Report: Cardinal Kasper insists there was no intention of changing doctrine at Synod

That’s all well and good—except for the questions that still remain, which are significant and unanswered

The most recent “Inside the Vatican” e-letter, authored by editor Dr. Robert Moynihan, contains this interesting bit of news:

I attended a round-table the other evening, on November 11, at the Centro Ecumenica Russia on Borgo Pio, a few steps from the Sant’Anna Gate into Vatican City, at which Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke.

Kasper, just back in Rome after a trip to the United States, was joined by Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, one of the leading canon lawyers in the Church, and now President of the Vatican’s most important canon law office, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (he was also, for many years, the private secretary of the late, and important, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan).

The two discussed the October Synod on the Family for an hour and a half. About 25 people were present.

One essential conclusion of the discussion was this: that the Church will not change her established moral doctrine.

Both men said this: that next year, when the Synod reconvenes, there won’t be any change in Church doctrine, only an effort to change the application of the doctrine in specific cases.

Coccopalmerio put it this way: “We never wished to change doctrine, only to change the application of the doctrine to particular cases. The doctrine cannot change.”

Kasper concurred.

This is important. There are many who are wondering, and whispering, about the chances of a “change in Church doctrine.”

Yet while they wonder, and whisper, the very protagonists of the alleged move to change Church doctrine, men like Kasper and Coccopalmerio, are saying quite openly that a change in doctrine is not in the cards.

It is not going to happen.

And this means that those who fear that the barque of Peter is sailing “rudderless,” that there is no helmsman at the tiller, that Pope Francis is falling short in carrying out his mission to confirm his brothers in the faith and in assuring the unity of the Church, are wrong.

(Such suggestions were made, at least in appearance, by Cardinal Raymond Burke in an October 30 interview which instantly spread around the internet)

What to think of this? Where to start?

First, color me cyncial, but what else is Cardinal Kasper going to say, even if he does wish to change doctrine or realizes that doctrine would have to be changed to bring about the changes he’s been touting for months?

Secondly, that’s not to say he does wish to change doctrine. After all, he’s never said prior that he thinks doctrine must or will have to change. But the question remains: how does one change “only” the application of the doctrine to particular cases without, in some way, harming or undermining the integrity of the doctrine itself? That’s a significant problem.

Thirdly, that is exactly what a lot of learned and thoughtful theologians and canon lawyers have been saying and explaining for many months now. This isn’t a game of semantics or a matter of merely adjusting some procedures here or there. Put simply, if a Catholic is married already, then marries someone else, he is committing adultery. If the first marriage is a marriage, jumping through this or that hoop isn’t going to change matters.

That brings to mind an early passage from the book, The Gospel of the Family: Going Beyond Cardinal Kasper’s Proposal in the Debate on Marriage, Civil Re-Marriage and Communion in the Church (Ignatius Press, 2014) by Stephan Kampowski and Fr. Juan Perez-Soba:

The “forever” is good news. Anyone who has ever loved would want this love to last forever. The question, then, is another: it is not whether we want it, but whether we think it possible. And here the good news comes in. The forever is a true novelty brought by Christ, a new possibility that corresponds to the deepest yearnings of our hearts. This is no doubt countercultural. As Pope Francis puts it, today’s culture is a “culture of the temporary” or a “culture of the provisory”. He exhorts couples not to let themselves be overcome by this cultural context but to found their homes “on the rock of true love, the love that comes from God”. In a very suggestive image the Pope insists that Christ is quite capable of multiplying the couple’s love just as he multiplied the loaves of bread, giving it to them “fresh and good each day”. In light of the fact that the possibility of the “forever” is an essential part of what is good and new about the good news, it is not entirely clear what Cardinal Kasper refers to when, in the context of discussing the question of admitting the divorced and remarried to Communion, he asks for “a renewed pastoral spirituality that takes leave of a narrow, legalistic view and an unchristian rigorism that places on people intolerable burdens that we clerics ourselves do not want to bear and also could not bear (see Matt 23:4)”. What are the “intolerable burdens” referred to here? Could one burden be the indissolubility of marriage? This would be inconsistent with what he says elsewhere, when he refers to the indissoluble bond as “good news”, and when he insists on not wanting to put marital indissolubility into question.

It seems more likely that the intolerable burden ultimately amounts to being sexually exclusive. This, at least, is the highly plausible way in which Carlo Cardinal Caffarra interprets Cardinal Kasper’s proposal. It is impossible to deny that by admitting some of the divorced and remarried to Communion—even if these couples performed prior acts of penance that however fall short of a qualitative change in their state of life—the Church would “grant a judgment of legitimacy to the second union”. But this second union cannot be a second marriage, contemporaneous to the first, “considering that bigamy goes against the word of the Lord”. Given that Cardinal Kasper explicitly upholds the indissolubility of marriage, and given that he would hardly want to propose that a person could live in two valid and indissoluble marriages at the same time, his solution effectively seems to suggest that “the first matrimony remains, but that there is also a second kind of cohabitation that the Church legitimizes.” For Cardinal Caffarra the most serious implication of this proposal is the following: “It is, therefore, an extramarital exercise of human sexuality that the Church legitimizes. But with this, the foundational pillar of the Church’s doctrine on sexuality is negated”—that pillar being the Church’s insistence that the only proper setting for the exercise of sexuality is the context of conjugal love.

It seems that Cardinal Kasper overlooks the connection between indissolubility and sexual exclusivity. In any case if, when speaking about “intolerable burdens”, he intends either the indissolubility of marriage or the requirement of sexual exclusivity, then the Bible passage that comes to mind in this context will not be Matthew 23:4 (“They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear”), but rather Matthew 19:10, where we learn about the disciples’ astonishment at Jesus’ teaching on marriage: “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” Again, the requirements of the indissolubility of marriage and of the sexual exclusivity of the spouses are not heavy burdens placed on the marriage partners by Christ or his Church. They are the requirements of love itself. [emphasis added]

More could be said. But it seems to me that there is another big problem here: there is a huge trust deficit. The Synod, for better or worse, made many Catholics wonder about the motives and long-range goals of certain parties. Some, in my opinon, have gone way too far in their theories, but I’m sympathetic regarding their frustration with the entire matter.

Even Catholics without much or any theological training can see the deep problems, even contradictions, going on with the so-called “Kasper proposal”. It has every appearance of something that could well be described by the old cliché of “having one’s cake and eating it, too”. And as Fr. Juan R. Vélez has argued (“Cardinal Newman, the Synod, and the ‘Kasper Proposal'”, Nov. 3, 2014), that proposal marks a definite break from perennial Church teaching. It is inconsistent and ultimately incoherent, and insisting that no one wishes to change Church doctrine provides little comfort while keeping alive and well the overwhelming sense of confusion.


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About Carl E. Olson 1136 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.