ROME, March 24, 2014 ( – One of Pope Francis’ council of eight cardinals has denied that the Church will ever change its teaching or practice on divorce and civil remarriage. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, told an American newspaper that any rumours that the Church will admit divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Holy Communion without changing their lifestyles are untrue.

The National Catholic Register quotes the Cardinal saying that although Francis has expressed his sympathy for Catholics in irregular marriage situations, “The Church will not change her teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.”

The comment was in response to open calls from both the German Catholic bishops and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to undertake a “period of penance” and then return to the sacraments without a change in lifestyle.


O’Malley, who has also been appointed by Pope Francis to the new Vatican office dealing with the sexual abuse of minors in the Church, said that this suggestion is not possible. “There will be an effort to help those people who have had a failed marriage and try to sift through ways [to consider what] can be done.”

“The Holy Father is anxious to discuss that, but I think it is premature to make any forecast for how it will play out,” he explained. O’Malley said that one solution could be a “simplification of the annulment process” that “would be a wonderful first step for addressing a very crucial pastoral problem for the Church.”

This weekend, Cardinal Kasper told a German newspaper, Rhein Zeitung, that he is beginning to see a need for “a serious discussion” on the issue, but that the final, decisive word will be the pope’s at the end of the upcoming Synod on the Family, to be held in Rome in October. Kasper said there is no intention “to approve an adaptation to the current situation, but to say that God is merciful to the man and makes possible a new opportunity.”

The debate, however, has been heated and public with Cardinal Raymond Burke, the prefect of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura, and Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the archbishop of Bologna, both issuing strong statements against the suggestion by Kasper made last month at the consistory of cardinals.

In an interview with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, Burke said this weekend that Kasper’s suggestion is impossible. “In my estimation as a canonist, I do not think it is possible” to readmit divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Communion without requiring them to repent and change their situation.

“I think [the suggestion] is creating a great deal of potential disillusionment,” in which it is being suggested that “somehow we can uphold the truth about marriage” but allow a person in an objectively adulterous liaison receive the Eucharist. The teaching, he said, comes from “the very words of Christ Himself in the Gospel.”

Some bishops are calling for the Synod, in the words of Bishop Terence Drainey of Middleborough in Britain, to undertake a “radical re-examination” of Catholic teaching on sexuality in general.

Two cardinals on Pope Francis’ “council of eight” – Cardinals Reinhard Marx and Oscar Maradiaga – have already suggested they favour a change in practice. Both have criticized the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who has strongly opposed any suggestion or plan to change the Church’s practice. Maradiaga gave an interview with a German newspaper telling Müller to “be a little flexible” on the issue.

In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt last week, Marx said Kasper’s proposal is “a possible way, but that should always be on a case by case basis.”

Müller has responded to Kasper’s plan, saying that it is not possible to “relativize mercy.” Without naming Kasper directly, Müller spoke at the Higher Institute of Religious Sciences of Capua on Thursday, saying he is not happy “when I hear the cardinals who go around talking about many things,” including favouring “giving Communion to divorced and remarried.”

“Mercy, which is the fullness of justice, cannot be relativized with the absence of justice,” Müller said.

Changing the teaching directly – or indirectly by altering the practice of the Church – “would mean betraying the will and the word of the Lord,” Müller said, adding, “Every time you put in doubt the doctrine of the Church is a betrayal of Christ.”