Thursday, May 08, 2014

Cardinal Kasper replies to his critics

I blogged some time ago about the talk Cardinal Kasper gave to the Cardinals in Rome on the subject of giving Communion to those remarried after divorce (when the first marriage was valid and the spouse still living). There were a number of aspects of what he said which seemed unclear.

In a new interview the interviewer puts to Cardinal Kasper some of the points made about his talk, and Kasper responds. So this is quite interesting.

Thus, Kasper was asked exactly what sort of situation he had in mind when he suggested that, without leaving an adulterous relationship, a Catholic might be encouraged to return to Communion.

The failure of a first marriage is not only related to bad sexual behavior. It can come from a failure to realize what was promised before God and before the other partner and the church. Therefore, it failed; there were shortcomings. This has to be confessed. But I cannot think of a situation in which a human being has fallen into a gap and there is no way out. Often he cannot return to the first marriage. If this is possible, there should be a reconciliation, but often that’s not possible.

The first half seems to be about invalid marriages: a 'failure to realise what was promised'. Later he says that the Holy Father remarked (off the cuff, it appears) that perhaps 50% of marriages in the Church were invalid.

The second half seems to be about marriages which cannot be 'repented' in this way. What then? Kaspar's concern is that the people do not 'fall into a gap': a gap in the moral law, an insoluble dilemma. The dilemma is, according to Kasper, that the option demanded by the Natural Law, that illicit sexual relations cease, is 'impossible'.

To live together as brother and sister? Of course I have high respect for those who are doing this. But it’s a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian. That could also create new tensions. Adultery is not only wrong sexual behavior. It’s to leave a familiaris consortio, a communion, and to establish a new one. But normally it’s also the sexual relations in such a communion, so I can’t say whether it’s ongoing adultery. Therefore I would say, yes, absolution is possible. Mercy means God gives to everybody who converts and repents a new chance.

It is important to note here that Kasper appears to be saying that fulfilling the Natural Law is (psychologically?) impossible for most people (the 'average' Christian). But this doesn't leave them in an impossible dilemma - it frees them from it. Because he also appears to accept the principle that 'ought implies can'.

Note also the interesting suggestion that once the original marriage has broken up, adultery ceases, because one can no longer describe the illicit sexual relations with the new partner as infidelity to an on-going 'communio' with the spouse. At least I think that's what he's saying. And that gives us a chance to talk about a return to some form of moral life.

The interviewer asks: So, just to be clear, when you talk a divorced and remarried Catholic not being able to fulfill the rigorist’s requirements without incurring a new guilt, what would he or she be guilty of?

Kasper: 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.

So what is, morally speaking, possible?

The second marriage, of course, is not a marriage in our Christian sense. And I would be against celebrating it in church. But there are elements of a marriage. I would compare this to the way the Catholic Church views other churches. The Catholic Church is the true church of Christ, but there are other churches that have elements of the true church, and we recognize those elements. In a similar way, we can say, the true marriage is the sacramental marriage. And the second is not a marriage in the same sense, but there are elements of it—the partners take care of one another, they are exclusively bound to one another, there is an intention of permanence, they care of children, they lead a life of prayer, and so on. It’s not the best situation. It’s the best possible situation. Realistically, we should respect such situations, as we do with Protestants. We recognize them as Christians. We pray with them.

To summarise the position, as I understand it, the suggestion is that, since

(a) it would be sinful for the partners of the new relationship to split up, because of the children and their obligations to each other, and 
(b) it is impossible for them ('average Christians') to live together without sexual relations, but 
(c) there must be a psychologically possible moral solution for them.

It then just follows, logically, that

(d) living together in the second relationship and having sexual relations must be morally permissible.

The only thing which they need to repent of, then, is the failure of the first marriage, which includes the sexual infidelity to an existing relationship (if that's how the story went).

And we have to come up with an account of sexual relationships outside marriage which are permissible, as Kasper does. A stable quasi-marital relationship which is not marriage has a name: it is called concubinage. What this comes to is the acceptance of concubinage.

At a certain point in the interview Kaspar suggests that St Alphonsus Ligouri and St Thomas Aquinas would agree with him. I, respectfully, doubt that.

I agree with point (c): people always have a moral way out. Kasper's argument depends therefore on creating an apparent dilemma which will justify the astonishing solution of rejecting the Sixth Commandment. This is created by points (a) and (b), both of which look very dubious. (b) of course is the rejection of what is supposed to be a pastoral solution to the problem created by (a), the traditional approach would be to say that the couple should separate. If (b) is indeed impossible we are thrown back on that. So what's wrong with separation?

It would cause harm to the children and to the spouse: this is true, but this is simply the consequence of earlier sins. We can't always avoid such consequences, and the possibility of them arising does not constitute an impossible moral dilemma. It is easy to think of examples. It is not a sin, for example, to reveal to one's spouse some evil about one's past which one should have revealed before marriage. It is not a sin to take children away from an expensive school because one has gambled away all one's money. It is not a sin to confess one's crimes in court and go to prison justly for them, leaving one's family bereft of one's love and support.

Sometimes one has to live with one's past.


  1. What utterly misguided, confused and worldly shepherds we have! Compare and contrast...

    Card. Kasper: [H]eroism is not for the average Christian.

    St. Peter: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'." (1 Pet. 1:14-16)

    Almighty God: "For I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy." (Lev. 11:44a)

    Jesus Christ: "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (Mk. 8:36-38)

    God preserve us from defeatism masquerading as "mercy"!

  2. Anonymous1:31 pm

    Diabolical disorientation - literally. A priest ought not to solemnise a marriage between a man and woman if there is any reasonable doubt as to their capacity to consent or their good faith. These are essential to a marriage coming into existence.

  3. The fact that we live in an age where a Cardinal can publicly with no fear of being "caught" can say (or to be precise, teach) such things is truly sad.

    I also think this is proof that when you start compromising on one thing, it is a slippery slope. The church made what can be called a radical compromise with the post-VII position toward non-Catholics: the adage seems to be that they are doing fine and likely will be saved where they are at though they are not Catholic. It is only a few steps from that to argue for such things as concubinage and other things. If a non-Catholics is saved where they are at, then so can a "former Catholic" who happens to reject certain doctrines I suppose.

    What a mess and I am wondering what else is coming down this pipe.

    Can't every words said here by Kasper be applies to even same sex unions?

  4. Good heavens he's perfected the art of mouthing vacuous pablum. There isn't a complete articulate thought in that entire first block quote. What a devious man.

  5. So if Kasper is advocating the permissibility of concubinage, does this come from his ecclesiology? i.e. is the Catholic Church the bride of Christ and the Protestant sects are the concubines of Christ?