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Cardinal Kasper and Pope Francis talkingRorate Caeli

March 6, 2018 ( – Cardinal Walter Kasper, the chief proponent of Pope Francis’ doctrine that Holy Communion should be given to divorced and “remarried” couples living in a state of adultery, is complaining about the increasingly common use of the word “heresy” to describe the novel teaching.

The word “heresy” has been used by a large number of Catholic scholars, and even some cardinals, to describe the doctrine advanced in the Pope’s 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, which appears to teach that certain motives can diminish or eliminate the sinfulness of adultery, allowing some adulterers to receive Holy Communion.

“There is a very bitter debate [about the Pope’s teaching], way too strong, with accusations of heresy,” said Kasper in a recent interview with Vatican News, the Holy See’s official news service. 

“A heresy is a tenacious disagreement with formal dogma. The doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage has not been called into question on Pope Francis’ part!” added Kasper.

Kasper implied that the Pope’s critics haven’t attempted to understand his true meaning.

“Before saying that something is heresy, the question should be what the other person means by what has been said,” said Kasper. “And, above all, that the other person is Catholic should be presupposed, the opposite should not be supposed!”

The interview was given on the occasion of the publication of Kasper’s new book defending and interpreting Amoris laetitia, titled “Amoris laetitia’s Message. A brotherly discussion.” He was joined in his presentation of the book in Rome by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the embattled President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who has also defended Francis’ initiatives.

Amoris laetitia is clear, doesn’t contradict Catholic dogma, claims Kasper

Kasper told Vatican News that Amoris laetitia’s meaning is clear, and doesn’t contradict Catholic doctrine, a claim that contradicts objections made by a large number of orthodox Catholic commentators. He also claimed that the “People of God” were very “content” with the teaching. 

Vatican News noted that Kasper claims in his new book that “Amoris laetitia does not contain any new doctrine, but is a creative renewal of traditional teaching,” and asked him to explain his claim. 

Kasper responded with a metaphor, claiming that “tradition is not a stagnant lake, but is like a spring, or a river: it is something alive,” adding that “the Church is a living organism and thus it always needs to validly translation the Catholic tradition into present situations.”

“This document’s language is so clear that any Christian can understand it. It is not high theology incomprehensible to people,” Kasper said. “The People of God are very content, and happy with this document because it gives space to freedom, but it also interprets the substance of the Christian message in an understandable language. So, the People of God understand! The Pope has an optimal connection with the People of God.”

The exhortation, however, has received divergent and often contradictory interpretations from various bishops around the world, some of whom allow “remarried” Catholics to receive Communion, and some who don’t. 

Pope silent in the face of criticism

Since the publication of Amoris laetitia by Pope Francis, numerous attempts have been made to receive clarification from the pontiff on aspects of the document that seem to contradict previous papal teaching and even defined Catholic dogma. However, the Pope has not responded to such initiatives. 

Hundreds of theologians and other scholars have signed a document known as the “Filial Correction” of Pope Francis, which compares the doctrines in Amoris laetitia with the teachings in Sacred Scripture and in dogmatic definitions of ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church. They note that the Pope’s teaching appears to contradict Catholic dogma, which must be given the assent of faith by all Catholics. The Filial Correction was delivered to Pope Francis, who never gave a response. 

Four Cardinals have also approached the Pope seeking answers to five “dubia” or doubts raised by Amoris laetitia in comparison to previous magisterial teaching, particularly that of Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis spendor. The dubia have been widely commented on and discussed, but the Pope has given no response to the cardinals’ request for clarification.

One of the four “dubia cardinals,” Walter Brandmuller has said the way in which the teaching contained in Amoris laetitia has been interpreted is “heresy” on at least two different occasions.  

A total of ten Catholic bishops and one cardinal have signed a declaration decrying the pastoral practices arising from Amoris laetitia as “alien” to the Catholic faith. 

In January, after failing to respond to numerous respectful queries about the interpretation of Amoris laetitia, the Pope claimed that he is open to dialogue with those who disagree with him, while expressing concern about those who accuse him of heresy. He also associated those who “resist” his teachings with the devil, and said he avoids reading their websites to protect his “mental health.”

“When I perceive resistance, I seek dialogue whenever it is possible; but some resistance comes from people who believe they possess the true doctrine and accuse you of being a heretic,” said Francis to a group of Jesuits on January 16 in Santiago, Chile, adding “When I cannot see spiritual goodness in what these people say or write, I simply pray for them.”

“For the sake of mental health I do not read the websites of this so-called ‘resistance’ [to my teachings,” Francis said. “I know who they are, I am familiar with the groups, but I do not read them, simply for my mental health. If there is something very serious, they inform me so that I know about it,” he added.

Francis called resistance against his teachings “a good sign,” adding, “It is a sign that we are on the right road, this is the road. Otherwise the devil would not bother to resist.”

The repeated accusation of heresy has been prompted by passages in Amoris laetitia that appear to endorse the notion that it may not be “feasible” or even desirable to avoid adultery in invalid second marriages, because failing to have sexual relations might harm the parents relationship with the children, or could cause the couple to fall into worse sins. The Pope seemed to endorse such interpretations when he officially approved guidelines on the implementation of Amoris laetitia that offer similar reasoning. 

The claim that one may commit a sin to avoid another evil, and the claim that one may be unable to avoid sinning in some circumstances, are rejected by the Catholic faith. 

The Council of Trent excludes from the Church anyone who claims obedience to moral doctrine is impossible for a person who is in the state of supernatural grace, which the Church gives through the sacraments, stating, “If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.”

The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans states in chapter three that those who claim that evil may be done to achieve a good are “damned” (condemned): “And not rather (as we are slandered, and as some affirm that we say) let us do evil, that there may come good? whose damnation is just.”