Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Marriage: Cardinal Kasper's options - a critique

The proposals Cardinal a Kasper made recently are not intended to be definitive, they are, he says, 'suggestions'. As such I think it would be useful to comment on them. I base my remarks on the extracts of his talk posted on Rorate Caeli.

There are two suggestions, in relation to two kinds of case: one, where an annulment seems possible, and another, where it seems impossible.

On the 'First Situation', Kasper says this:

“Familiaris Consortio” affirms that some of the divorced and remarried are in conscience subjectively convinced that their irreparably broken previous marriage was never valid. [. . .] According to canon law the evaluation is the task of the ecclesiastical tribunals. Since these are not “iure divino,” but developed historically, we sometimes ask ourselves if the judicial way should be the only one for resolving the problem or if other more pastoral and spiritual procedures could also be possible.

As an alternative, one might think that the bishop could entrust this task to a priest with spiritual and pastoral experience as a penitentiary or episcopal vicar.

This comes down to one of the options I discussed in my earlier posts on the Church and remarriage: of making the marriage tribunals radically more lax, or, what comes to the same thing, transferring responsibility to some other party, who will be expected to make a decision without reference to boring things like canon law, witnesses, justice, or truth.

The problem with this, as I explained in the earlier post, is that a rubber-stamp system is unjust at several levels.

First, if it is true that pretty well any Catholic couple could get their marriage annulled if they asked, this radically undermines the stability of those marriages, and the confidence their children can have in their permanence. The proposal is to place a huge temptation in the path of every married Catholic whose marriage goes through a difficult patch, or whose eye falls on an attractive person.

Secondly, and to look at this in another way, to say that pretty well any marriage the Church performs could subsequently be annulled, is to say that pretty well all these marriage are invalid. That the graces of the sacrament are not available to most Catholics. It undoes, in effect, Christ's institution of the Sacrament of Marriage.

But perhaps this would not be true, because the Rubber Stamp system would be issuing declarations of nullity for marriages which were perfectly valid. But this means, in turn, and this is the third point, that the Rubber Stamp would be of no value: it would give us no confidence that the couple were free to marry again. This would be unjust towards those who had been in a genuinely invalid marriage: their path to a completely above-board second marriage, recognised with confidence by everyone, will have been blocked.

We might ask: who is this good for? It harms existing valid marriages, by weakening the marriage bond. It makes the validity of future marriages permanently unclear. It prevents couples in invalid marriages establishing their bone fides for future valid marriages. Who is actually going to benefit?

The answer, I suppose, is a group of remarried divorced Catholics whose only interest is in receiving Communion. People who have abandoned a sacramental marriage and contracted a subsequent civil marriage without going through the necessary Church procedures. They go to church and they feel a bit left out, because these days, as Bl John Paul II and Pope Benedict observed, everyone goes up for Communion out of habit, and people even feel they haven't been to Mass properly if they've not received.

Could this happen? Could the marriage tribunals be converted into or replaced by Rubber Stamp centres? Yes it could. It has in some measure already happened in some places at some times. It could become universal by sheer negligence, or by Rome making changes to procedural rules. It would not involve an explicit denial of any doctrine, just a refusal to follow doctrine's pastoral implications. Christ has not guaranteed that the Church will not destroy the structures built up over centuries to safeguard the Faith and the spiritual good of her children. Traditional Catholics will be able to think of precedents...

But recognising the limitations on what even a Diocesan Penitentiary could do in claiming, without recourse to a serious investigation or legal expertise, that marriages were invalid, Cardinal Kasper proposes a different solution to the 'Second Situation': where a laxer procedure of annulment would not be enough.

The early Church gives us an indication that can serve as a means of escape from the dilemma, to which Professor Joseph Ratzinger referred in 1972. [. . .] In the individual local Churches there existed the customary law on the basis of which Christians who, although their first partner was still alive, were living in a second relationship, after a time of penance had available [. . .] not a second marriage, but rather through participation in communion a table of salvation. [. . .]

The question is: This way that stands beyond rigorism and laxity, the way of conversion, which issues forth in the sacrament of mercy, the sacrament of penance, is it also the path that we could follow in the present question?

In terms of my earlier discussions, this looks more like the 'orthodox option'. The references to the practice of the Early Church are, in fact, spurious: in the Early Church remarriage after divorce was never allowed. The modern practice of the Orthodox Churches developed later. They allow what Kasper wants: after penance, a return to Communion. However, the way they do it is to say that the second marriage (which follows the penance, rather than preceding it) is valid. What Kasper seems to be saying is that the couples don't need to do penance so much about the first marriage, but about the second one, because the second one is illicit and invalid. He can't get over the Council of Trent's teaching that if annulment is impossible, and the spouse is still alive, a second union cannot be valid.

What keeps the couple in the second union are the obligations which have arisen, for example to small children. They want to come back to the sacraments, but they don't feel they can just ditch the new set-up. This is the classic case pressed by those theologians who want to overturn the Church's discipline, so it is no surprise to see Cardinal Kasper talking about it. The problem with this case is, of course, that however much we may talk about penance and conversion, ex hypothesi we are talking about a situation in which the couple intend to maintain their adulterous sexual relations. If they did not have that intention, everyone agrees that they could go to Confession, be absolved, and go to Communion: that's not the problem. The problem arises when they can't repent, because repentance implies an intention to stop committing the sin we are repenting. You can't say sorry for something you are still doing and intend to carry on doing.

(The liberal theologians sometimes say that stopping sexual relations would be psychologically impossible for the couple, suggesting that we are, in fact, no longer dealing with free and responsible moral agents, but that is another story.)

If you have a unrepented mortal sin on your soul, it is impossible to be given sacramental absolution for any of your sins. Talk of a return to sacramental life in the Church is therefore useless: you can't fulfil the obligation of annual confession, and you can't put yourself into the State of Grace necessary for a worthy confession.

The solution we are being offered would seem to be this. To say to them: yes, you are in a state of public sin, but I am going to give you Holy Communion which will make you spiritually worse off. It will make it harder for you to repent and, if you don't repent, will place you in a lower and hotter pit in Hell. But hey, what's important is to see a smile on your face as you return to that state of human respectability which is represented by your place in the queue for Communion, and which is of greater value than the love of Christ or the salvation of your soul.

This is madness, but it is already happening in many parishes, in many dioceses. Could it become the universal, official policy of the Church? Yes. It is not ruled out by the Church's indefectability; it is not a formal or explicit denial of any teaching, it is just a criminally wicked pastoral policy.

Orthodox Catholics are right to worry about this: to pray, to do penance, and to prepare some kind of response, both to head off such proposals, and to cope with them were they implemented. What would happen to faithful bishops and priests if this happened? They will need our support.

This may be a long Lent.



  1. I don't know if I could remain a Catholic if His Holiness followed H.E. Card. +Marx's proposals. De facto pronouncing all sacramental marriages to be invalid, or giving Holy Communion to those known to be in mortal sin with no intention of repenting; even if by technicality those errors are not protected by the Church's infallibility, I really don't think I could still believe the Catholic interpretation of Mt 16:18-19 if it went through.

    The CDF's hard-line on the matter is very reassuring to me, but I am suffering from terrible anxiety due to the rumors that Pope Francis is siding with Cardinal Marx.

  2. As much as this is all greatly distressing in terms of the fiddling with the clear teaching of the Church, the idea that there could be some latent "impediment" or other species of blockage or defect to the flow of God's grace into the sacramental life, to the degree that we might in fact only have a natural marriage, has been a severe jolt to my conscience. Many important realizations have come about because of it. However, I do not welcome the prospect of several months of waiting for the which way the higher ups in Rome are going to rule.

    I'm simply not going to wait. My wife and I have booked a meeting with our priest to investigate whether or not there would be any of these defects. I have no idea what he will make of our request for clarification on this matter. I am hopeful he will take it seriously.

  3. I don't see how the "offered solution" could possibly be implemented as the official discipline of the Church without impairing the Church's indefectability. You can't do that without overthrowing one or more of the teachings that 1) one must be in a state of grace to receive the Sacrament; 2) marriage is indissoluble; or 3) extra-marital sexual relations are gravely sinful.

    The same goes for Cardinal Kasper's Second Option.

    The only thing we could get is #1, the rubber-stamp annulment process. That would be terrible, but it's not quite the same.

  4. It could just be a matter of turning a blind eye. Christ didn't promise that His pastors would be zealous.

  5. The current situation is the Church turning a blind eye to those who should be denied Holy Communion. Cardinal Marx is proposing institutional acceptance of mortal sin.

  6. Thank you for this article. It is strangely comforting to see that I am not alone in thinking all of this looks insane. I don't even understand why the Church has to even discuss this issue on remarriage again. It just makes everything about the Church teaching unstable. Today it is remarriage. Tomorrow it could be contraception (already indicated in his interview today). The next day it could be same sex marriage and then maybe even abortion. So is anything worth standing up for when God's mercy seems to be allowing for anything to be accepted in the name of being pastoral?

  7. Hmm, I don't understand marriage theology very well. Is the Orthodox marriage position truly heretical? To a certain extent, I do not understand how remarriage is granted if the spouse dies, but not if they live. In the Byzantine tradition whether they live or die seems to be immaterial. I honestly do not think that either the Latin tradition or the Byzantine tradition on marriage is fully consistent or without flaws. Marriage took a longer time to have blessings and liturgy composed for it as a sacrament than the other sacraments, it's later development points to me to an underdevelopment ultimately. Perhaps because less divorces took place in the past, less explanation for how to proceed was needed as often or as clearly as now, when it has become epidemic.

    1. I ought to add two other facts.

      Since the Orthodox churches theology concerning marriage had already reached a point where it allowed remarriage by the 9th and 10th century, during times when it was recognized as being in communion with Rome, and yet Rome did not condemn it, this suggests that this is not a matter of dogma.

      Actually, almost all the Greek Catholics relied on the Orthodox nomocanons until the promulgation of the first Code of Canons in 1917. For a few, the Orthodox disicpline may have been maintained even longer.

      Dr. Vigen Guroian says:

      "In the ninth century, Emperor Leo VI (886–912) mandated that all marriages be sanctioned by a church ceremony. A marriage that was not blessed by the Church would not be considered a marriage. Some received this gesture as a great achievement toward the complete Christianization of the Empire. It presented serious problems for church discipline, however, and forced compromises upon the Church that blurred the distinction between church order and secular order and between marriage as a sacrament for baptized believers and marriage as a legal contract. We have been living with these compromises for over a thousand years.

      There is one compromise the Church would not and could not make, however, lest it forfeit completely its identity as the Body of Christ in the world. And that was the admission of non-believers, the unbaptized, and known sinners to the Eucharist. In order to mitigate this problem, the Church developed a rite of matrimony separate from the Eucharist."

  8. Given the unanimity of the Fathers, let alone the definition of Trent, there is no question *at all* about indissolubility being a dogma.

  9. Kasper's errors are so egregious that most people don't even notice the lesser lies, false dichotomies and straw men lurking among them, He has basically put the case that if we don't adopt his proposals then we are reducing Holy Communion to "a reward for good behaviour". That is a vile and snide slur on all those who do nothing more than remain minimally faithful to the marriage vows they have made before God. I can imagine him with the heart of the devil mocking those who have simply remained married to their one lifetime spouse, patting them on the head and saying "Oh what good little children you are."

    If we take his comparisons of murder and adultery seriously, then the only logical conclusion would be that he thinks a serial killer can receive a valid absolution in Confession all the while he is intending to go out and murder again.

    In the space of one speech he has drawn up a charter for bigamy and adultery, undermined the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, made a nonsense of the Sacrament of Penance and denigrated the Sacrament of Holy Communion. If the Holy Father really does support him in this then we should all start praying for their early resignations now.

  10. "Orthodox Catholics are right to worry about this: to pray, to do penance, and to prepare some kind of response . . ."

    First, the preparation of a serious, scholarly response to Card. Kaspar should be sent to all of the participants in the synod. Nay, even all bishops. Someone should organize this. Roberto de Mattei's response should at least be a starting point:

    Secondly, organization of cardinals and bishops both to head things off at the synod and, perhaps even to meet with Pope Francis himself. (This is, of course, beyond our abilities as laymen. I hope someone in the hierarchy is thinking of this. Of course these things have to be done discreetly, but I wonder if Cardinals Mueller or Burke could be rallying points.)

    Finally, it may be providential that this happened when it did. Now we know what is under attack. Not so much, as we first thought, the traditional liturgy, not even bad curial reform, but marriage. There are seven months - maybe even seven months plus one year. I am under the impression that nothing much will be done until the second synod in 2015 - although I could be wrong on this.

    God help us.

    1. You know, I would even recommend sending the scholarly critique directly to Pope Francis himself, citing Canon 212 #3. If written politely and respectfully, who knows what good it could do?