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ROME, March 24, 2014 ( – The backlash continues among Catholic thinkers against a Vatican cardinal’s proposal to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion after a “period of penance” without altering their lifestyles.

A columnist, a philosophy professor and a cardinal archbishop add more fuel to the fight against the recommendation by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Author and columnist Francesco Agnoli, in a lengthy editorial in the Catholic newspaper Il Foglio, calls Kasper’s proposal, given to the consistory of cardinals on February 20, “incomprehensible” and a clear attack on the precepts of scripture.


“Do you really believe, Cardinal, that a proposal to undermine marriage, in the West where everything is already falling apart, may serve to make anyone happy?” Agnoli asked Kasper.

“Do you really think that those who have broken communion with the man or woman in their life (and the children who are born), can regain full communion with God if only a priest gives him the Eucharist?”

“Can you really think that we can save the sick of this large ‘field hospital’ that is the sick West … only by saying that the patient is comfortable? That loyalty is no longer an absolute value?”

Critics have said that the proposal would create a kind of ecclesiastical equivalent to “civil unions” in which a second marriage could be “tolerated” but not sacramentally validated.

The Church bases its teaching on the words of Christ in the Gospels who said in Matthew, 19:8, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

But Kasper, who many consider the leader of the “liberal” wing of the Church’s episcopate, said, “The question is therefore how the Church can reflect this indivisible pairing of the fidelity and mercy of God in its pastoral action.” It is this “mercy,” Cardinal Kasper said, that compels the creation of a “new paradigm” for “pastoral practice.”

“After the shipwreck of sin, the shipwrecked person should not have a second boat at his or her disposal, but rather a life raft,” he said.  

Agnoli has become the latest in a string of outraged responses to this proposal from those Catholics who say that this would make instead a shipwreck of the Church and force priests to act against their conscience and Catholic teaching by knowingly desecrating the Eucharist. Agnoli said Kasper’s proposal comes not from Catholic sources but from Protestant theology. 

Professor Danilo Castellano, a political philosopher at the University of Udine, told Il Foglio that Kasper’s suggestion is simply contrary to the Church’s understanding of God’s forgiveness. For “the so-called divorced and ‘remarried’ to invoke and obtain mercy,” Castellano wrote, “they must acknowledge their guilt (as David did) and ask for forgiveness. The sine qua non of this is the abandonment of the state of sin. In fact, God gives not only ‘a second chance,’ but an infinite number of possibilities of forgiveness. He could not forgive, however, those who intend to remain stubbornly in sin.”

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While most are warning that Kasper’s suggestion will result in a “watering down” of Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, Castellano goes further, saying it is rather an “abandonment” of it, that would render it unnecessary to the magisterium and, ultimately, unnecessary to a synodal discussion on the same issue.

Castellano also identifies Kasper’s theology with Protestantism, particularly with the doctrine of Martin Luther who did not believe that God eradicates a person’s sin, but only ignores it when He forgives. Kasper’s version of “mercy,” he said, is really “Lutheran mercy: a mercy that does not imply the preliminary and necessary abandonment of sin, but only the confidence that God does not take it into account.”

But “if mercy was to be understood as indifference to God for sin, the incarnation, passion and death of Christ on the cross it would be absurd really incomprehensible,” he said.

Also published by Il Foglio is a lengthy analysis of the proposal by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the archbishop of Bologna, who said that it is not only in direct contradiction to scripture and the unchangeable teachings of the Church, but of the explanation and development of these by Blessed – and soon to be Saint – John Paul II. The late pope’s 1980 Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, is “directly in the crossfire” said Caffarra, who was one of the consultors of the Synod on the Family in 1980.

Caffarra said that at that time, the issue of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics was discussed at length and that Kasper’s claim, and those of his supporters, that the “cultural context” of Familiaris Consortio was “completely different” is not true. On the contrary, he said, the document offers an insight into how to approach the problem that is timeless and not affected by changing historical trends and currents.

When Christ was asked about divorce, Caffarra said His response was to offer an unchanging principle: “You have to get out of this logical casuistry and look in another direction. … That is, you have to look at where man and woman come into existence, who, in the full truth of their being man and woman are called to become one flesh.”

As to Kasper’s reference to supposed changes to the “sensus fidelium” or general sense and understanding of all the faithful, this is also a misdirection. Caffarra said, “Familiaris Consortio states that the Church has a supernatural sense of the faith, which does not consist solely or necessarily in the consensus of the faithful.” 

“The Church, following Christ, seeks the truth, which does not always coincide with the opinion of the majority. She listens to conscience and not power. And in this way she defends the poor and the downtrodden.”

Kasper’s reference was likely to the results of a global survey issued by the Vatican department in charge of preparing for October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which found that the vast majority of those calling themselves Catholic do not either know or adhere to the Church’s teaching on sexuality. But Caffarra said that surveys and statistical analysis, while “valued by the Church” are not “to be considered an expression of the sense of faith.”

The Church, Caffarra said, does not propose a kind of “ideal” of marriage to “strive for,” but a definition, a description of an objective reality which it is powerless to change. This is the context given by Familiaris Consortio, which “identifies the deepest sense of the indissolubility of marriage.”

“Familiaris Consortio, then, has been a great doctrinal development, made ​​possible by the cycle of catechesis of Pope John Paul II on human love.”

That document, he added, “did not ignore the real problems. It also spoke of divorce, of free cohabitation, of the admission of divorced-and-remarried to the Eucharist.” To characterize it as belonging to the past, he said, with no longer anything to say to us “is a caricature. Or is it a consideration made ​​by people who have not read it.”

Something similar, Caffarra added, could be said about the attempt to sideline Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which was described by the German bishops’ conference as creating only “confusion.”

“After almost forty-six years,” he said, “we see briefly what happened to the institution of marriage and we realize how prophetic that document was. By denying the inseparable connection between conjugal sexuality and procreation, that is denying the teaching of Humanae Vitae, it has opened the way for mutual disconnect between procreation and the conjugal sexuality: from sex without babies to babies without sex.”

The denial, in and out of the Church, of Humanae Vitae’s doctrine, he said, has “progressively darkened the foundation of human procreation … and has gradually built the ideology that anyone can have a child. The single man or woman and gays maybe by surrogate motherhood.”

“So we moved in line with the idea of the expected child as a gift to the son planned as a right: it is said that there is a right to have a child.” He cited a recent court decision in Milan that asserted the “right to be a parent.”

“How can one say there is a right to have a person. This is amazing. I have the right to have things, not people,” Caffarra said.