New approach to the divorced and "remarried"

In Rome this fall an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the topic of the family will take place, which will focus its discussions in a particular way on the problems of the Christian family in a world marked by secularism: cohabitation without marriage, divorce, contraception, etc.

In preparation for it, a special questionnaire was sent by the Vatican to the bishops, with particular questions on marital morality, which the spiritual leaders were supposed to answer. In some countries, especially German-speaking ones, the bishops forwarded the questionnaire to a select group of faithful, who answered just as expected.


The answers show how far the decay of Christian marital morality among formerly Christian people has already progressed.

In response to the question, “Did you feel that it was a sin when you used so-called forbidden methods of birth control?” 86% answered “no” and 14% “yes.” Next question: “Have you refrain from receiving the Eucharist?” Here 90% answered “no,” 10% “yes.” In the Diocese of Aachen, it is evident from the answers that “the Church’s marital and sexual morality… is for many an obstacle to the faith.”

  • In the Diocese of Bamberg the answers “express a critical attitude toward the moral doctrine.”
  • In the Diocese of Essen, those polled were in favor of “making possible a ceremony to bless homosexual couples.”
  • In the Diocese of Freiburg, “living together before a church wedding is not the exception but rather the usual case.”
  • In the Diocese of Cologne, “the Church’s teaching is regarded as other-worldly and out-of-touch.”
  • In the Diocese of Magdeburg, “the Church has to a great extent lost its authority as a guide in the area of marriage and family.”
  • In the Diocese of Mainz, “the ban on artificial methods of birth control is rejected by almost everybody, or else widely regarded as totally irrelevant.”
  • In the Diocese of Osnabruck “more and more people are turning away from the Church.”
  • In the Diocese of Rottenburg “a ban on condoms is regarded as criminal.”
  • In the Diocese of Trier, those who answered the questionnaire expect “to encounter mercy in questions of marriage, its failure, a new beginning, and sexuality.”[1 ]

The disastrous role of Cardinal Kasper

During the week of February 17-22 the Holy Father convoked a Consistory, which was to conclude with the creation of new cardinals; its work was devoted in particular to preparations for the Synod of Bishops. Cardinal Kasper was appointed by the Pope to be the only speaker, and on Thursday morning, February 20, he spoke at length to his brother cardinals. Before we examine what he said in detail, we wish to shed some light on his theological positions.

Cardinal Kasper

He was born in 1933 and was ordained a priest in 1957; he dedicated himself to academic work, was appointed Hans Kung’s assistant professor of theology, and in 1989 Bishop of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. During his ten years in that position, specifically in 1993, together with now-Cardinal Lehmann and Archbishop Saier of Fribourg (since deceased) he drew up a plan in favor of sacramental communion for divorced-and-“remarried” Catholics, which was decisively rejected by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at that time, Cardinal Ratzinger. In 1999 Bishop Kasper was called to Rome to become the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; soon afterward he became President of that Council. He was extensively involved in the drafting and signing of the Joint Declaration of Augsburg between Catholics and Protestants in 1999. In 2010 he retired from his office because of his age, but during the papal election last year he was a determined supporter of elevating Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the papal throne.

His teachings

Let us now look briefly at Kasper’s scholarly work by examining a few of his writings more closely. In 1967 he stated in an article: “The God who is enthroned over the world and history as a changeless being is an offence to man. One must deny him for man’s sake, because he claims for himself the dignity and honor that belong by right to man... We must resist this God, however, not only for man’s sake, but also for God’s sake. He is not the true God at all, but rather a wretched idol. For a God who is only alongside of and above history, who is not himself history, is a finite God. If we call such a being God, then for the sake of the Absolute we must become absolute atheists. Such a God springs from a rigid worldview; he is the guarantor of the status quo and the enemy of the new.”[2 ]

In his book Introduction to the Faith, he opines that dogmas can “be thoroughly one-sided, superficial, obstinate, dumb and rash.”[3 ]

In his study Jesus der Christus he writes with regard to accounts of miracles in the New Testament:

From a literary-critical standpoint, we can observe the tendency to heighten the importance of, exaggerate and multiply miracles.... Thus the material of the miraculous accounts is substantially reduced.”[4 ]

Further on miraculous accounts are, in his opinion, a

transfer of non-Christian motifs to Jesus, in order to underscore his greatness and power…. From a form-history perspective, many accounts of miracles prove to be retro-jections of Easter experiences back onto the earthly life of Jesus, or else anticipatory representations of the glorified Christ.”[5 ]

This is the case in particular with the story of raising Jairus’ daughter, the young man of Naim, and Lazarus from the dead. “Thus the miracles displaying power over nature prove to be a secondary accretion to the original tradition.”[6 ]

About the oldest Gospel account of the Resurrection of Christ (Mk 16:1-8), he comments: "that these are not historical features, but rather stylistic devices that are meant to grab attention and create suspense.”[7 ]

Not only faith in the resurrection of the Lord but the whole Christological dogma is dissolved by Kasper. He writes:

According to the synoptic Gospels Jesus never designates himself the Son of God. Consequently the Son of God himself is clearly proved to be a profession of faith by the Church.”[8 ]

In another passage he says: “Therefore he probably called himself neither Messiah nor servant or Son of God, and probably not Son of man, either.”[9 ] The dogma that Jesus “is fully man and fully God” is “something that can be overhauled.”[10 ] Isn’t this Modernism in the strict sense, Modernism in its pure form? And this man is commissioned by the pope to give the talk to the Consistory on the family and the urgent problems facing the family today! But can such a modernist faith still serve as a basis for Christian morality? And where is there any sign of fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of all wisdom? (cf. Ps 110:10)

Cardinal Kasper’s speech to the Consistory on February 20, 2014

But let us return to the lecture that was published in book form by Herder Verlag on March 10, just in time for the Plenary Session of the German Bishops’ Conference. You are surely mistaken if you suspect that this is an incidental opinion.

Family in the order of creation

In Part One the cardinal discusses the family in the order of creation and of Christian redemption, and speaks about the structures of sin in family life and about the family as the domestic Church. In all this we do find, certainly, an occasional thought that is correct and well expressed. For example on page 42 we read:

Having a new heart requires again and again new formation of the heart and presupposes a culture of the heart. Family life is meant to be fostered along the lines of the three key words of the Holy Father: please, thank you, excuse me. We must have time for each other and celebrate the Sabbath or Sunday together, and practice forbearance, forgiveness and patience again and again; over and over again signs of benevolence, appreciation, tenderness, gratitude and love are necessary. Prayer in common, the sacrament of penance and the celebration of the Eucharist together are an aid to strengthening again and again the bond of marriage that God has placed around the spouses. It is always a beautiful thing to meet a married couple who have grown old, and who at an advanced age are still in love in a mature way. This too is a sign of redeemed humanity.”

But is the family really “the way of the Church,” as the cardinal maintains at the end of Chapter 4? Isn’t the Church, instead, the way of the family?

Problem of divorced-and-“remarried”

No doubt, however, the main emphasis of the whole talk is on the problem of divorced-and-“remarried” Catholics, Chapter 5. He is quite correct when he observes that the increasing number of broken families is a tragedy for the future of the Church. Unfortunately there is no hint of the deeper reasons for this development: watered-down, shortened and falsified instruction in the faith, or else the complete unavailability of that instruction not just for years but for decades, with regard to the sanctity of marriage as an image of the bond between Christ and His Bride, the Church, and thus to the indissolubility of the marital bond. Here there has to be a clear indictment of the bishops, who as teachers of faith and morals in their dioceses have criminally neglected their duties. For example, Cardinal Kasper, as Bishop of Rottenburg, was not known for defending the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage, in season and out of season, in his preaching, catechesis and lectures.

The lecturer is right when he says that we can “admire and support... the heroism of abandoned spouses, who are left alone and make their way through life alone.” (p. 55) But in fact Christianity from time to time requires such heroism, which cannot be produced by human strength but certainly can be with the help of God’s grace, as demonstrated even in our time by the conduct of many abandoned spouses who remain faithful. Did not St. Paul say that he could do all things in Him who strengthens him?

Attack against the indissolubility

The next few sentences of Cardinal Kasper are hair-raising:

But many abandoned spouses, for the children’s sake, are dependent on a new partnership and a new civil marriage, which they cannot give up again without fault. Often in such unions, after their previous bitter experiences, they enjoy human happiness, indeed a genuine gift from heaven.” (p. 55, emphasis added)

Let’s put it bluntly: Such a new union is and remains an attack against the indissolubility of marriage and is a serious sin. We readily admit that, because of the children born of such a sinful union, it cannot just be given up; but the parties must live as brother and sister. Consequently it does not help much to say in the next paragraph:

The indissolubility of a sacramental marriage and the impossibility of contracting a second sacramental marriage during the lifetime of the other spouse is an obligatory part of the Church’s faith tradition.” (p. 55)

Decisons block the way

A little further on we find in the text a true revelation of the thought of the Cardinal and his like-minded friends. There we read:

We find ourselves today in a situation similar to that of the last Council, when they discussed the question of ecumenism or religious liberty. Then, too, there were encyclicals and decisions of the Holy Office that seemed to block the way forward. Nevertheless, without questioning the binding dogmatic tradition, the Council opened doors.” (p. 57)

This is what the Society of St. Pius X has been deploring for years: The Council opened up doors leading to error and thereby was essentially responsible for the post-conciliar collapse. His Eminence justified this “further development” with a “hermeneutic that is at the same time juridical and pastoral.” (p. 60)

Although Pope Benedict XVI did not allow divorced-and-“remarried” Catholics to receive sacramental communion, he admitted that they could make a spiritual communion, according to the speaker; and he wonders why then they cannot receive sacramental communion. The answer is simple: in spiritual communion one can only be sorry for one’s present sinful life and beg God for help to find a way out of that situation, whereas admission to sacramental communion would sanction the sinful condition, bless divorce and concubinage and confirm the sinner on his path to temporal and eternal ruin.

The same is true, incidentally, about the time of penance suggested by the cardinal, after which the divorced-and-“remarried” Catholics could receive holy communion: like sorrow, penance too must be accompanied by a serious purpose of amendment; otherwise it is worthless. Did not the Holy Ghost proclaim through the preaching and the letters of St. Paul that whoever unworthily eats and drinks, that is, receives the Eucharist sacramentally, eats and drinks judgment on himself? (I Cor 11:29) And so could there be anything so merciless, any greater cruelty towards souls or any greater injustice with regard to Church teaching? The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, together with all of Tradition, that admonishing sinners is a spiritual work of mercy. Here we see how churchmen after the Council have almost completely lost sight of the supernatural perspective of the salvation of souls.

Obviously the cardinal is unable to distinguish between hating the sin and showing mercy to the sinner. In his answer to the objections of his brothers in the College of Cardinals, he emphasizes that mercy is “the hermeneutical principle for the interpretation of the truth” (p. 79)—with this argument of course, any dogma can be hollowed out—and then invokes epikeia (p. 82). This technical legal term means that in the absence of the legislator, in a concrete case one assumes with good reason that he did not intend to oblige in this difficult case, although it quite clearly falls under the wording of the law. But since God as Creator inscribed the natural law in His creation and foresaw every case and is all-present, there is no epikeia at all in matters of natural law.

The pope’s opinion

After the talk on Thursday morning, that afternoon in the Consistory there was opposition, some of it vehement, with several attacks on Kasper’s talk. Yet on Friday morning Pope Francis found words of high praise for the German cardinal. In his remarks: “I found love for the Church.... Another thing: yesterday, before sleeping—although not in order to go to sleep!—I read and reread Cardinal Walter Kasper’s document,” the pope said at the start of the second day of the Consistory. Francis meant the talk by Cardinal Kasper.

And I would like to thank him, as I found it to be a work of profound theology, and also a serene theological reflection. It is pleasant to read serene theology. And I also found what St. Ignatius described as the sensus Ecclesiae, love for Holy Mother Church. ...It did me good, and an idea came to mind—please excuse me, Your Eminence, if I embarrass you—but my idea was that this is what we call ‘doing theology on one’s knees.’ Thank you, thank you.”[11 ]

Further consequences

Besides the opposition that the cardinal met with at the Consistory after his talk, there was of course agreement with his campaign also. Munich’s archbishop, Cardinal Marx, appeared enthusiastic after Kasper’s talk. The talk was the “overture,” he said, to a discussion that would not end quickly. Cardinal Marx had publicly and acerbically scolded CDF Prefect Muller when the latter recalled the Catholic teaching, specifically the indissolubility of marriage and consequently the impossibility of admitting divorced-and-“remarried” Catholics to communion. Vienna’s archbishop, too, Cardinal Schonborn, said that he was impressed. In the current issue of the archdiocesan newspaper of Vienna he describes Kasper’s speech as “brilliantly formulated” and “outstanding.” It is about “probing where the shoe pinches families,” as Cardinal Schonborn puts it.[12 ]

Terrible harm and immediate division

The wound opened by Kasper’s talk will fester for a long time to come and will continue to do terrible harm to the Body of Christ, not least of all because Kasper is being backed by the pope. The division was immediately evident at the Plenary Assembly of the German bishops in Munster, especially when they went about electing their new President.

Breach in the dike

The discussion that has now started is a new breach in the dike, similar to the one caused by the Konigstein Declaration following the Encyclical Humanae vitae by Paul VI. In that document the German bishops determined that married couples could follow their personal conscience. An anticipation of these further consequences for marital morality can be discerned in the Aid for Pastoral Care published in September 2013 by the archdiocesan Pastoral Care Office of the Archdiocese of Freiburg.

In it one can read, among other things, the following statements:

The second marital union must have proved itself over a rather long period of time as a moral reality in terms of a resolute and also publicly visible intention to live together permanently in the orderly fashion of a marriage...

Based on the human values that they actualize together, and not least importantly because of their willingness to assume responsibility for one another in a public form and in a legally binding way,”

such partners

deserve moral recognition…

The couple wish for themselves the assurance that they are being cared for and protected by God in their life. They hope to receive pastoral care that gives them encouragement and confidence for the bold venture of their new life plan...

The blessing and the presentation of a candle serve as signs of this...”

New ceremony

Accordingly there is then a liturgical ceremony with a blessing for such couples: “A candle is lit from the Paschal Candle, and the couple hold the candle together.”

The following prayer is suggested:

Let us pray. Eternal God, in you we find forgiveness, love and new life. You make all life bright. We ask you, bless this candle. Just as its glow brightens the darkness, so you illuminate the path of every human being through life. Be light for N. and N., so that they may praise you on happy days, and in misfortune may get back on their feet through your aid, and may experience your supportive presence in everything that they do. Help them to find shelter and be strengthened in your light. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.Depending on the situation and the place, it may be meaningful to recite also the Prayer for the Entire (New) Family (Book of Blessings, p. 239), and the Blessing for the household." (Book of Blessings, p. 270)

Doesn’t this not mean blessing concubinage and thus blessing sin?

Problem of sacremental communion

In his proposal the cardinal foresees sacramental communion only for a small segment of Catholics living in concubinage. But who is in charge of making the selection? And will not all the others look like idiots then? As with the Konigstein Declaration, the dam has been breached, and the practice of sacrilegious communions by the group of persons in question will rapidly become the rule rather than the exception everywhere.

The neo-Modernists did serious harm to the faith and the Tradition of the Church in the Council and after the Council, but at least they still officially defended her moral teaching to some extent. Cardinal Kasper is now sounding the trumpet to attack this.

The Church’s teaching about marriage

Christian marriage is the spiritual imitation of God’s covenant with his people, or rather, of the spousal union of Jesus Christ with his Church. When it is consummated, it is indissoluble, and it was instituted by the Lord Himself as a true and proper sacrament. Its first purpose is to transmit life and to raise the children granted by God to become true Christians. Its second purpose is the mutual aid and sanctification of the spouses. In addition it is a remedy for disordered carnal desires.

Christ's words—the Church's teaching

In defense of the dignity, sanctity and indissolubility of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, let us quote Christ’s words:

  • What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,” (Mt 19:6) and
  • Everyone that putteth away his wife and marrieth another committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” (Lk 16:18)

Consequently, if a Christian enters a new civil union during the lifetime of his or her spouse, this is adultery and a serious sin that bars him from reception of the sacraments. “Do not err: fornicators... shall not possess the kingdom of God.” (cf. 1 Cor 6:9) That is the perpetual teaching of the Church, which the Council of Trent once again set forth with the utmost clarity during its 24th session on November 11, 1563. Canon 7 about the sacrament of matrimony reads: “If anyone says that the Church errs, inasmuch as she has taught and still teaches that in accordance with evangelical and apostolic doctrine [cf. Mt 5:32; 19:9; Mk 10:11 f.; Lk 16:18; 1 Cor 7:11] the bond of matrimony cannot be dissolved because of adultery of one of the married persons, and that both, or even the innocent one who has given no occasion for adultery, cannot during the lifetime of the other contract another marriage, and that he, who after the dismissal of the adulteress shall marry another, is guilty of adultery, and that she also, who after the dismissal of the adulterer shall marry another: let him be anathema.”[13 ]

Practice recently repudiated

Most recently the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a letter dated September 14, 1994, about the reception of communion by divorced-and-“remarried” Catholics, repudiated such a practice. As a result of the vehement response, Cardinal Ratzinger then once more emphasized the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage and replied to objections and accusations.

In the 15th century, when Henry VIII of England illegally tried to enter into a new union with a lady in waiting, Anne Boleyn, the Holy See defended the sanctity of marriage at a great price, even though the whole country fell away from the Church of Rome as a result. Looking back further, we see John the Baptist already admonishing the adulterous Herod, “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.” (Mk 6:18) For this testimony he gave up his life and shed his blood. Only such love for the truth and steadfastness in men of the Church, first and foremost in bishops and the representatives of the Holy See, are capable of putting Christendom back on its feet.

Zaitzkofen, March 25, 2014

Feast of the Annunciation

Fr. Franz Schmidberger

Rector of Sacred Heart Seminary

Former Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X

  • 1Quotations are cited from the magazine Der Spiegel, vol. 2014, no. 5.
  • 2Walter Kasper, “Gott in der Geschichte”, an essay that appeared in Gott heute: 15 Beiträge zur Gottesfrage, edited by Norbert Kutschki (Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 1967), emphasis added.
  • 3Walter Kasper, Einführung in den Glauben (Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 1974, 19837), Chapter 9.4, p. 148.
  • 4Walter Kasper, Jesus der Christus (Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 19787), Part II: Geschichte und Geschick Jesu Christi, Chapter III, pp. 105-106.
  • 5Ibid., p. 106.
  • 6Ibid., p. 106.
  • 7Ibid., p. 149-150.
  • 8Ibid. 129.
  • 9Kasper, “Jesus und der Glaube”, in: Walter Kasper and Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus ja—Kirche nein?, vol. 32 in the series Theologische Meditationen (Zürich, Einsiedeln, Köln, 1973), p. 20.
  • 10Kasper, Einführung in den Glauben, p. 55.
  • 11“Pope Francis greets Ukrainian Cardinals and praises Cardinal Kasper’s ‘kneeling theology,’” Vatican Information Service, February 21, 2014.
  • 12Giuseppe Nardi,, February 27, 2014.
  • 13Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, translated by Roy J. Deferrari [1955] from the 30th Edition of Heinrich Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum (Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, no date), p. 297.