Kasper vs Ratzinger, the Unending Dispute
Francis reignited it and the synod has not resolved it. In the paragraphs on the divorced and remarried the word “communion” isn’t there. But the pope could introduce it himself, by authority
by Sandro Magister
ROME, October 30, 2015 – It was palpable that Pope Francis had been dissatisfied with how the synod ended up. In the closing talk and homily he once more took aim at the “conspiracy hermeneutic,” at the arid “faith by the book,” at those who want to “sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.”:
And yet the final document, approved on Saturday, October 24, is entirely a hymn to mercy, from the first line to the last:
Only that there is not even one word, in this document, that would pry the doctrine and discipline of the Catholic Church away from that “no” to communion for the divorced and remarried which was the true wall to be knocked down in the plan of the innovators, the opening that would have led straight to the admission of divorce and remarriage.
The enterprise lasted for two years, from the announcement of the two-part synod to its conclusion. And the February 2014 launch was dazzling, with German theologian and cardinal Walter Kasper, a lifelong reformer, charged by Francis with setting the agenda for the cardinals gathered in consistory.
The selection of Kasper as the lead was in fact a design in itself. For thirty years he had been battling with his historical opponent, fellow countryman Joseph Ratzinger, he too a theologian and then cardinal and then finally pope, and precisely on the two capital questions of the synod just concluded: communion for the divorced and remarried and the balance of power between universal Church and local Churches.
Ratzinger had emerged victorious on both fronts even as cardinal, strong with the authority of John Paul II. But having become pope himself, he neither ostracized nor humiliated his opponent. On the contrary, he kept him close with the prestigious position of president of the pontifical council for Christian unity.
Until everything came back into play with Francis. And with him Kasper rose again as the activist leader of the innovators, with Ratzinger in silence and prayer in his hermitage as pope emeritus.
The error of the innovators was in going too far. At the synod of October 2014 they wove into the “Relatio” halfway through the discussion a series of provocative formulas that led to an immediate outcry over a revolution in Catholic doctrine not only on marriage, but also on homosexuality.
But those formulas did not reflect in the least what had been said in the assembly. And the backlash was deadly. Two highly authoritative cardinals, the Hungarian Péter Erdö and the South African Wilfrid Fox Napier, publicly denounced the maneuver and singled out special secretary of the synod Bruno Forte as the main author of the strongarm tactic. The final “Relatio” omitted the improper passages and took homosexuality off the working agenda.
But the question of communion for the divorced and remarried remained completely open. And in view of the second and last session of the synod, Pope Francis reconfirmed Forte as special secretary and reinforced the team of the innovators with targeted appointments.
That brings us to this October.
The letter that thirteen famous cardinals, including Napier, sent to the pope on the first day irritated the recipient but obtained the desired result: that the previous year’s maneuvers not be repeated.
In the assembly and in the linguistic circles it came out right away that opposition to communion for the divorced and remarried was widespread, especially among the bishops of North America, Eastern Europe, and above all Africa.
The election of the council that acts as a bridge between one synod and another rewarded with massive votes three of the thirteen signers of the letter, cardinals George Pell, Robert Sarah, and Napier, plus three more cardinals and bishops of the same outlook.
It was at this point that the “Germanicus” circle, dominated by Kasper, made the decision to fall back on a minimal solution, which at that point was seen as the only one that could be presented in the assembly with a chance of success: that of entrusting to the “internal forum,” meaning to the confessor together with the penitent, the “discernment” of cases in which to allow “access to the sacraments.”
It is a solution that Benedict XVI himself had not ruled out, if only as a hypothesis still in need of “further study and clarification.” And in fact it was even endorsed in the “Germanicus” circle by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith and a staunch Ratzingerian.
In the draft of the synod’s final document, in the three paragraphs on the divorced and remarried, the “German” solution is transcribed en bloc. But with a few key cuts, the only way it could pass the test of the vote.
And so in the definitive text, approved by more than two thirds of the synod fathers, the words “access to the sacraments” are no longer there, they are left to the imagination. Neither is the word “communion,” nor any equivalent term. In short, no explicit change on the key point.
The final decision is up to Francis and to him alone. But the synod that he so strongly desired has pronounced itself far from his expectations.
This commentary was published in “L’Espresso” no. 44 of 2015, on newsstands as of October 30, on the opinion page entitled “Settimo cielo” entrusted to Sandro Magister.
Here is the index of all the previous commentaries:
The previous articles from http://www.chiesa on the synod just ended:
> Synod. One Tweet Does Not a Summer Make (10.10.2015)
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.