ROME — Cardinal Walter Kasper, who unveiled a plan at last February’s consistory of cardinals to admit divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Communion without receiving sacramental absolution, is claiming again in the Italian press that he has Pope Francis’ backing. Kasper said the cardinals who are opposing his plan are, in fact, targeting the pope himself.
In interviews published over the last two days in Italy and Germany, Kasper has depicted himself as a victim of an “ideological” campaign.
“They claim to know on their own what truth is, but Catholic doctrine is not a closed system, but a living tradition that develops,” Kasper said yesterday in the Italian paper Il Matino. “Some of the next Synod want an ideological war. The doctrine of the Church is open, but they want a crystallized truth.”
Responding to the publication of a book of essays defending traditional teaching by five cardinals and other theologians, Kasper said, “The target of the controversy is not me, but the Pope.”
Asked whether he expects a “doctrinal war in the Synod” Kasper said, “I certainly don’t want it. They perhaps want it. I think of a pastoral Synod.” He added that the pope “also wants a pastoral synod.”
“I’m not naïve,” Kasper said. “I knew that there are other positions, but I didn't think that the debate would become, and now is shown to be also, without manners.”
“Not one of my fellow Cardinals ever spoke to me. I, instead, [spoke] twice with the Holy Father. I agreed upon everything with him. He was in agreement. What can a cardinal do, except be with Pope? I am not the target, the target is another one.”
Kasper again claimed that Pope Francis knew what he was going to propose and fully approved of his speech.
“They know that I have not done these things by myself,” he said. “I agreed with the Pope, I spoke twice with him. He showed himself content [with the proposal]. Now, they create this controversy. A Cardinal must be close to the Pope, by his side. The Cardinals are the Pope's cooperators.”
In another interview with the Tablet, a liberal Catholic magazine in the UK, Kasper said that he has the “impression” that Pope Francis is open to his idea. “I hope the bishops will listen to the voice of people who live as divorced and remarried – the sensus fidei. They should listen and then next year they should decide what is possible and what is not possible.”
Since his consistory keynote speech, there has been a steady stream of interviews and articles by some of the Church’s highest-ranking cardinals and bishops explaining repeatedly why any change to Catholic teaching is impossible. The Church teaches, in keeping with the words of Christ in the Gospels that marriage cannot be broken unless one spouse dies, and that therefore those who divorce and remarry are living in a state of mortal sin as adulterers. Only if they pledge to change their lives and receive absolution in the sacrament of confession can they be allowed to receive Holy Communion.
But Kasper’s plan does not include any attempt to directly change Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage or the nature of the sin of adultery. Kasper himself has also said that Catholic teaching is impossible to change, coming as it does directly from the words of Christ in the Gospel. He says he merely suggests that the Church could “tolerate” a “second marriage” of which it does not approve.
On the second day of the consistory, following Kasper’s speech, Pope Francis opened the proceedings by praising Kasper’s “deep” and “serene” thoughts in theology, and asking for unity among those cardinals present. “This is called doing theology while kneeling,” Francis said.
In an interview given in New York in May, Kasper, who is one of the hierarchy’s most prominent old-school “liberal” theologians, said that couples in what the Church calls “irregular unions” who live chastely “as brother and sister” are indeed exercising “heroic” virtue, but that such heroism is “not for the average Christian.”
At the same time, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, known as one of Europe’s more “progressive” Catholic prelates, has published a 22-page open letter to the Synod bishops, translated into several languages. Bishop Bonny has asked for the Synod to move beyond the restrictions placed on Catholics by the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae that confirmed the Church’s ban on birth control and restore the supreme place of individual “conscience” over Catholic doctrine.
Bishop Bonny called for the Synod bishops to close the “gap” between “the moral teachings of the Church and the moral insights of the faithful.” He asked the to Synod to “restore conscience to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church.”
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He dismissed Pope John Paul II’s document Familiaris Consortio, which upheld the traditional teaching on marriage and sexuality, saying that in it “the judgment of personal conscience on methods of family planning features rarely if at all.”
“Many believers, particularly those belonging to ecclesial organisations and ‘centre field’ Christians, were no longer able to agree with the dogmatic texts and moral statements coming from Rome,” Bishop Bonny wrote of the years following Humanae Vitae’s publication. Afterwards, a “succession of documents on sexual, family-related and bio-ethical issues, and with the highest doctrinal authority, was faced with increasing incomprehension and far reaching indifference.”
He complained that the doctrine of Humanae Vitae has since been “enforced with a firm hand,” which has created “exclusion and missed opportunities.”
“This discord cannot continue,” the bishop wrote. “The bond between the collegiality of the bishops and the primacy of the bishop of Rome that was manifest during the Second Vatican Council must be restored and without delay.”
“Whenever I speak with people,” he wrote, “I’m unable to repeat certain formulations from church doctrine without appearing unjustifiably judgmental, without hurting them deeply and without giving a mistaken idea of the church.”
“What do I expect from the forthcoming Synod? That it will restore conscience to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church in line with [Vatican II document] Gaudium et Spes.”
Vatican journalist Sandro Magister wrote today that the rhetoric continues to escalate in the final days before the opening of the Synod, which will make no final decisions and be followed by another meeting of bishops in October 2015.
Magister wrote that the Synod has come to “resemble Pope Francis in one thing,” explaining that “it admits no predictions on how it will develop, far less on how it will end.”
“This is the way the pope wanted it: open to free discussion even on the most divisive points, like for example whether or not to give communion to divorced Catholics who have remarried in a civil ceremony.”
Magister said that Francis started the speculation by allowing the Synod’s preparatory questionnaire to be distributed to the laity in parishes – “on all the questions concerning the family, from contraception to communion for the divorced, from de facto couples to marriage between homosexuals.” This, he said, was taken up by the German episcopate, “igniting expectations of liberalization in the discipline of the Church.”