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Maike Hickson

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Priest: I’ll never ‘profane’ the sacraments by following Kasper’s proposal, no matter who tells me to do it

Maike Hickson

April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Unto the encouragement of those loyal parts of the Catholic Church that are keenly concerned about the rise and growing influence of Walter Cardinal Kasper and his lenient proposals to slacken the Church's discipline concerning adultery, there is a growing resistance against this ambiguous and subversive relaxation, and it is coming from several countries. We shall thus consider now four different voices that show to us a highly differentiated resolve and loyal love for the Faith in resistance against those who would undermine it by way of specious revisions or lax reforms. Four different sources of inspiration and fidelity shall be discussed here that might help also bolster our morale: the important statements of Father Brian Harrison, O.S., Joseph Matt, Professor Robert Spaemann, and Father José Granados.

First of all, let us consider the strong personal witness of the renowned theologian and author, Father Brian Harrison, O.S, of St. Louis, Missouri. In a talk he recently gave in St. Louis on March 22, 2015, at the annual St. Joseph Dinner-Forum hosted by the group Credo of the Catholic Laity, he discussed the Kasper proposal and patiently refuted it from a vantage point different from what can be found in the contributions of the “Five Cardinals Book,” as he himself says.

First, he declares: “...'the Kasper Proposal' – is, in my estimation, the gravest single moral and pastoral issue that has confronted the Catholic Church in the half-century that has now elapsed since the dispute over contraception erupted with renewed force at the end of Vatican Council II.” From the outset, he states clearly:

Like contraception, Communion for the divorced and remarried is not an issue that is, so to speak, self-contained. Rather, it is the kind of issue in which any change to the Church’s existing teaching and/or discipline would not stop right there, but rather, would have a profound and far-reaching ripple effect on other fundamentally important areas of Catholic morality and sacramental practice.

Father Harrison then calmly examines the proposal as it was put into the final Relatio of the Synod of Bishops in October 2014, namely to readmit “remarried” divorcees to the reception of Our Lord in Holy Communion, after they have undergone a period of penance, taking into account  “the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that 'imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological and social factors.'” (Relatio, Paragraph 52). Father Harrison shows then step by step that all these listed categories of reasons why a possible “remarriage” could be less sinful than what was described by Our Lord Himself in the Gospels are, indeed, not applicable to the specific case of the sin of adultery. He argues convincingly that someone who enters a second marriage outside the Church will do so deliberately, knowingly, not rashly, and without any overwhelming fear or sense of threat to his or her life. Nor can this new bond be convincingly described as an attachment or habit that cannot be broken.

He also very intelligently points out that, by the very fact that Cardinal Kasper himself proposes a period of serious penance for those “remarried” couples, shows that he – and with him then also the penitents themselves – are very much aware of the grave sinfulness or disorder of the act of adultery.  Father Harrison points out that exactly this form of penitence should make the seriousness of the sin even more evident, which thus makes a remaining in that perilous state even worse:

...the idea of granting some Catholics permission to continue committing what they know is objectively gravely sinful, on the presumption that their defective consent will stop it from being imputable as such – would introduce a revolutionary, subjectivist premise into the Church’s moral teaching and discipline.

Finally, he also warns of the disastrous effects that such a procedure of laxity would have upon those couples who now still hold on to their marriage vow in spite of their having a troubled bond:

Catholics in valid but troubled marriages would be deprived of an important incentive to persevere and try to restore a loving conjugal relationship. The Church’s actions would speak louder than her words, and everyone would interpret her revised legislation as giving them the following ‘advance notice’: 'It’s OK. If you’re convinced your first marriage is ‘dead’, you can go ahead and get divorced, find a new partner, and get civilly married. Then, if you can’t get the first marriage declared null and void, no problem! As soon as you have at least one child with your new partner, come to the diocesan family life center and we’ll set up a merciful penitential process for you to go through, after which you’ll go to confession, receive absolution, and be able to receive Communion happily ever after while living intimately with your civil spouse!'

Father Harrison also shows how such a lax attitude of the Church toward sin would then thereby also affect other sinners such as those living just in cohabitation without any form of marriage. He says:

Since that civil marriage, after all, is not valid on God’s sight, why not extend this new ecclesiastical 'mercy' to some couples who are just ‘living together’? Pope Francis himself, who I am afraid has not kept secret the fact that he personally would like to implement the revisionist proposal, has already been reported, without any subsequent denial issuing from the Vatican, as having recently sent a message to a divorced Argentinian woman who is now living in outright concubinage with another man that she has the Pope’s personal permission to start receiving Communion again. What will come next? Holy Communion for fornicators living in 'trial marriages'?  Why not Communion for at least some homosexual couples?

Most importantly, at the end of his talk, Father Brian Harrison went on record and publicly declared that he as a priest would refuse to give absolution to “remarried” divorcees:

Finally, the inclusion of sacramental confession in the ‘penitential process’ proposed by revisionists will require from priests what I believe would be a sacrilegious abuse of the Sacrament of Penance. For they will be expected to give absolution, and thus permission for Holy Communion, to some persons who confess being in a sexual relationship with someone other than their true husband or wife, but who have no purpose of amendment; they admit to the priest their intention to continue in that sexual intimacy. And the priest will be expected to grant absolution on the flagrantly false pretext that the penitent is not and will not be in mortal sin because he or she is supposedly not giving a full and free consent to these illicit sex acts. I feel I should conclude this talk by going on record as stating that I myself, with the help of God, will never profane the Sacrament of Penance and violate my own conscience by giving a sacrilegious absolution to someone in that situation, no matter what higher authority in the Church might tell me to do so. May God, through the mighty protection and intercession of Saint Joseph, Head of the Holy Family, preserve his Church from endorsing Cardinal Kasper’s iniquitous revisionist proposal.

We can only thank Father Harrison for this; his own strong and loyal witness to the Faith; and we hope that many priests will likewise be encouraged to make that same commitment and decision of principles, at whatever personal cost. May these words that are spoken now before the upcoming Synod of Bishops help form and weigh on the consciences of those in positions of influence in Rome, and may they lead them to renounce their aspirations to implement any unfaithful reforms.

Also in the U.S., the Catholic weekly newspaper, The Wanderer, has just published an Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Francis which is signed by the editor Joseph Matt (and his staff) of The Wanderer, with an additional invitation to their readers to sign it as well. The letter politely requests from Pope Francis to come out with a strong statement defending the traditional teaching of the Church as taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It also reminds the Pope that that is exactly what he himself has stated in several of his own writings. The letter says:

In your apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, you observe, 'God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.' This divine desire to offer forgiveness was made manifest in the very words with which our Lord began His preaching in His public ministry: 'Repent, and believe in the Gospel' (Mk 1:15). From this we realize that in living the Gospel and in presenting it to others there will always be the need to reject whatever is contrary to the Gospel.

After quoting such texts from Pope Francis himself, the letter continues:

Lest we be left in any doubt as to how we are to discern what truly constitutes our faith 'professed in all its purity and integrity', you further instruct us to look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which you describe as 'a fundamental aid for that unitary act with which the Church communicates the entire content of her faith...'.

With it, the authors then refer to the Pope's own instructions and ask him to defend exactly what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches concerning the moral matters of adultery and other immoral behavior in relation with marriage and the family.

The authors of this letter describe how they feel now under siege in a “secularist culture hostile to the Gospel of Life, a culture that through the different forms of social communication seeks to persuade our children to reject the 'hard sayings' of the Gospel (cf. Jn 6:60) and to find personal fulfillment instead in a materialism unbounded by any sense of responsibility to either God or one’s neighbor.”

The letter of The Wanderer concludes with the request that the Pope clearly come out and reaffirm the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church:

Our request is that you would celebrate the conclusion of the [upcoming October 2015] Synod of the Family with a clear and strong reaffirmation of the Church’s timeless teachings on the indissolubility of marriage, the nuptial nature and definition of marriage and conjugal love, and the virtue of chastity, as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

A very important statement concerning the question of marriage and the sacrament of the Eucharist comes to us from Germany, as well. The most famous living German Catholic philosopher, Professor Robert Spaemann, has recently given an interview to the Diocese of Regensburg, Germany, in which he makes a beautiful refutation of a revisionist loosening of the Church's doctrine and practice concerning the “remarried” couples.

When asked, whether the Church should not adapt herself to the modern trends, Spaemann replied:

The tendency is strong to adapt to all trends, so that the people do not run away. But one always has to look into the Gospels. The masses ran after Jesus, but then he spoke about giving His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. He did not try to make it look attractively pleasant, and the people were shocked and ran away. Jesus asked the apostles: Do you also want to run away? But St. Peter answered: No, Lord, even though we did not understand you, either, but you have words of eternal life, and where else should we go? That should be the reaction of the people. Also in the question of divorce it should not be about following the great masses and strong tendencies, but to give witness about the fact that there are other and much more beautiful ways of life.

Spaemann also points out that this lax concept of an unconditionally all-merciful God is a wrong depiction of God:

A third of the teaching of Jesus consists of threats which one now wants to eliminate altogether. Nothing is to be feared. God takes us as we are. This is specious smooth talk. Rather, one has to say: No, Jesus does not take you as you are. In His sermon He demands: Return, you are on the wrong path! Of course, Jesus accepts the sinner and when the repentant son comes back home, the father gives a feast. But, why does he make a feast? Because he has come back home. The father did not go out to the pig troughs.

In very encouraging words, Professor Spaemann speaks here of the truth of Christ that always calls the sinner to repent. He stresses that the goal of the Church is to help sinners to save their soul. Thus, to leave them in their state of sin is a grave lack of charity toward them. Spaemann says:

Mercy consists in helping someone who suffers in his concrete situation and in helping him to attain to eternal life. Christianity is not a 'wellness' religion. If a doctor tells me for example: 'You should not smoke any cigarettes any more, otherwise you will die in a half a year' – and when I then say: 'O, dear doctor, please be merciful' – that is false mercy. The doctor can only help if the patient follows his advice. The Church is in the place of the doctor. When a cohabitation in a [putative] second bond is allowed, when one justifies it with the argument that there has grown a new bond, the question arises, how many times does one have to sleep intimately with someone, until it is not any more a sin, but, rather, a deed that is pleasing to God. Each act of adultery is a grave sin. That is the traditional teaching of the Church.

We can only hope and pray that Professor Spaemann's words, too, will be heeded throughout the Catholic world, and especially in Rome.

Lastly, there comes to us a voice from a Spaniard who is now living and teaching in the U.S., Father José Granados who is the Vice-president of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and Consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Gehard Ludwig Cardinal Mueller. He has recently himself written a book, Eucaristia y Divorcio Hacia un Cambio de la Doctrina? (Eucharist and Divorce: Towards a Change of Doctrine?) A few days ago, he was appointed as a consultor to the Secretary General of the upcoming Synod of Bishops, Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri. In a recent interview granted to the Information Service of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, Father Granados clearly states the fundamental truth that doctrine cannot be separated from practice: “Therefore, the Christian doctrine is 'performative;' it is 'embodied,' because it was born in Jesus’ story, which touches our concrete history as a promise of unsurpassed love. Consequently, doctrine is always linked to practice. Moreover, just keeping it as a nice ideal, after all, simply means denying it.” Father Granados also puts his statement himself into the context of the Kasper proposal:

This concern arose in the recent debate at the Synod, while listening to various interventions, because it seemed that this rich vision of the doctrine has been lost. I say this specifically with respect to the discussion about the possible admission of the divorced and “remarried” faithful to the Eucharist. Those who propose giving them communion say that this would not touch the doctrine. At the Synod, according to them, only pastoral issues are discussed and, therefore, Jesus’s words concerning divorce cannot be altered. My impression was that behind this argument there is a very poor Christian doctrine, as if it were an ideal, a crossbar that the Church raises up very high before people, but that should actually be adapted to their reality and weakness. I wrote the book to pursue this issue in the light of the great theological reflection of the Church. I think that an important conclusion of the book is that the Church’s doctrine has always been born in the sacraments, and that it is inseparable from them; and, so, doctrine is always embodied. Precisely the Eucharist assumes an important role for knowing what doctrine is and why the Church has always professed Her faith not only in words but with living, concrete signs.

In Granados' words, Christ Who is in the Holy Eucharist, is the Truth, and the Way, and therefore to receive Him in Holy Communion one cannot be separated from living out exactly that truth and doctrine. Therefore, if someone does not follow His doctrine, he disunites himself from God and chooses to cut himself off from Him. Therefore, he should not receive God in Holy Communion. Father Granados says:

This is exactly where the book comes in: in truth, will there not be a doctrinal change, if there is a change in the use of the Eucharist? What I wanted to show is that this debate concerns a matter of doctrine that touches the Church’s fidelity to the words of Jesus. This is so because the Church does not reveal its doctrine as a theoretical statement, but in an incarnate and narrative way, in a sacramental way. Moreover, the Eucharist is the place of this profession of faith, because in it Jesus’ story takes flesh in the life of the believer.

Therefore, for Father Granados, it would mean to live the lie if one receives Our Lord in Holy Communion while disobeying His Laws:

When someone, in receiving communion, says “Amen,” he/she is not only saying: 'This is the Body of Jesus,' but also: 'My life in the body wants to conform to the life of Christ’s body. Now, this is precisely the way of living the sacrament of marriage, where the love of Jesus and his Church is brought into play. If someone does not want to live, in their concrete relations, in accordance with this body of Christ, according to the truth of marriage, he/she cannot say 'Amen.' So, if the Church were to accept them at communion, She herself would no longer be a visible sign of Jesus’ love for humanity; His word would not be the Word incarnate and saving that it is. What would we say to young people who are preparing for marriage? What could be said to the couple who is experiencing difficulties in its marriage and is thinking of whether to let go or not? If it is said that marriage is indissoluble but then the faithful do not live this in the Eucharist, where the Church is born, would there not be, sacramentally, a lie?

In a constructive and affirmative manner, this priest stresses the importance of staying away from Holy Communion if one is in the state of sin, because this very act of sacrifice also can already lead one to an honest acknowledgment of one's sins and thereby become the first step toward repentance and a change of conduct:

If they receive these words of Jesus―which lead to their inability to approach Communion―if they accept to consider their situation in the light of these words, they are already advancing. The Church is called to welcome them with mercy and patience, to accompany them and invite them to prayer, mission and service. Of course, this does not eliminate the pain of the situation; yet, it does something greater: it shows how this suffering can become fruitful. There is no lack of concrete evidence of how this path leads to conversion and back to living in accordance to the truth of marriage, to the height of the gift that Jesus gives us in the Eucharist.

It is therefore with a deep impression of the true love for the sinner that one ends this grateful summary of some great voices of well-articulated and well-founded resistance against the Kasper proposal. The love for the sinner calls us to resist the sin and to resist those who intend to soften the rejection of sin.

May these important voices be now heard and listened to, so as to foster and effect a change of heart, in Rome, as well as in the whole world.

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