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German Cardinals Walter Kasper and Reinhard Marx
Maike Hickson

Opinion, ,

How the German bishops had a decisive influence on the Synod on the Family’s final report

Maike Hickson

ROME, October 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Just one day after the approval of the final report of the Synod on the Family by the Synod Fathers, the New York Times, on October 25, published an unexpectedly revealing article on the outcome of the Synod. “Amid Splits, Catholic Bishops Crack Open Door on Divorce,” is the title of the article which claims that, thanks to the influence of the German-language group – one of the thirteen language-based groups discussing the Synod's various themes in detail – there seemed to be a fissure opened up in the Church in favor of the “remarried” divorcees. The article says, in detail:

Francis early in his papacy signaled his direction by championing the work of a German cardinal and theologian, Walter Kasper, who proposed that the church create a “penitential path” to bring divorced Catholics back into full communion with the church. But this idea quickly hit roadblocks, and the German-speaking cardinals at the synod proposed another route that was partially adopted by the bishops in their final document.

It offers divorced and remarried Catholics the possibility of returning to fuller participation in the church, on a case-by-case basis, after receiving spiritual counseling from priests in what is called the “internal forum.” It says divorced and civilly remarried Catholics “must not feel excommunicated,” and their children also must be integrated into the church.

Additionally to this American news source, several German-speaking news outlets reveal even more details about how this German-language group – under the leadership of the Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn – made the important compromise and bridge between the “conservative” and the “progressive” camp at the Synod.

For those Catholics who were concerned about preserving Christ's teaching on marriage, the surprise came when the German journal FOCUS published on October 17 the news that the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller – the only German prelate in this language group thought to uphold the Church's traditional moral teaching in its entirety – admitted after all that there could be, in “extreme cases,” a path of penance for “remarried” divorcees. FOCUS reported:

Curial Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, head of the Congregation for the Faith in the Vatican, does not exclude Communion for remarried divorcees – at least not “in extreme individual cases.”

However, there cannot thus be granted a general admittance to Communion for such members of the faithful, according to Mueller; “but, in certain cases, there could be such an admittance in the field of conscience.” That is what Familiaris Consortio, number 84, has also already proposed – in the Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II promulgated in 1981. “One can think further into this direction,” said the German cardinal to FOCUS. As a criterion, one has to proceed according to “theologically responsible considerations.”

Cardinal Müller could be referring here to the teaching as laid down by Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio that one loyally and abidingly has to abstain from sexual relations in a second marriage when licitly desiring to receive Holy Communion. We hope that he will clarify soon.

FOCUS has now reported, however, a possible further opening toward the “Kasper Proposal” within the Vatican:

According to the research of FOCUS, one consideration in the Vatican is to establish on the local level an advisory council, a “Forum internum” which “formulates certain rules and considerations for the realm of the conscience, and which gives the right recommendations [sic] for the concerned faithful,” according to a member of the Curia. At the same time, one has to be attentive that the Sacrament of Marriage will not be put into question.

Now, readers will likely notice that this expression “Forum internum” has in the end found its way into the final report of the Synod on the Family. Yet, somehow, FOCUS seems to have known it all along, since it continues its disclosures, by saying:

A decisive role could now be played by the German-Language group [at the Synod]. The participants of the Synod are consulting together in language groups – and the German group contains the highest custodian of the Doctrine of the Faith, Müller; and the spearhead of the reformists, the former Curial Cardinal Walter Kasper. Both are renowned theologians worldwide. “If the group around these two [cardinals] comes to an agreement about the reform proposals, it would be close to squaring the circle, because everything would then have the [approving] stamp of the Prefect of Doctrine himself,” according to an Insider.

The claim, namely that, finally, it all depends upon an attained agreement between the spearhead of the reform – Cardinal Walter Kasper – and the spearhead of the resistance – Cardinal Müller, was indeed true. Some concerned Catholics have been praying for Cardinal Müller all along, since he had to face in his own language-group five strong German “Kasperites,” namely: Cardinal Kasper, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop Heiner Koch and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, all of whom had shown, during their own preparations for the Synod – in one way or another – some notable sympathy not only for homosexual couples, but also for the admittance of “remarried” couples to Holy Communion.

It was in the last of the three reports of the language-groups, as Edward Pentin reports, that the German-language group floated the idea of a resort to the internal forum “which critics say is a slightly modified version of the 'Cardinal Kasper thesis' that would admit remarried divorcees to Communion after a period of penance [...].”

Significantly, when this German-language group report was presented on October 21, it was Cardinal Marx himself who, speaking at a Synod press conference, insisted upon the fact that this report was written with the unanimous support of all the members of the group. More than once, he said: “Every text of the German-speaking group, every relatio, is unanimous. No vote against it. That is very important, I think.” He seemingly repeated this fact so that everybody in the room would realize that this meant that Cardinal Müller also supported the report. And Marx explicitly said that the idea of the “internal forum” was intended to be a means to help some “remarried” divorcees “to come to a full reconciliation with the Church,” which would include the access to the Sacraments. Cardinal Marx explicitly mentions at the press conference that there was a kind of agreement between Cardinals Kasper and Müller over the weekend, after they had each studied the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas as to how, with prudence, to “look at the different situations.”

As the Austrian website, kath.net, reports, it was due to the persuasive influence of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn that a compromise was found. It said: “Without the diplomatic and linguistic capabilities of the Viennese Archbishop an agreement between the positions of Cardinals Walter Kasper and Gerhard Ludwig Müller would probably not have taken place.” Kath.net received this clarifying insight from one participant of the German-language group – “who prefers not to be mentioned by name” – and who also privately commented that, at times, the discussions in the German group were “controversial, but to the point.”

Another German-speaking participant, the Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, describes in an interview with the Swiss Radio station SRF on October 25 the implied meaning of the paragraphs 85-86 of the final report as a path of differentiation. Kath.ch, the official website of the Swiss bishops, sums up Koch's nuanced statement:

With reference to the care for remarried divorcees, Koch calls the result of the Synod a differentiation: “The situations of the remarried divorcees are very different,” and these different situations are to be “taken into account in the realm of the pastoral care.” The text does not say that Communion is to be made possible for these faithful. “But it is also not excluded,” says Koch in the interview.

Therefore, even another member of the German-speaking group admits that a little opening has been made – an opening that was closed in Familiaris Consortio. Moreover, one German news source knew right away what had happened at the Synod on October 24 after the final report was approved, namely: Domradio.de, the radio station of the Diocese of Cologne. Only hours after the approval of the final report, Domradio published an article about the event. First, it pointed to the important role of the German-language group:

In the end, it was the German language group which was able to overcome the obstruction and main blockage concerning the remarried questions. The group which consisted of high-ranking theologians of different colors developed its view, by referring theologically to the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225-1274) and to Pope John Paul II (1978-2005), namely the method of the case-by-case differentiation of different personal situations concerning the remarried divorcees.

And then Domradio insisted upon the fact that, indeed, a little opening had thus been made with regard to the “remarried” divorcees:

A tiny little opening has been since made, and the central ideas of this group find themselves in the final report. If Pope Francis copies them later, it would be possible for those working in pastoral care to open up to those concerned – in certain “extreme cases” – the path to a “growing integration” into the communal life. Some of those who are responsible for pastoral care will also thus include the admittance to Holy Communion.

Just as the New York Times reported on October 25, Domradio revealed it the day before, namely, how paragraphs 85 and 86 (according to a Rorate Caeli translation) now open up the possibility, though in very vague terms, of having “remarried” couples discern their own situations with a priest, under the guidance of a bishop, in order to become more fully integrated into the “Church's life” – or, in Cardinal Marx's own words, to be “fully reconciled with the Church.” In these two paragraphs, parts of the teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84 are reiterated, namely that in his pastoral care for divorced and “remarried” people, a pastor now has to look into and attentively consider who was the guilty party in the divorce, and whether one of the persons was, perhaps even innocent. These paragraphs do not, however, repeat the part where John Paul II states that “remarried” divorcees may not receive Holy Communion. Paragraph 85 of the Synod document then continues to go further by its now also involving the bishop:

It is therefore a duty of the priests to accompany the interested parties on the path of discernment according to the teaching of the Church and the orientation of the Bishop. In this process, it will be useful to make an examination of conscience, by way of moments of reflection and repentance. Remarried divorcees should ask themselves how they behaved themselves when their conjugal union entered into a crisis; if there were attempts at reconciliation; what is the situation of the abandoned partner ["partner" in the original Italian]; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and on the community of the faithful; what example does it offer to young people who are to prepare themselves to matrimony. A sincere reflection may reinforce trust in the mercy of God that is not denied to anyone.

If it were here only the talk about how, as a pastor, one should help separated spouses or even “remarried” divorcees, as well as then accompany them on their path in their life in the Faith, it would not also be necessary to receive the guidance of a bishop. However, this new form of proposed reflection opens up, rather, a further burden and duty, namely that it is necessary to look at each individual case, saying rather ambiguously that "the imputability and the responsibility for an action can be diminished or annulled (CIC, 1735) due to various conditions.” And the paragraph of the Synod's final report continues: “Therefore, while holding up a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that the responsibility regarding specific actions or decisions is not the same in every case. Pastoral discernment, while taking into account the rightly formed conscience of persons, should take these individual situations into account.” Again, if we were only to talk here about how to help those broken marriages without thereby opening them up also to a licit reception of Holy Communion, all this additional talk and investigation would be unnecessary. For, it is really about those who are objectively living in the state of adultery. And this talk effectively means that not each case of adultery is the same as the other. Unfortunately, in a further abstract use of language, the same paragraph 86 of the final report offers the idea of the above-mentioned “internal forum,” which potentially enables, in a softened way, subtle implementations of the Kasper proposal. For, it says, in part:

The path of accompaniment and discernment orients these faithful to becoming conscious of their situation before God. The conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, conduces to the formation of a correct judgment as to what prevents the possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church, and as to the steps that may favor it and even make it grow.

Cardinal Raymond Burke's initial response and analysis of these two paragraphs is critical. In an interview with the well-respected Vatican expert, Edward Pentin, he said the following:

He [Burke] focuses on paragraphs 84-86 on divorce and remarriage, saying this section is of "immediate concern because of its lack of clarity in a fundamental matter of the faith: the indissolubility of the marriage bond which both reason and faith teach all men." He also says the way the quotation from Familaris Consortio is used is "misleading."

According to the New York Times, the pope can now use this little opening in order to establish more liberalizing approaches and novel results concerning the question of the “remarried” divorcees. With a specific reference to the U.S. Jesuit magazine, America, the New York Times article says:

“The document gives the pope a free hand to move forward,” [said] Gerard O’Connell, Vatican correspondent for America, a Jesuit magazine based in New York.

Despite initial resistance on the part of some bishops, Francis received wide support for “a fundamental plank of his pontificate,” which is mercy, he said.

“Now he can go forward,” Mr. O’Connell said, “He’s strong with this [Synod's] endorsement.”

Cardinal Marx himself, as one of the main promoters of the Kasper proposal, also showed himself very pleased with the outcome of the Synod. At a press conference on the same day as the approval of the final report, he said: “I am very happy that we made a step ahead.” And he called it  - together with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn – an “historical step” which will “allow Pope Francis to move ahead on his path.” Cardinal Marx insisted that “the bishops supported Pope Francis's path.” And that is what the pope purportedly himself says. “He feels encouraged,” according to the German cardinal. “There have been doors opened, especially for people in difficult situations,” Marx continued. And in the end of his statement, he beamingly repeated: “I am very, very happy.”

And Cardinal Walter Kasper, the “father of the Kasper proposal”? He is, indeed, very pleased, too. On October 26, an interview with him was published by the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, in which he said the following:

I am very pleased. The door was opened in order to grant remarried divorcees access to Communion with the help of a case-by-case examination. There is a certain opening, but one does not yet talk about the consequences. Now it all lies in Pope Francis' hands, who is the one who decides.

Only the future will show whether or how Pope Francis will make a progressive use of this little crack in order to open up a “penitential path” for “remarried” divorcees so that some of them may also receive Holy Communion. After the statements of Cardinals Marx and Kasper, much will also depend upon Cardinal Müller himself who, we hope, will soon make his own statement and clarification of how he himself understood and still understands the two paragraphs 85 and 86 of the Synod's final report.

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