ROME, May 9, 2014 ( – The Church is not opposed to birth control, Pope Francis believes that 50 percent of marriages are sacramentally invalid, and the notion of “heroic virtue” in refraining from committing adultery or other sexual sins is an unreachable ideal and “not for the average Christian,” a senior Vatican prelate has said in a series of interviews while on a visit to New York.

Kasper made the comments on contraception in an interview with WNYC Radio’s Brian Lehrer. Lehrer asked whether it was “merciful” to condemn divorce as well as married couples who “use condoms for birth control.”

“Doesn’t the Church have a whole set of these sex-related rules that at this point are only about the rules themselves? That in common sense and independent assessment of a merciful or an ethical way would bring you to the opposite conclusion,” Lehrer asked.


Kasper responded that while it is normally the Church’s role to help married couples reconcile their difficulties and stay married, “there can be divorces necessary, and then it’s the message of the merciful God that he gives to everybody a new chance, a new beginning. And the Church should do it the same.”

Lehrer asked whether married couples who already have “three children and live in poverty” should not be “allowed to use birth control to prevent more conception?”

Kasper responded, “Well, the Church is not against birth control at all. … It’s about the methods of birth control. … I do not want to enter into this characteristic…how they have to do it. It’s their personal conscience and their personal responsibility.”

Cardinal Kasper, whose theological works have been praised by Pope Francis as “serene” and “kneeling theology,” laid out a plan at the February consistory of cardinals to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to return to the reception of Communion “after a period of penance,” but without making any change in their circumstances. This suggestion reportedly aroused an angry response by several cardinals present at the consistory and has since triggered a backlash.

In an interview with the liberal Jesuit magazine Commonweal on his trip to New York, said the high standards required by Church teaching on marriage could be considered an “ideal” to which the Church ought not hold people in the practical realm.

Speaking of ‘remarried’ couples who live together as “brother and sister,” Kasper told the magazine, “I have high respect for such people. But whether I can impose it is another question. But I would say that people must do what is possible in their situation.”

“We cannot as human beings always do the ideal, the best. We must do the best possible in a given situation,” he said.

“It’s a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian,” he added.

Asked about the situation of marriage in a largely post-Christian world in which most people are at best “baptised pagans,” Kasper said, “I’ve spoken to the pope himself about this, and he said he believes that 50 percent of marriages are not valid.”

“Marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament presupposes faith. And if the couple only want a bourgeois ceremony in a church because it’s more beautiful, more romantic, than a civil ceremony, you have to ask whether there was faith, and whether they really accepted all the conditions of a valid sacramental marriage—that is, unity, exclusivity, and also indissolubility.”

While some might believe that Catholics who have repented of their divorce and who are civilly remarried ought to remove themselves from the “occasion for sin” or live together chastely “as brother and sister,” Cardinal Kasper suggested that such a view of repentance is itself a sin.

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Asked what ought to stop people from applying this “rigorist” interpretation, Kasper said, “The breakup of the second family. If there are children you cannot do it. If you’re engaged to a new partner, you’ve given your word, and so it’s not possible.”

Kasper is on a lecture tour to promote his most recent book, “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life.” At a talk at Fordham University, he openly attacked the current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller and claimed that Pope Francis has no concerns about “heresy” or the overturning of the Church’s doctrines.

Religion News Service reported that in the Q&A session following his lecture, Kasper related that Pope Francis himself had told him the story of “an old cardinal” who had said of Kasper’s book, “Holy Father, you cannot do this! There are heresies in this book!” The German cardinal related that the pope had reassured him with a smile that, “This enters in one ear and goes out the other.” Pope Francis is on record saying that Kasper’s book “has done me such good.”

Asked about the ongoing dispute between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the dissident American organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Kasper took the opportunity to contradict CDF prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller. In an address in Rome at the end of April, Müller had told the LCWR nuns that they must drop their New Age “Conscious Evolution” rhetoric and return to basic Catholic doctrine on the nature of God, Jesus Christ and the Church. Kasper dismissed Müller’s concerns, saying that what is needed is more “dialogue.”

“If you have a problem with the leadership of the women’s orders, then you have to have a discussion with them, you have to dialogue with them, an exchange of ideas,” he said.

“Perhaps they have to change something. Perhaps also the [CDF] has a little bit to change its mind. That’s the normal way of doing things in the church. I am for dialogue. Dialogue presupposes different positions. The church is not a monolithic unity.”

“We should be in communion,” he continued, “which also means in dialogue with each other. I hope all this controversy will end in a good, peaceful and meaningful dialogue.”

Kasper even took the opportunity to praise the “feminist theologian,” Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, to whom the LCWR has chosen to give an award for “Outstanding Leadership.” Müller had singled out the award as a “deliberate provocation to the Holy See,” since Johnson has been sharply rebuked by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Doctrinal Committee for her divergence from Catholic theology on the nature of God.

Kasper praised Johnson at Fordham, along with the notoriously anti-Catholic author Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, one of the leading voices of “feminist” theology that rejects the Catholic teaching on the Trinity and the fatherhood of God. Kasper said, “I esteem them both,” and joked that since he had often clashed with the former Cardinal Ratzinger when he was head of the CDF, the two women “are in good company.”