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Pope Francis calls on Catholics to “accompany” those whose marriages have failed; Peters responds to Cafardi on annulments.
German Cardinal Walter Kasper walks in St. Peters Square March 4, 2013 after the first day the College of Cardinals met to begin the process of electing a new pope. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

According to Catholic News Service’s Cindy Wooden, CNS has obtained a copy of the lengthy address Cardinal Walter Kasper gave to the College of Cardinals last week on the subject of the family. The Vatican has not released the text of Cardinal Kasper’s speech, although spokesman Father Federico Lombardi provided a summary of its main points.

From Wooden:

The Catholic Church needs to find a way to offer healing, strength and salvation to Catholics whose marriages have failed, who are committed to making a new union work and who long to do so within the church and with the grace of Communion, Cardinal Walter Kasper told the world's cardinals.

Jesus' teaching on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage is clear, the retired German cardinal said, and it would harm individuals and the church to pretend otherwise. However, "after the shipwreck of sin, the shipwrecked person should not have a second boat at his or her disposal, but rather a life raft" in the form of the sacrament of Communion, he said. …

Because they are human and prone to sin, husbands and wives continually must follow a path of conversion, renewal and maturation, asking forgiveness and renewing their commitment to one another, Cardinal Kasper said. But the church also must be realistic and acknowledge "the complex and thorny problem" posed by Catholics whose marriages have failed, but who find support, family stability and happiness in a new relationship, he continued.

"One cannot propose a solution different from or contrary to the words of Jesus," the cardinal said. "The indissolubility of a sacramental marriage and the impossibility of a new marriage while the other partner is still alive is part of the binding tradition of the faith of the church and cannot be abandoned or dissolved by appealing to a superficial understanding of mercy at a discount price."

At the same time, "there is no human situation absolutely without hope or solution," he said Catholics profess their belief in the forgiveness of sins in the Creed, he explained. "That means that for one who converts, forgiveness is possible. If that's true for a murderer, it is also true for an adulterer."

UPDATE, 3/2: Sandro Magister has lengthy excerpts from Cardinal Kasper's address translated into English; the address was published Saturday in its entirety in the Italian daily Il Foglio (PDF).

During his morning Mass homily in the Casa Santa Marta chapel this morning, Pope Francis also touched upon the plight of those whose marriages have failed. According to Vatican Radio, “the Holy Father focused on the beauty of marriage and warned that the Church must accompany – not condemn – those who experience failure in married life.”

“The Lord takes this love of the masterpiece of Creation to explain the love He has for His people. And going further: when Paul needs to explain the mystery of Christ, he does it in a relationship, in reference to His Spouse: because Christ is married, Christ was married, He married the Church, His people. As the Father had married the People of Israel, Christ married His people. This is the love story, this is the history of the masterpiece of Creation – and before this path of love, this icon, casuistry falls and becomes sorrowful. When, however, this leaving one’s father and mother, and joining oneself to a woman, and going forward... when this love fails – because many times it fails – we have to feel the pain of the failure, [we must] accompany those people who have had this failure in their love. Do not condemn. Walk with them – and don’t practice casuistry on their situation.”

Pope Francis also said the Gospel episode encourages us to reflect “about this plan of love, this journey of love in Christian marriage, that God has blessed the masterpiece of His Creation,” a blessing, he said, “that has never been taken away. Not even original sin has destroyed it.” When we thinks of this, we can “see how beautiful love is, how beautiful marriage is, how beautiful the family is, how beautiful this journey is, and how much love we too [must have], how close we must be to our brothers and sisters who in life have had the misfortune of a failure in love.”

On a related note, over at In the Light of the Law, Dr. Edward Peters tackles Dr. Nicholas Cafardi’s “call for executive action in Rome,” which was published on PBS’ website in conjunction with Frontline’s recent “Secrets of the Vatican” special.

Cafardi writes:

Nothing, no clear theology, no gospel teaching, nothing except hidebound tradition requires that a Catholic marriage can only be annulled through a complicated judicial process. If he wanted to, Francis could reconsider this judicial function of the church, and instead delegate authority over the annulment of first marriages to the proper pastor of the people involved. Take what the church has made a complicated judicial process and make it into a pastoral problem with a pastoral solution. Again, as sole legislator, Francis could reassign this legal responsibility to the pastor with a stroke of the pen. And note, this does not require a change in our theology, only a change in jurisdiction.

Peters responds:

Such casual talk about marriages “being annulled” is okay in chit-chat, but scholars discussing—to say nothing of lawyers attacking—the annulment process itself must, before anything else, describe that process accurately: Tribunals don’t do anything to a marriage, rather, they conclude something about a marriage. Grasp that, and one has the essence of the thing. …

The only question treated by a tribunal is this: has the couple before it entered into that contract known as marriage? If they have done so, certain consequences (some, but not all, derived from our theology) flow; if they have not done so, certain consequences (some, but not all, derived from our theology) flow. Whether the couple chose wisely in marrying and lived happily in it, or whether they betrayed each other repeatedly and were lucky to escape with their sanity, is irrelevant to the question that a tribunal has the expertise and responsibility to decide: whether this couple actually entered marriage. Of course a host of vital pastoral questions flow from the tribunal’s answer, but that does not transform the tribunal (or whatever agent or office someone thinks can be assigned this judicial function with the stroke of a papal pen) into a pastor or therapist. To even suggest otherwise shows little understanding and/or a poor regard for the multiple realties (moral, psychological, emotional, and juridic, etc.) that make up the human person who is the object of the Church’s solicitude.

Bottom line, two people are either married or they aren’t. If someone has ideas toward improving how the Church determines who is married and who is not, I’m all ears. But if anyone thinks that what the Church really needs is a palatable way to avoid treating married people as married—and brother, a whole lot of folks are pushing that line these days—they need to think again. Seriously.

 

 
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Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.
 
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