Communion for the Remarried Still a Heated Debate

Fresh opposition to Kasper’s ideas from Cardinal Brandmüller. And also from the vicar general of Chur and seven theologians and canonists of four countries. But in the theological faculty of Regensburg there is talk of the admissibility of a second marriage

by Sandro Magister

ROME, June 11, 2014 – Pope Francis doesn’t like the discussion in view of the upcoming synod being focused only on communion for the divorced and remarried. He said so to journalists during the flight back to Rome from the Holy Land. His preference is decidedly for a “holistic,” global reflection on the family.

But what focused everyone’s attention on that controversial point was precisely the presentation with which Cardinal Walter Kasper introduced the consistory last February. A presentation that Francis immediately passed with flying colors, telling the cardinals he had found it theologically “profound,” “serene,” thought out “on [his] knees,” and that the Argentine Jesuit Juan Carlos Scannone, the theology professor of the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has praised even more highly in the latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica.”

The fact is that since that consistory the controversy over communion for the remarried has rocked the Church even at the highest levels.

Cardinal Kasper himself has again spoken out in favor of communion for the remarried, in an extensive interview with “Commonweal.”

But there has also been public opposition to Kasper, including from cardinals Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Carlo Caffarra, Velasio De Paolis, and Walter Brandmüller.

The latter of these recently presented a second argument dedicated to this issue, published in Italian on a website of theological reflection:

> Connubio tra potere e diritto

As the Church historian that he is – and as president for more than twenty years of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences – Brandmüller has presented in this essay the clash between Pope Nicholas I and Lothair II, king of Lotharingia, in the ninth century.

Lothair first had a mistress named Waldrada, then married the noble Teutberga for the sake of political interests, and later separated from her and married his previous companion, wanting at all costs that the pope should recognize the validity of his second marriage.

But in spite of the fact that Lothair enjoyed the backing of the bishops of his region and the support of Emperor Louis II, who even invaded Rome with his army at one point, Pope Nicholas I – now venerated as a saint – did not give in to his claims and never recognized his second marriage as legitimate.

Cardinal Brandmüller makes a compelling reconstruction of the events and analyzes them from the historical, legal, and theological point of view.

Among other things, he points out how Nicholas’s exhortation to Lothair to welcome back his true wife Teutberga, not only in formal terms but with sincere love, dismantles “the cliché that defines the understanding of the marriage of love based on a spiritual bond solely as an achievement of the modern age.”

Further below is the final part of Brandmüller’s essay, in which he draws a lesson for today’s Church from those historical events.

But after Brandmüller’s text, also on this page, is the concluding section of another statement issued in recent days against communion for the remarried, written by Monsignor Martin Grichting, vicar general of the diocese of Chur, Switzerland.

Grichting’s commentary was published in German in “Die Tagespost” of June 5:

> Wider die Engführung

And here is the complete Italian translation:

> Uscire dal corridoio stretto

The central part of Grichting’s statement is a reflection in close continuity with what Brandmüller has written.

He insists, in fact, on the risk that in some countries the Church might give in to pressure from the culture and the dominant powers on questions of marriage, under the illusion of enjoying their support. And he gives the example of the French Church, which at the beginning of the twentieth century was about to submit to political authority for the sake of maintaining ownership over its assets. It was Pius X who held the French Church back from this concession, “even at the cost of poverty.”

But the statement of the vicar general of the diocese of Chur is interesting for other reasons as well, in the initial and final parts of his text.

As can be seen from the selection reproduced here, immediately after Cardinal Brandmüller’s text.



by Walter Brandmüller

If history, including the history of the Church, does not content itself with appearing as a collection of episodes that are more or less edifying – and sometimes even entertaining or scandalous – and on account of its results even makes a claim to theological significance, then it is necessary to consider the theological conclusions that emerge from the dispute over the marriage of Lothair II. [. . .] Considering the social position of the persons involved in the case taken into consideration and the dimensions of the conflict, which embraced both politics and the Church, it is not an exaggeration to consider the dispute over the marriage of the Frankish king as a milestone in the long process of the affirmation of Christian marriage norms.

In examining the different stages of this process, we note that under the fundamental aspect, that of theology, there were no doubts. But there was great uncertainty over the application of Christian teaching on marriage in concrete cases, which continued to present themselves in a social situation characterized by the pagan tradition.

In fact, we find in this regard bishops and synods that thought they could dissolve marriages and permit new ones, precisely as happened in the case just described. This observation could lead us to recall a formula forged by Enlightenment-era canon law: “Olim non erat sic,” once it was not so.

Applied to the present: “Once there existed the permission to remarry after a divorce.” So is there some reason that prevents, in the current situation and in the face of the pastoral difficulties of the present, returning to a position already taken in the past and to admitting a “more humane” practice – as one would put it today – of divorce and new marriage?

This therefore raises a question of great theological significance. Its importance emerges when we remember that a similar argument has been made in the area of ecumenical theology. Could one not – this is the question in that arena – more easily persuade the Orthodox to reunification if there were a return to the state of relations between East and West before the excommunications of 1054?

Already around the middle of the 17th century, moreover, there was an appeal – to be precise, by the theologians of “Lutheran orthodoxy” and the school of Helmstädt, closer to Melanchthon – to the model of reunification of the “consensus quinquesaecularis”: of a return, that is, to the situation of the doctrine of the faith and of the Church that existed in during the first five centuries and about which there are no controversies today.

Truly fascinating ideas! But do they really offer a key to resolving the problem? Only in appearance. [. . .] Tradition in the technical-theological sense of the term is not a market of antiquity where one can look for and acquire particular desired objects.

“Traditio-paradosis” is instead a dynamic process of organic development consistent with – if I may use this comparison – the Church’s genetic code. But this is a process that does not find adequate counterparts in the profane history of human social forms, in states, in dynasties and so on. Just as the Church itself is an entity “sui generis” with no analogies, so also its practical decisions cannot be compared, “sic et simpliciter,” with those of purely humane and worldly communities.

What is decisive here, instead, is divine revelation. This is the source of the indefectibility of the Church, or the fact that the Church of Christ, as far as its patrimony of faith, sacraments, and hierarchical structure founded on divine institution are concerned, cannot undergo any development that would threaten its identity.

As soon as one takes seriously as a matter of faith the action of the Holy Spirit who dwells in the Church and who, according to the promise of the Divine Teacher, will lead it into all truth, it appears obvious that the principle “olim non erat sic” does not belong to the nature of the Church and therefore cannot be a determining factor for it.

But if the synods mentioned above effectively authorized Lothair II to remarry, was that not also a decision guided by the Holy Spirit? Was it not perhaps an expression of the “traditio”?

The answer to that lies in the concrete form and competency of those synods. [. . .] In the case examined those synods were not at all free, and given the pressure exercised by the king they must undoubtedly be considered as biased, if not in fact corrupt. Their dependence on Lothair II led to such compliance with the wishes of the king that the bishops even violated the law and corrupted the pontifical legates.

Taking into account the circumstances and other irregularities, it was evident that those synods had done anything other than administer justice. It was precisely this kind of experience that led to the norm in canon law that deprives territorial ecclesiastical tribunals of competency over cases concerning the highest authorities of the state and indicates as the only competent forum the tribunal of the pope (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1405). [. . .]

One can therefore not consider even remotely that such assemblies could be a place to find the authentic and binding tradition of the Church.

Of course, it is not only the general councils but also the particular synods that can formulate “traditio” in a binding manner. Nonetheless, they can do so only if they themselves correspond to the demands of the authentic tradition in terms of both form and content. This, however – it is good to reiterate this – was not the case with the assemblies of bishops examined here.


In tying up the loose ends of the argument just presented, in conclusion allow me to respond to a possible objection that someone could raise and that corresponds to the interpretative scheme of a “history of the victors,” closer to Marxist historical thought. [. . .] This way of considering the events of Church history, and the results of the same, would permit one to see the latter as mere casual products of their own relativity. In other words, one could toss them aside at any moment and set off in other directions.

But this is not possible if one takes as the foundation an authentically Catholic understanding of the Church, as expressed most recently in the constitution “Lumen Gentium” of Vatican Council II.

For this purpose it is necessary – as already observed – for the Church to be able to be certain of the constant help of the Holy Spirit, who is its most intimate vital principle, establishing and guaranteeing its identity in spite of all the changes of history.

In this way, therefore, the effective development of the teaching, sacraments, and hierarchy of divine law are not the casual products of history, but are guided and made possible by the Spirit of God. Because of this such development is irreversible and is open only in the direction of more complete understanding. Tradition in this sense thus has a normative character.

In the case examined, this means that there is no way out of the teaching of unity, sacramentality, and indissolubility rooted in marriage between two baptized persons except for that – inevitable and therefore to be rejected – of maintaining that these are an error to be corrected.

The manner in which Nicholas I proceeded in the new marriage of Lothair II – aware of the principles, unyielding, and fearless – constitutes an important stage of the journey to the affirmation of the teaching on marriage in Germanic culture.

The fact that the pope, and a number of his successors on similar occasions, showed himself to be an advocate for the dignity of the person and the freedom of the weak – who for the most part were women – earned for Nicholas I the respect of historiography, the crown of sanctity, and the title of “Magnus.”



by Martin Grichting

The upcoming synod, and in particular the question of the divorced who have “remarried” in a civil ceremony, could be an opportunity for new reflection on the conditions that make sacramental communion fruitful and on the frequency of receiving this sacrament.

The Council of Trent did not prescribe any particular frequency. Then the precept of receiving communion at least once a year was established. [. . .] Although afterward many spiritual authors recommended frequent communion, it was only with the decree “Sacra Tridentina Synodus,” issued by the sacred congregation of the council on December 20, 1905, that the turning point came.

This document, promulgated at the initiative of Pope Pius X, stated that frequent and even daily communion was highly commendable, and invited the faithful to receive it often.

Pius X, however, laid down a few conditions for frequent communion. The faithful must not receive it out of habit, for the sake of vanity or human respect. Above all they must be free from grave sin and have the intention of sinning no more, according to the word of Saint Paul: Let each one recognize the body of the Lord and not eat and drink his condemnation by receiving it unworthily (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

Even back then, therefore, one could not think of a general and unrestricted invitation to receive sacramental communion, especially since the rules for Eucharistic fasting were much more restrictive than they are today. In many cases, in fact, communion was distributed only during the first Sunday morning Mass.

But unfortunately the conditions for receiving sacramental communion, which at the time of Pius X were still considered obvious, have practically been ignored by the Church in recent decades. In practice, what remains of the guidelines of Pius X today is only the invitation to frequent communion, which is even interpreted as an invitation extended to all present at the celebration. Today sacramental communion is seen as an obligatory part of the rite of the Mass, like making the sign of the cross with holy water or the exchange of the sign of peace.

So what is needed for those “remarried” in a civil ceremony – but not only them – is a change of mentality. If the conditions mentioned by Pope Pius X for approaching sacramental communion were still applied in pastoral practice, the question concerning sacramental communion for those “remarried” in a civil ceremony would be situated in a broader context more favorable to them. These faithful would no longer be the only black sheep discriminated against, since of course there is not only the sixth commandment but also the rest of the ten.

Moreover, the problem concerning sacramental communion for those “remarried” in a civil ceremony has been getting more serious in recent decades because of the liturgical impoverishment of ecclesial life. In some parishes the liturgy is reduced solely to the Eucharistic celebration. The various forms of popular piety, the different religious functions, Eucharistic adoration, the common recitation of the rosary or the breviary have been ever more marginalized.

Without a doubt, the Eucharist is “the fount and apex of the whole Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11). But the thinning out of the forms that prepare for and lead to this apex accentuates the difficult situation of those who, for whatever reason, are unable to approach this fount of Christian life because the personal conditions of their lives do not permit them to do so.

These reflections demonstrate that the debate over the “remarried” faithful cannot lead to any useful result if it continues to be restricted to the question of whether or not they may receive communion.

The manner of proceeding proposed by Cardinal Kasper ignores theological principles of Church doctrine concerning the sacraments of penance, marriage, and the Eucharist. It is obvious that these principles cannot be sacrificed in order to “save” the Church. If the debate remains in this narrow channel there is the risk that it will get stuck there.

The only solution remaining is therefore that of developing and putting into action a specific pastoral practice for the “remarried” faithful that respects Church teaching. The Church must also attend to the liturgical impoverishment that has been created in recent decades. And finally there must be fresh study and reflection at the level of the universal Church over the question of the worthy and fruitful reception of the sacraments.

If an exploration of Church teaching and a renewal of pastoral practice could be opened on these points, the next two sessions of the synod will have been well spent.


In the dispute on this issue that is taking place even among theologians and canonists, attention should also be paid to two recent statements that have appeared in Germany and Italy.

Sabine Demel, a professor of canon law at the theology faculty of Regensburg, has upheld the idea that the indissolubility of Christian marriage does indeed prevent the dissolution of a valid marriage, but nonetheless permits the Church to revoke its legal effects in exceptional circumstances, allowing a second marriage “for the spiritual good of the partners.”

The commentary by Sabine Demel was published in issue number 6, 2014 of the German Catholic magazine “Herder Korrespondenz”, published in Freiburg:

> (K)ein Widerspruch? Unauflöslichkeit der Ehe und Zulassung zu einer Zweitehe

While seven theologians and canonists of four European countries have spoken out in defense of the indissolubility of marriage, without exceptions, not even by resorting to an abused conception of “mercy” – and therefore against access to communion for the divorced and remarried – in a contribution to the upcoming synod published in its entirety on this other page of http://www.chiesa:

> L’indissolubilità, una sfida da attraversare

In alphabetical order, the seven signatories of the document are Nicola Bux, Juan Carlos Conde Cid, Carlos José Errázuriz M., Andrea Favaro, Montserrat Gas Aixandri, Wojciech Gòralski, Giorgio Zannoni.


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas