
In response, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the CDF, published an article in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano saying that the practice of withholding Communion from those in a state of mortal sin would remain in place. This was followed by a letter to the German bishops ordering them to revisit their draft document.
The German bishops responded to this with more defiance, with Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Stuttgart saying in November they had voted to adopt the guidelines and expected them to be approved at their next plenary meeting in March 2014.
While Müller’s article, and a strongly worded letter to the German bishops, made it clear that such persons were objectively in a state of mortal sin that precludes them from receiving Communion, Kasper said the change in practice is imminent. The teaching, Muller said, is explicitly laid out in the Gospels when Christ said that divorce was only allowed to in the Mosaic Law out of the “hardness” of their hearts.
The issue has been a high priority for the German Catholic bishops for whom much of the Church’s funding comes from the Church Tax, in which citizens identify themselves as affiliated with a particular church and the government pays a portion of their income tax to support it. The Catholic Church’s refusal to budge on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics has cut into Catholic revenues as thousands of Catholics in “irregular” situations have switched their affiliation on tax forms.
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In 2012, the German bishops’ conference issued a statement that Catholics who did not pay the Church Tax would be refused the sacraments. German citizens are required to give an affiliation on their tax forms, and the bishops declared that changing the affiliation to one of the Protestant Churches is tantamount to a declaration of apostasy. In 2011, the Catholic Church in Germany received 5 billion euros (approximately $6.84 billion U.S.) from the government.
The bishops have repeatedly complained of the loss of membership and blame the Church’s refusal to change teachings such as that on divorce, the reservation of priestly ordination to men and clerical celibacy. The German media, however, has pointed to the clerical sex abuse scandals as a major motivator for the refusal of Catholics to continue paying the tax levy. In 2011, 126,488 Catholics asked to be removed from registers.
Kasper, long a theological opponent of the former Cardinal Ratzinger, has espoused a change in the practice for years. In 2005, Cardinal Kasper refused to accept the decision of a synod of bishops on the question, saying “It is a question that exists, and we have to reflect on it in order to be able to respond…Every bishop in every Western country recognizes that this is a grave problem.” Of the Synod’s conclusion that the practice of withholding Communion could not be changed, Kasper said it “is not the final result.”
In 1993, as Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Kasper released a pastoral letter along with Karl Lehman, then-Bishop of Mainz that allowed divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion after “serious examination” of their conscience.