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Against false mercy.

Much has been made of Cardinal Kasper's two-hour opening address at the February Consistory of Cardinals. Both the religious and secular media has been ablaze with coverage of an alleged movement to admit divorced-and-remarried Catholics to the Eucharist. While this would normally remain within the confidentiality proper to a conclave, Cardinal Kaspers Italian text was published the following week in Il Foglio under the title "Bible, Eros, and Family." An English version has since been released in the United States by Paulist Press under the title Gospel of the Family (which, at the time of writing, was not yet available in Canada). This text offers a lengthy exposition of the nature of marriage, including the family as the domestic Church, and four out of the five sections of his talk are a theology of marriage and the family. However, the final fifth section departs from this theological excursion and looks to move forward with respect to the pastoral challenge of those Catholics who are in second "marriages." This text is not without controversy; some media outlets have emphasized Francis' applause to Cardinal Kasper, while others cite the open and vocal opposition of other cardinals to his proposals. This controversy was present already at the consistory, and Cardinal Kasper returned on the second day to offer points of clarification. His address, as he has himself indicated, was meant to "pose questions" that will only be answered by the upcoming Synod on the Family in union with the Holy Father.

A discussion of the topic must first ask: what did Cardinal Kasper actually propose in his fifth section? The Cardinal begins by recognizing the current situation whereby Church teaching is clear and those who are in second "marriages" are not able to partake of the Eucharist. This is based on the objective incompatibility of the moral situation of divorced-and-remarried individuals with reception of the Eucharist. Cardinal Kasper's talk offered two possibilities to deal with this issue.

First, Cardinal Kasper offers the proposal of simplifying the procedure for the faithful to obtain a declaration of nullity. When the faithful feel, in conscience, that their marriage was not valid, they are free to approach an ecclesiastical tribunal to begin a cause in order to obtain a declaration of nullity. After satisfying the procedural norms, if a marriage is found to be null by a local tribunal, current canon law automatically requires a second conforming decision, meaning that a higher tribunal (in Canada the national second instance tribunal in Ottawa) either confirms or rejects the decision of the lower court. This process can take several years, longer if a third instance tribunal (the Roman Rota) is approached. If two conforming decisions are obtained, and no prohibitive clause (that is, a monitum warning or vetitum prohibition) is attached, the party is free to marry in the Church, should they so choose. Evaluating the procedural law of the Church with respect to obtaining a declaration of nullity is certainly a reasonable proposal. It would not be the first such revision of the Church's canon law, and possibilities could exist to allow for a more streamlined procedure while still balancing the need to arrive at the objective truth of the matter. John Paul II himself revised Catholic procedural law for marriage on two occasions, first with the promulgation of the new Code in 1983 and then again with the instruction Dignitas conubii in 2005. Certainly, the Church's procedural law is merely ecclesiastical law and not of divine mandate, meaning it can easily be changed by the Holy Father in his role as supreme legislator.

Cardinal Kasper offers one concrete possibility for this proposal, however, which would be problematic: instead of entrusting this task to tribunals, perhaps bishops could assign this task to a priest with "spiritual and pastoral experience" (unlike those priests, such as this author, who work on tribunals and apparently lack those qualities). Arriving at moral certainty regarding the nullity of a marriage is an immensely complicated process. Acts of nullity cases can frequently run several hundred pages and are most frequently decided by a collegial panel of judges in order to avoid any error. Even with these processes, the Holy See frequently expresses concerns regarding the activities of some local tribunals. For this task to be entrusted to a single priest any hope of genuinely arriving at the truth would need to be abandoned. Catholic News Service, covering Kasper's talk, remarked that this proposal reflects "mercy" as the supreme law; this is an utterly defective and misguided conclusion. The supreme law is the salvation of souls and this is in fact opposed by false mercy, a mercy which offers condoning a reality that is against truth.

Cardinal Kasper recognises that changes to the procedure of obtaining a declaration of nullity could be interpreted as simply ecclesiastical divorces. In this context the Cardinal proposed his second possibility whereby those without a declaration of nullity, who are divorced-and-remarried, could still approach the Eucharist. This is not a recognition of their second "marriage" but a manner in which, despite their living situation, they could still partake of the Eucharist. "Are we going to let him die of sacramental hunger?" the Cardinal asked. After appealing to Aquinas, Cardinal Kasper interestingly cites a young Joseph Ratzinger who proposed, in 1972, a period of penance before approaching the Eucharist. It is interesting that this obscure article is cited, whereas this same author wrote the opposite position numerous times, including authoritatively as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Kasper's discussion then turns to the practice of the Early Church. He cites numerous situations in the Early Church whereby individuals were able to approach the sacrament after a failed marriage and a period of penance. He then makes two strange references. First, Cardinal Kasper refers to canon eight of the Council of Nicaea, which instructs that the rigorous cathari must not boycott communion when in second marriages (i.e. those who were widows and remarried). This is a misguided reference that confuses the context of the cited canon; this refers to widows who were in second marriages. In the Christian East marriage is understood to have effects after death, and a second marriage service for a widow is a penitential service (and, in fact, the historical canons prohibit a priest from attending the banquet). The need to emphasize the validity of second marriages for widows was still present in the 1917 Code (see c. 1142).

Even worse, however, is the reference to the practice of the Orthodox Churches. Orthodox Christians allow ecclesiastical divorces. This is an established fact founded upon a radically different interpretation of Matthew 19:9 ("except for porneia") as well as a stricter adherence to Christian Roman Law which did admit divorce for reasons beyond adultery, such as capital crimes and taking monastic vows (see Justinian, N. 117). This is reflected even in the teachings and canonical writings of certain Church Fathers, including St. Basil (see, for example, cc. 8, 21, 48 of St. Basil which admits divorce for adultery). This is a drastically different approach to marriage that is directly contrary to the canonical and theological tradition of the Latin Church and is a position explicitly condemned and anathematized at the Council of Trent (Sessio XXIV, c. 7). Certainly Kasper, given his theological reputation and immense ecumenical experience, must be familiar with this nuance of Orthodoxy not recognizing the absolute non-dissolubility of sacramental marriage; its absence is either a glaring omission from this proposal or certainly must be categorized as ignorance and not nescience. Finally, he again appeals to the previously-cited writing of Joseph Ratzinger as support for admission to the Eucharist after a period of penance.

The teaching of the Catholic Church is clear on this topic. Those who are persisting in a grave sin are unable to receive the Eucharist (c. 915). Being in a second "marriage" is understood to be a form of "public and permanent adultery" and divorce is "a grave offence against the natural law" (see CCC 2382-2386). As a result, those who are in irregular marriage situations are not able to partake of the Eucharist. Any possible change to this discipline requires either a change in the moral understanding of the Church whereby those who are persisting in sin are able to receive the Eucharist, or that divorce and remarriage is admissible in some circumstances. Both of these positions are contrary to the Church's understanding of the Divine teachings of Jesus Christ and are issues of Divine Law, not ecclesiastical law.

Certainly, those in irregular marriages are in need of God's mercy. They are desperately in need of help and prayer. A great many of these people are victims and deeply desire to reconcile their situation in the Church. Tribunals exercise a ministry of mercy that aims to help those suffering in the brokenness of our fallen world, a ministry for which we will be held to account on judgement day. Certainly, procedures are able to be modified so as to more effectively do so. This mercy, however, cannot be separated from the truth; it cannot become a false mercy, one that is focused upon the immediate and superficial happiness of a person instead of their ultimate salvation. Such an approach is not only dishonest, it is diabolical. It must be remembered that Cardinal Kasper is only asking "questions" for the later Synod and is not asking for these actions to be taken: he is hoping for discussion. What likely will happen is some revision to the Church's procedural laws to make tribunal ministry more effective, as has been done previously on numerous occasions.

"Indeed, pastoral love can sometimes be contaminated by complacent attitudes towards the parties. Such attitudes can seem pastoral, but in fact they do not correspond with the good of the parties and of the Ecclesial Community itself; by avoiding confrontation with the truth that saves, they can even turn out to be counterproductive with regard to each person's saving encounter with Christ. The principle of the indissolubility of marriage forcefully reaffirmed here by John Paul II pertains to the integrity of the Christian mystery" (Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Rota, 28 January 2006).

The admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist will not happen because it cannot happen. It is directly opposed to the Church's understanding of marriage and the Eucharist. These are issues of revelation, to which we must heed so that, "speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ" (1 Eph 4:15).

Fr. Alexander Laschuk is a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada. He is currently a doctoral student in canon law and the interim director of the Metropolitan Audrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in Ottawa.
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Title Annotation:admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist
Author:Laschuk, Alexander M.
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2014
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