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Allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion according to the “suggestion” of Cardinal Walter Kasper and his progressivist followers would result in an “unprecedented” attack on the “very foundations of Christian life,” marriage, and the Eucharist, a high-ranking retired curial cardinal has said.

Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, a canon law expert and former president of the Vatican’s Prefecture for Economic Affairs, told an audience in Madrid last month that far from being a mere “current discipline,” the practice of refusing Communion to those in any kind of “irregular” sexual union, is “a discipline founded on divine law.”

People in such situations, he said, are living in “a grave violation of the natural moral law,” which is “a personal situation not appropriate for receiving the Eucharist.” The practice, he said, cannot be changed because “the ecclesiastical authority cannot dispense with the natural and divine law: respect for the natural law of marriage and the need for sanctifying grace.”

Italian Vatican expert Sandro Magister, who reproduced his talk, writes that Cardinal De Paolis is convinced that that the attempt to change the Church’s “pastoral practice” “puts at stake the ultimate meaning both of Christian marriage and of the sacrament of the Eucharist, two foundational pillars of Christianity.”

The paragraph containing Kasper’s proposal in the final document of October’s Synod of Bishops, De Paolis said, “generates ambiguities,” speaking as it does of the “current discipline,” as though it was expected that it could be changed by a decision of the Synod.  

“In reality,” he said, the discipline is a matter of “divine norms ratified by the magisterium, with doctrinal and magisterial motivations that concern the very foundations of Christian life, of conjugal morality, of the meaning of and respect for the Eucharist, and of the validity of the sacrament of penance.”

The Kasper proposal, widely supported by so-called “progressive” bishops and cardinals, “is not supported by any valid argument,” the cardinal continued. Even before it was brought to the Synod, it had already been examined and rejected by “the competent authority,” that is, by the highest canonical office in the Church, the Apostolic Signatura, whose prefect at the time was Cardinal Raymond Burke.

That authoritative examination, De Paolis said, had found that the “the hypothesis advanced in the proposal constitutes in all cases a grave violation of conjugal morality and of the discipline of the Church, which cannot permit access to the Eucharist.”

The cardinal’s text was part of a paper De Paolis first gave at a conference last March in Perugia, and repeated at another in Madrid on November 26. For the second presentation, De Paolis refocused his talk to specifically answer “proposition 52,” the paragraph on Cardinal Kasper’s proposal.

Although it has been repeatedly denounced by some of the Church’s most authoritative voices, and was rejected by the Synod, the Kasper proposal remains in both the final Synod document, reportedly at the direct request of Pope Francis, and in the preparatory document for the next Synod in 2015 sent to the bishops of the world. In its new form, the final Relatio does not retain the notes clarifying that the controversial sections had been rejected. De Paolis specified that because it had failed to receive the necessary support of 2/3 of the voting Synod fathers, paragraph 52 of the Relatio cannot “be considered a synodal text.”

Nevertheless, the Lineamenta’s list of questions includes those dealing with the rejected sections. Number 38 asks, “Sacramental pastoral practice with regard to the divorced and remarried requires further examination, also with the evaluation of the Orthodox practice and taking into consideration ‘the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances.’ What are the perspectives in which to act? What are the possible steps? What are the suggestions for avoiding undue or unnecessary forms of impediments?”

Based on the paragraph on homosexuality, also rejected by the Synod fathers’ vote, it asks in question 40, “How does the Christian community turn its pastoral attention to families that have within them persons with homosexual tendencies? Avoiding all unjust discrimination, in what way can it care for persons in such situations in the light of the Gospel? How can it present them with the requirements of God’s will in their situation?”

Magister notes that the cardinal “also applies his considerations against communion for the divorced and remarried to all other irregular situations of cohabitation.” In his text, De Paolis said that the Church never makes “a distinction between the different categories of persons living in irregular unions,” whether divorced and civilly remarried, or simply cohabiting.

He warned also that extending permission to receive Communion to such people “could even be made worse: it could seem like a reward and an invitation to establish new bonds.”

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It is “difficult to evaluate the significance of the vote” on the rejected section, he said, since its parts are “not homogeneous,” but are “even conflicting, with motivations that are inadequate or not totally appropriate or, at least, incomplete in lining up with the doctrinal sources.” 

De Paolis’ talk was included in the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ, which was to be presented to the bishops gathered at October’s Synod. It included essays of the same kind by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, and Cardinal Carlo Caffarra.

The book was intended to give a thorough theological examination of the Kasper proposal in the light of the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the nature of the Eucharist. During the Synod, it was widely reported among Rome’s experienced Vatican journalists that the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, had blocked its distribution to the bishops.

Each of the essay authors have given multiple interviews in English, Italian, and German repeating that not only is it impossible for the Church to change its teaching on marriage, also to change the practice of withholding Communion from those in irregular sexual unions.

Cardinal Pell summarized the objection when he wrote in his essay, “Doctrine and pastoral practice cannot be contradictory. One cannot maintain the indissolubility of marriage by allowing the ‘remarried’ to receive communion.”

While these prominent cardinals continue to defend the Church’s practice and teaching, the group of cardinals and bishops continue to fight on the other side. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, said this week that those objecting to the proposal are like the “older brother” in the parable of the Prodigal Son, who objected to God’s mercy. In an interview with Herder Korrespondenz, Schönborn said he was “surprised” that the opposed Synod fathers were “afraid” that making a change could cause confusion among those in irregular situations.

He invoked the “principle of gradualism,” saying that granting access to Communion could lead cohabiting couples to embrace marriage. “I would tell these families that they should be glad and thankful as they bear witness to the fact that marriages can be successful, but also that they should rejoice and welcome home those who do not achieve this ideal,” he said.