Cardinal Caffarra recalls Magisterial Church teaching on marriage; responds to Cardinal Kasper

“We pastors are very seriously to blame for reducing everything to premarital instruction.”

Cardinal Caffarra recalls Magisterial Church teaching on marriage; responds to Cardinal Kasper

At the Consistory last month, the Holy Father asked Cardinal Walter Kasper to address the assembled cardinals about contemporary challenges in pastoral care to the family, as part of the preparations for the Extraordinary Synod on that theme scheduled for October 2014. Despite the original understanding that this lengthy talk would remain confidential, plans were quickly made to publish it in German as a book, and several passages from it containing controversial proposals and open-ended speculation have circulated widely in both the Catholic and the secular media.

One suggestion in particular, that the Church might one day allow divorced-and-remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, prompted responses by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, emphasizing that not even the Pope has the authority to redefine the sacraments.

Two weeks after the Consistory, the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, granted a 4,250-word interview to the Italian daily newspaper Il Foglio, in which he addresses the themes of marriage, family, the teaching of Humanae Vitae, repentance and mercy. Although at times critical of recent statements by other Catholic prelates, the main purpose of the interview was to examine those themes from the perspective of Catholic teaching as explained in the conciliar documents and in the subsequent Magisterium of the Church.

Several excerpts from Cardinal Caffarra’s March 2014 interview follow in English translation.

[The Apostolic Letter] Familiaris Consortio by John Paul II [written after the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the Family] is caught in the crossfire. Some say that it is the foundation for the Gospel of the family, and others claim that it is obsolete. Is an updating of that document in the realm of possibility?

Cardinal Caffarra: If you mean gender controversies and so-called homosexual marriage, it is true that at the time of Familiaris Consortio there was no talk about that. But it did speak at length about all the other problems, especially about the divorced-and-remarried. I am an eyewitness of this, because I was one of the consultors of the 1980 Synod.

It is not true to say that Familiaris Consortio originated in an historical context completely different from today’s. Having clarified that, I say that first of all FC taught us a method by which questions about marriage and family must be addressed. Using this method is connected with a doctrine that remains an indispensable point of reference. What method? When Jesus was asked on what conditions divorce was permissible, “liceity” or permissibility as such was not discussed at that time. Jesus does not go into the problematic casuistry from which the question originated, but instead points out the direction in which one must look in order to understand what marriage is, and consequently the truth about its indissolubility. It was as if Jesus had said: “Look: you have to get beyond this casuistic logic and look in a different direction, toward the Beginning.” In other words: you must look to the place where man and woman come into existence in the full truth of their being man and woman, called to become one flesh. In one catechesis, John Paul II says: “When the man is confronted for the first time with the woman, then the human person emerges in the dimension of the mutual gift; the expression of that gift (which is also the expression of his existence as a person) is the human body in all the original truth of its masculinity and femininity.” This is the method of Familiaris Consortio.

What is the deeper, relevant meaning of Familiaris Consortio?

Cardinal Caffarra:Familiaris Consortio affirms that the Church has a supernatural sense of the faith, which does not consist solely or necessarily in the consensus of the faithful. The Church, in following Christ, seeks the truth, which does not always coincide with majority opinion. She listens to conscience and not to power. And in doing so she defends the poor and the despised. The Church can also appreciate sociological research and statistics, when they prove helpful in understanding the historical context. Such research alone and in itself, however, must not be considered an expression of the sensus fidelium (FC 5). I spoke about the truth of marriage. I would like to explain that this expression does not designate an ideal norm of marriage. It designates what God in his creative act inscribed in the person of man and of woman. Christ says that before considering particular cases, it is necessary to know what we are talking about. We are not talking about a norm that may or may not allow exceptions, about an ideal to strive for. We are talking about what marriage and family are. Through this method Familiaris Consortio identifies what marriage and family are…. Within this perspective the Apostolic Exhortation identifies the deeper meaning of marital indissolubility (see FC 20). Familiaris Consortio therefore was a grandiose doctrinal development, made possible also by the series of catecheses by John Paul II on human love [later published as The Theology of the Body]. In the first of these catecheses, on September 3, 1979, John Paul II says that he intends to accompany remotely, so to speak, the preparatory work of the Synod that was to be held the following year. He did so not by addressing directly the themes of the General Assembly, but by calling attention to their deep roots. It is as though he had said, “I, John Paul II, want to help the Synod Fathers. How? By taking them back to the roots of these questions. And from this return to the roots was born the major teaching on marriage and the family given to the Church by Familiaris Consortio. And it did not ignore the concrete problems. It spoke about divorce, cohabitation, the problem of admitting the divorced-and-remarried to the Eucharist. Therefore the image of a Familiaris Consortio that belongs to the past, that has nothing to say to the present, is a caricature. Or else a remark made by persons who have not read it.

… Is there a lack of pastoral care to families?

Cardinal Caffarra: It is lacking. We pastors are very seriously to blame for reducing everything to premarital instruction. But what about the emotional education of adolescents and young people? How many pastors still talk about chastity? There has been an almost total silence on the subject for years, as far as I can tell. Look at the follow-up of young couples: we should ask ourselves whether we have truly proclaimed the Gospel of marriage, whether we have proclaimed it as Jesus asked. And then, why do we not ask ourselves why young people no longer marry? It is not always for economic reasons, as people usually say….

Has the way in which marriage and the family have been “evolving” been a positive development for human persons, for their relations and for society, or have they marked a decline of persons and of their relations that can have devastating effects on civilization as a whole? The Synod cannot avoid this question….

There is talk about the possibility of readmitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to the Eucharist. One of the solutions proposed by Cardinal Kasper has to do with a period of penance that would lead to full [sacramental] reunion….

Cardinal Caffarra: Those who suggest this hypothetical situation have so far not answered one very simple question: what about the first ratified and consummated marriage? If the Church admits [such people] to the Eucharist, she must however render a judgment about the legitimacy of the second union. That is only logical. But then—as I asked—what about the first marriage? … The popes have always taught that … the Pope has no authority over [i.e. cannot dispense from] a ratified and consummated marriage. The proposed solution leads one to think that the first marriage remains, but there is also a second form of life together that the Church legitimizes. Therefore there is such a thing as extramarital human sexuality that the Church considers legitimate. But that negates the central pillar of the Church’s teaching on sexuality. At that point someone might wonder: then why not approve cohabitation? Or relations between homosexuals? The fundamental question is therefore simple: what about the first marriage? But no one answers it. John Paul II said in 2000 in an address to the Roman Rota that “It is quite clear then that the non-extension of the Roman Pontiff’s power to ratified and consummated sacramental marriages is taught by the Church’s Magisterium as a doctrine to be held definitively, even if it has not been solemnly declared by a defining act.” This is a technical formula… meaning that on this subject discussion among theologians and doubt among the faithful are no longer permissible….

(Translated from Italian by Michael J. Miller)

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Michael J. Miller 127 Articles
Michael J. Miller Michael J. Miller translated Priesthood and Diaconate by Gerhard Ludwig Müller for Ignatius Press and Eucharist and Divorce: A Change in Doctrine? for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute.