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The leading proponent of relaxing the ban on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics tells Christopher Lamb that the Church too often appears rule-bound
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The Church in the World
Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to allow Communion for remarried divorcees was given a negative reception from some of his most powerful confrères at last month’s consistory, according to an Italian journalist.
In an article for the Turin daily La Stampa, last Monday, Marco Tosatti says that Cardinal Kasper’s plan was greeted with a storm of criticism. In his address to the consistory on 22 February, the German cardinal argued that Catholic divorcees who remarry should, after a period of atonement, be allowed to seek readmittance to the sacraments.
Tosatti claims the vast majority of cardinals who spoke in the subsequent discussion criticised the proposal, pointing out that Christ himself had explicitly ruled out divorce and that according to church doctrine anyone who remarried without first obtaining an annulment was in a permanent state of sin.
Tosatti names 10 cardinals as speaking in this vein including Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who he says felt the doctrinal change would do nothing to further the Church’s support for the family nor its relations with Islam. Another alleged critic was Cardinal Camillo Ruini, former vicar general for the Diocese of Rome, who according to Tosatti pointed out that 85 per cent of the cardinals who had commented on Kasper’s proposal opposed it. Ruini is said to have surmised that those who had remained silent had done so out of “embarrassment”.
Tosatti reports that other Kasper critics included the president of the Italian bishops’ conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco; the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola; the prefect of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza; and Cardinal Battista Re, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops. Cardinal Re is quoted as saying that he had decided to speak out because some of the new cardinals might have been afraid to do so. “I am entirely opposed to this idea,” he reportedly said. When invited by Pope Francis to reply at the end of the discussion, Cardinal Kasper is said to have shown “irritation” with his critics.
The story in La Stampa highlights a growing split in the College of Cardinals on the issue of Communion for Catholics who divorce and remarry.
Among those who have gone on record as sympathetic to Cardinal Kasper’s proposal are Cardinals Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Karl Lehmann of Mainz, Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin and Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who is coordinator of the C8 group of cardinals appointed to advise the Pope.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, another C8 member, called on Catholic laity in his archdiocese, Munich, to begin a broad discussion of marriage and the family and recommended using Cardinal Kasper’s Gospel of the Family – the book based on Kasper’s reflection at the consistory – while at the same time studying Pope Francis’ exhortation Evangelii Gaudium in the parish councils.
“I very much hope that a genuine spiritual exchange will be possible and that those taking part will not form pro and contra camps so that they end up falling out,” Cardinal Marx told the Munich archdiocesan council at its spring meeting on 22 March. He said the consistory discussion was the first time the cardinals had discussed these problems in the Pope’s presence, and the address was “truly great”. “I can really highly recommend it for the lay councils and also for educational work,” Cardinal Marx underlined.
In another dramatic intervention, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, insisted that the CDF takes priority over the views of individuals in the debate. Others who commented, “even if they have the rank of cardinal”, were “merely speaking for themselves as individual persons”, Cardinal Müller told Vatican Radio on 24 March. But he (Müller) was not speaking as a “private theologian” but as prefect of the CDF, which had “a direct share in the Pope’s teaching”. Cardinal Müller firmly opposes the changes proposed by Cardinals Marx and Kasper.
The same point applied to the Vatican questionnaire on marriage, the family and sexuality, Cardinal Müller said. While the survey was useful, it was “not a dogma”. Our Lord’s words were decisive, he emphasised. It was imperative to move the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family “right back into the centre of Catholic consciousness”, he said. “We will only achieve positive results if we speak of the success of marriage and the family and champion them.”