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Cardinal George PellJohn-Henry Westen /

Australian Cardinal George Pell said the removal of the ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Holy Communion “would be disastrous,” at a press conference held just as Pope Francis’ heralded Synod on the Family begins.

Pell, the former archbishop of Sydney who was appointed this year as prefect of the secretariat on the economy, a kind of Vatican finance minister, is one of at least eight cardinals who openly oppose German Cardinal Walter Kasper’s push to admit civilly remarried Catholics to Communion.

The news conference was held to launch a book Pell wrote the foreword for, revealingly titled The Gospel of the Family: Going Beyond Cardinal Kasper's Proposal in the Debate on Marriage, Civil Re-Marriage and Communion.

In his foreword and at the news conference, he continued to deplore the thrust of Cardinal Kasper’s keynote address to February’s consistory of cardinals that served as a  “warmup” to the Oct. 5-19 Extraordinary Synod on the Family.

In the book Pell notes that the number of faithful Catholics in Kasper’s church is tiny and the number of divorced and remarried faithful Catholics who want Communion even tinier. The issue is being used, he warned, by enemies of the Church to divide and destroy it.

At the news conference Pell called the admission of remarried Catholics to Communion a “radical change in discipline,” whose long-term consequences “would, I suspect, be disastrous for marriage and for children.”

Pell also responded to two of Kasper’s key points, that mercy should trump judgmentalism on the issue and that an attack on Kasper’s position was an attack on Pope Francis.

“Pope Francis is like myself,” Pell told reporters. “We’re Catholics and we start from the teachings of Christ and follow the teachings of Christ. Sometimes these teachings appear severe. All of them are based on love and fidelity. All of them are based on mercy.”

Pell’s comments support a chorus of cautionary voices urging the Synod to continue to support marriage and discourage divorce, including five cardinals who co-authored a different book, and a long list of American Catholic and Protestant lay and clerical leaders and academics who signed an open letter to that effect, including Protestant best-selling author and pastor Rick Warren.