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Five Cardinals . . . Demolish Cardinal Kasper’s Arguments

October 13, 2014 Featured Today No Comments

By MAIKE HICKSON

(Editor’s Note: Maike Hickson holds a doctorate in French literature from the University of Hannover.)

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The authors of the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ, which was just released by Ignatius Press, could not have chosen a better title for their work. The book is a 300-page-long response to the speech delivered by Walter Cardinal Kasper in February of 2014 as part of the preparation for the Synod of Bishops, which is meeting in Rome.
Five cardinals, among them some of the highest-ranking in the Church — Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller and Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke — as well as three other authors have had the courage to defend Christ’s teaching about marriage and divorce within a very difficult public atmosphere, and even, regrettably, within the Church.
Each of the authors has picked one of the themes and major arguments that Cardinal Kasper used to defend his revolutionary ideas about a more lenient attitude of the Church toward those Catholics who have had a divorce and who later married again outside the Church.
In a calm and differentiated way, without falling into the danger of exaggerating one’s own arguments or evidence, the authors discuss such questions as Biblical Data on Divorce and Remarriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Early Church, Marriage and Divorce in the Middle Ages, Marriage and Divorce in the Orthodox Churches, the Sacramental Ontology of Marriage, Remarriage and the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, as well the canonical procedure employed to justify any declaration of nullity of a marriage.
The list of topics alone shows how nearly every important aspect of this topic is covered in this book and how it thereby can provide a solid foundation for the defenders of Christ’s truth at the Synod itself. (Fittingly, the book’s editor, Fr. Robert Dodaro, OSA, has written an introduction where he sums up the major arguments in 30 pages.)
The book provides all of us, not only those in important places in the Church, with many solid arguments and much good information so that we ourselves in the midst of a major attack on one of the most intimate and most crucial parts of the life of the Church — marriage and family life — are better prepared to defend the truth.
Let me, quoting from different authors of the book (whose individual names I shall put in parentheses beside the quotes), sum up some of the major insights we can gain. I will do so by sometimes referring to some of the claims of Cardinal Kasper with which he has tried to justify his proposal and which are now floating around in the minds of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, leaving many of them confused and weakened.
The book, importantly, starts out in showing that the different biblical texts in the New Testament on the topic of marriage demonstrate that Jesus Christ declared that a remarriage after divorce is adultery and unacceptable in the eyes of God. This teaching has been from the beginning a challenge to man, and there have been repeatedly attempts to weaken it. Yet it is wrong “to view Jesus as a disputant who championed the rigorist side of legal-moral controversy. . . . For he also promised a new and superabundant afflatus of grace, of divine help, so that no person however fragile should find it impossible to do God’s will” (Fr. Paul Mankowski).
Cardinal Kasper has referred to some of the practices of the Early Church in the context of a laxer attitude toward divorce and remarriage. Indeed, it is worth considering this earlier period of time, because even then Christ’s teaching was in opposition to the common practice of divorce and remarriage among the pagans as well as the Jews. Also other Christian concepts such as celibacy seemed to outsiders “largely unintelligible outside Christian circles” and even “radical” (John M. Rist).
One has to say, however, that in the early Church the argument in favor of a more lenient attitude toward remarriage was known, “but that virtually none of the writers who survive and whom we take to be authoritative defends it; indeed when they mention it, it is rather to condemn it as unscriptural” (Rist). Laxly permissive changes in this area of marriage, therefore, “cannot be supported by significant evidence from the world of the first five centuries of Christianity” (Rist).
Cardinal Kasper made reference to the practice of some Orthodox Churches who allow divorce and a second marriage and regard the first marriage as having “died.” Following a period of penance, their church ritual for the second marriage often has a penitential character. It is, however, not possible to speak “of a common doctrine or of a ‘magisterium’ of the Orthodox Churches” (Archbishop Cyril Vasil’, SJ).
Moreover, only a few Orthodox authors have even attempted a profound theoretical reflection on this question, much less to have come to a unified doctrinal position. In opposition to their practice however, the Orthodox Churches uphold the Gospel’s teaching on marriage. In the Orthodox Churches, “there is no talk ever about procedural questions about marriage cases per se, that is, there are no rules for an advocate, a promoter of justice, a defender of the bond, and there are no instances of appeal” (Vasil’).
The Orthodox Churches “have practically never elaborated a clear doctrine regarding the indissolubility of marriage that could bring the New Testament requirements to the juridical level” (Vasil’). The Orthodox Churches accept the social reality of divorce in a lax manner. For these reasons, the Catholic Church does not even recognize the “procedures involved in the declaration of the dissolution of a marriage bond” because of the lack of “seriousness of the canonical process in verifying the eventual validity or nullity of a marriage in the Orthodox Churches” (Vasil’).
Therefore, the example and practice of the Orthodox Churches which do not even fully face theologically their own contradictions (how can one have two marriages, while upholding the indissolubility of marriage?) in this matter, are not applicable to the Catholic Church and to her teaching. The differences in the teaching about marriage should be an important factor in any ecumenical discussion.

A Moment Of Glory

In the time after AD 500 until AD 1000, the Catholic Church, while being all the while firm in the theological foundation of the indissolubility of marriage, had to develop further the application of the teaching of Christ in relation to the newly missionized peoples and their specific customs, for example, the Celts and the Germans, who did allow divorce and remarriage.
It effectively took until AD 1000 until the Church slowly was able to Christianize the pagan cultures. In that time period, local synods — under political pressure — did in few cases allow remarriage, but in no case did they have the support of the Pope.
This development unto a strengthening of the Sacrament of Marriage during this time period is “irreversible and only open toward a more complete understanding. Tradition in this sense thus has a normative character. In our case, this means that there is no way out of the teaching of the unity, sacramentality, and intrinsic indissolubility of a marriage between two baptized persons — except the way into error” (Walter Cardinal Brandmüller).
The Church regards the indissolubility of a marriage as essential. For example, Pope Clement VII: “notwithstanding strong political pressure and the danger of England’s schism from the Catholic Church, he insisted on the validity and hence the indissolubility of the marriage between Henry [VIII] and Catherine [of Aragon]….It was a moment of glory in the history of the papacy when Clement VII, regardless of the consequences, upheld the truths of the faith and responded to the demands of the king with his famous ‘non possumus’ (we cannot)” (Brandmüller).
After considering some externally oriented aspects of the topic of divorce and marriage, it is fitting to go to the heart of the Church’s teaching. “Christian marriage is an effective sign for the covenant between Christ and the Church. Because it designates and communicates the grace of this covenant, marriage between the baptized is a sacrament” (Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller).
Marriage is not merely human. “Through the personally free act of their reciprocal consent, an enduring, divinely ordered institution is brought into being, which is directed to the good of the spouses and of their offspring and is no longer dependent on human caprice” (Müller).
Marriage as a sacrament can only be understood in the light of Jesus Christ Himself. “If marriage is secularized or regarded as a purely natural reality, its sacramental character is obscured. Sacramental marriage belongs to the order of grace; it is taken up into the definitive communion of love between Christ and His Church” (Müller). Because sacramental marriage is a divine foundation, the Church cannot make any changes regarding her marriage laws. It is a “divine norm that is not at the disposal of the Church” (Müller).
“Following Christ, the Church seeks the truth, which is not always the same as the majority opinion. She listens to conscience and not to power” (Carlo Cardinal Caffarra), and thus she also calls for conversion.
Marriage “ontologically configures the person of the spouses, inasmuch as they become joined to one another with a bond, a conjoining which is the real symbol of the Church belonging to Christ and of Christ belonging to the Church” (Caffarra). God helps the spouses in a direct way to live their marriage vows. “The Holy Spirit gives a conjugal charity to the spouses.” By marriage, the spouse is ontologically, in his being, consecrated to Christ, conformed to Him. By breaking that marriage bond, the spouse breaks apart from that bond in God.
“How could a person in this condition receive the Eucharist, the sacrament of that union of which the marital bond is a real symbol?” (Caffarra). To admit remarried couples to the Eucharist would “recognize the moral legitimacy of living more coniugali [by conjugal custom] with a person who is not the true spouse” (Caffarra). It would also lead people to believe that marriage in this world is, after all, not “forever.”
We cannot refer to prudence here, because that which is in itself illicit can never be the object of the prudential judgment: A prudent adultery cannot exist. To be able to have access again to the sacraments means for the illicitly remarried couple to break up their illicit relationship. “To think that there are situations in which this ‘firm resolve to sin no more’ is impossible would be to conclude that sin is stronger than the redemptive grace of Christ, stronger than the mercy of God” (Caffarra).

Possible Because Of God

Priests who have divorced-and-remarried couples in their parish have to be attentive to “refuse these persons the sacraments. Sacred ministers should keep such persons away from these sacraments also in order to avoid scandalizing the faithful who know the true situation of these individuals” (Velasio Cardinal De Paolis, CS).
Only if these couples change their lives, such that they do not contradict the indissolubility of marriage anymore, can they receive sacramental absolution. Otherwise, they have an “obstinate persistence” in their sin. The aim must be the salvation of souls. And that aim is obstructed, as long as the sin continues.
With the refusal of the sacraments, the priest formatively teaches all the faithful the sanctity of the sacraments and also thereby authoritatively educates their consciences. One cannot licitly say that remarried spouses are actually on a “path of conversion,” as Cardinal Kasper did. “A way that would legitimize the existing situation in which the divine law is violated cannot be called a way of penance and conversion. It would rather legitimate the existing situation, which is intrinsically evil, and therefore could not be made good or admissible under any circumstances” (De Paolis).
What seems humanly impossible becomes possible because of the faith and God’s grace. If we were to believe that we are allowed to take an escape in a difficult situation, “the moral life would dissolve quickly and the common good would be subject to the individual will, as history has shown us” (De Paolis).
And God cannot forgive us if we have deliberately rejected the way to salvation and then also freely persevere in that rejection. In this case, “the love of God is manifested in reproach and correction, acts of mercy but not of ‘misunderstood’ mercy: a legitimization of what is bad, leading to death or confirming it” (De Paolis). Setting God’s mercy in opposition to His own law is an unacceptable contradiction. The divine laws are good for man.

A Truly Pastoral Process

As a final consideration, it is important for the Church to forestall any sly abuse of the canonical tribunals for the declaration of nullity of marriages, especially as a means of increasing the number of “Catholic divorces,” and with the specious help of a supposed “simplification of canonical practice.”
Cardinal Kasper himself has called for alternative procedures for annulments in the Church; for example with the help of “spiritually and pastorally experienced” priests. Kasper even “went on to make a caricature of the marriage nullity process” (Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke) by referring to the fact that at a second or third hearing of the case, the courts merely rely on paper, rather than on a closer contact with the persons involved. Yet, a broken marriage involves a highly complex situation in which the parties who apply for a possible annulment of their marriage “seek an objective judgment.” Their history and conduct has to be studied carefully and with objectivity “lest a true marriage be falsely declared null” (Burke).
Since the salvation of souls is at stake, the truth about the validity of the sacrament has to be carefully evaluated, and not merely a quick solution to a divorced couple who wants to remarry. In a truly pastoral process the rights of all parties involved have to be safeguarded. This cannot be assured if the careful judicial process, involving a promoter of justice, a defender of the bond, and tribunals of review and appeal, is replaced “by a rapid administrative process.”
Any mistaken mercy that leads people away from truth and justice will lead them away from God.
“May God grant that the coming meeting of the Synod of Bishops lead to a new commitment to ‘justice and truth’ that is the indispensable foundation of a deeper love of God and of one’s neighbor in the family and, from the family, in the whole Church” (Burke).

Children Of Divorce

This short synopsis of Remaining in the Truth of Christ shows the clarity and courage of the authors of the book. The authors remind us of the importance of Sacred Tradition. (It would be advisable to apply this approach also to other areas where attempts are analogously made to “update” and to “modernize” our faith and to make it more compatible with the world.)
The book presents us with many facts and principles, with the help of which we can remain steadfast in Christ’s truth and in our beloved faith, as well as help others, for the sake of the salvation of souls.
In my eyes, one very important aspect has been too little discussed in the book and will, I hope, more fully be discussed in the meeting of the synod: the children. “Let the little ones come to me,” said our Lord.
If the Church considers the despairing souls of the children of divorced parents, whose hearth and home are lost forever, she and her priests might have more strength and conviction in preventing the faithful from falling into that severance and sin.

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