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Cardinal Walter KasperCatholic Church of England and Wales / Flickr

December 14, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — “I hope that the next declaration opens the way for shared Eucharistic communion in special cases.” With these words, Cardinal Walter Kasper expressed his wish for ecumenical “progress” in the form of “intercommunion” in an interview with Italian newspaper Avvenire on December 10.

“Personally, I hope that we can use an unofficial text, prepared by a commission in the bishops’ conference of the United States, regarding this subject,” he explained.

On October 31, Pope Francis visited Lund, Sweden, a city in a country with a large Lutheran population, to commemorate the anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation. This anniversary – far from being a joyful observance considering the separation Luther created caused long-lasting wounds in the Church – was preceded by countless preparations, including a visit of a Luther statue in the Vatican and a climate of anticipation for intercommunion by the Pope himself.

Just about a month later, in the Avvenire interview, Cardinal Kasper has gone a step further, stating that, for him, intercommunion is just a matter of time. “On the one hand, Lund has confirmed the ecumenical process and the results of the proceeding dialogue; on the other hand, it has given it a new thrust.”

Kasper seeks to apply the principle for “remarried” divorcees to receive Communion under special circumstances to mixed marriages. That would be a rule of “exception,” or what can be called the Kasper proposal. Cardinal Kasper hopes for the admission of Lutherans to Catholic Communion, particularly in family settings. “The next declaration will open the Eucharistic sharing in particular situations, especially in mixed marriages and families and in countries like Germany and the United States where this pastoral problem is extremely pressing.”

A “mixed marriage” is a marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic, as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1633). While mixed marriages are permitted when approval by the bishop is given, the Catechism warns of the dangers that lie in a mixed understanding of cult and sacraments, because for Lutherans marriage is not indissoluble. “Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation of religious indifference can then arise” (1634).

The separation caused by Luther and the Thirty Years War that followed give Cardinal Kasper no cause for concern. Moreover, he said the Pope had to admit the Church’s fault: “The Pope did certainly not go to Lund to celebrate, but to confess the sin (shared) of division […]”

While head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kasper explained that communion is the ultimate “aim,” rather than a means, of ecumenism and that it can only be achieved after full visible communion of Lutherans with the Catholic Church. He hopes for Communion as a means to resolve the division, seeing in intercommunion the right way of advancement that is seemingly only halted by “rigid” forces in the Church.

“But we cannot expect miracles,” Cardinal Kasper said. “I hope that this year (2017 – 500 years after the Reformation) will serve to complete the way of reciprocal knowledge that encourages dialogue and brings forth the decision to walk together into the future. We can remember that the time, the mode, and the place in which full communion is reached is only in the hand of God.”

While Cardinal Kasper has a different understanding of Communion, the “Directory of the Application of principles and norms on Ecumenism,” published by the Vatican and in full continuity with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, explains that unity is understood only as being in connection with the Catholic Church.

“In fact, the fullness of the unity of the Church of Christ has been maintained within the Catholic Church while other Churches and ecclesial Communities, though not in full communion with the Catholic Church, retain in reality a certain communion with it” (No. 18). This communion is based on a common understanding of sacraments and on the nature of the Church itself. “Thus Eucharistic communion is inseparably linked to full ecclesial communion and its visible expression” (No. 129).

While the Church hopes that “unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time, in the present state of our relations with the ecclesial Communities of the Reformation of the 16th century, we have not yet reached agreement about the significance or sacramental nature or even of the administration of the sacrament of Confirmation” (No. 101), an indispensable prerequisite for a “full visible communion.”

The same documents reaffirm that Communion in a mixed marriage is only possible for the non-Catholic partner if faith in the sacraments and an understanding (albeit imperfect) of the nature of the Church is present. “Although the spouses in a mixed marriage share the sacraments of baptism and marriage, Eucharistic sharing can only be exceptional and in each case the norms stated above concerning the admission of a non-Catholic Christian to Eucharistic communion, as well as those concerning the participation of a Catholic in Eucharistic communion in another Church, must be observed” (No. 160).

See for further reading: On Admitting Other Christians to Eucharistic Communion in the Catholic Church (1972) and Instruction on Admitting Other Christians to Eucharistic Communion Under Certain Circumstances (1973).