The German Option of the Argentine Pope

Cardinal Kasper and the progressive wing of the Church of Germany have gotten what they wanted. On communion for the divorced and remarried, Francis is on their side. He made up his mind a while ago, and has acted accordingly

by Sandro Magister


ROME, April 28, 2016 – The definitive confirmation of Pope Francis’s endorsement of the German solution to the crucial question of communion for the divorced and remarried has come from Germany’s most famous cardinal and theologian, Walter Kasper, in an interview published on April 22 in the Aachen newspaper “Aachener Zeitung”:

> Kardinal Kasper: Was Franziskus von der Kirche und Europa erwartet

An interview summarized in English here:

> Kasper: Pope Intends “Not to Preserve Everything as it has Been”

Thanks to the post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Lætitia” – Kasper said – the German bishops now have “a tail wind to help solve such situations in a humane way.”

And he recounted this revealing episode. Some time ago, a priest of his acquaintance had decided not to prohibit a remarried mother from receiving communion herself on the day of her daughter’s first communion. And he himself, Kasper, had helped that priest to make this decision, certain that he was “absolutely right.” The cardinal then reported the matter to the pope, who approved of the decision and said: “That is where the pastor has to make the decision.”

So “the door is open” for admission of the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, Kasper continued. “There is also some freedom for the individual bishops and bishops’ conferences. Not all Catholics think the way we Germans think. Here [in Germany] something can be permissible which is forbidden in Africa. Therefore, the pope gives freedom for different situations and future developments.”


Between Kasper and Jorge Mario Bergoglio there is much more than just the occasional contact.

In his last in-flight press conference, on the way back from the Greek island of Lesbos, Francis said he had felt “annoyance” and “sadness” over the importance given by the media to communion for the divorced and remarried.

And yet this has happened precisely on account of the pope’s decision to entrust to Kasper – for decades the leader of proponents of a decisive change in this matter – the opening talk at the consistory of cardinals in February of 2014.

That dramatic consistory was followed by two synods that laid bare the stark divisions within the Church hierarchy. But in Francis’s mind, the script was already written. And it is that which can now be read in “Amoris Lætitia,” the centerpiece of which is precisely the eighth chapter, composed in the typically vague and shifting form of Jorge Mario Bergoglio when he wants to open and not to close a “process,” but that now is leading Kasper and the Germans to say with absolute certainty that they have “the wind at their backs.”

Of course, not all the cardinals and bishops of Germany agree with Kasper. Fellow cardinal and theologian Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, is also German, and has made it known repeatedly – most recently in a book issued a few days before the publication of “Amoris Lætitia” – that he is in radical disagreement with those who, by absolving the divorced and remarried and admitting them to communion, in point of fact undermine the foundations not of one but of three sacraments, marriage, penance, and the Eucharist.

But by now it is as clear as day that for Francis Cardinal Müller isn’t worth a thing, in spite of his role as guardian of doctrine and of the useless toil with which he sent the pope dozens of corrective notes for the draft of the exhortation, which had been given to him in advance merely by virtue of his office.

In fact, for the official presentation of “Amoris Lætitia” to the world on the day of its publication, the pope called not Müller but another cardinal and theologian of the German-speaking area, Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna.

And a few days later, during the flight from Lesbos to Rome, Francis once again proposed Schönborn as the main exegete of the post-synodal exhortation, he being a “great theologian [who] knows well the doctrine of the faith,” as the pope described him. To the question of whether for the divorced or remarried there now is or is not the possibility, formerly precluded, of receiving communion, the pope responded with a peremptory and for once unmistakable: “Yes. Period.” But he recommended that none other than Schönborn be consulted for a more detailed reply.

And not by accident. Because at the synod last October it was precisely the archbishop of Vienna, in agreement with Kasper, who thought up in the “Circulus germanicus” the formulas of apparent respect for the traditional magisterium of the Church but at the same time open to change – capable of getting around Müller’s objections –  which then went into the “Relatio finalis” of the synod and finally into “Amoris Lætitia,” always in that deliberately ambiguous form that however now allows Kasper’s party to chant victory and Müller and the others on his side to suffer a scorching defeat.


On opposing side of the victorious German solution there has been only one bishop so far who has reacted by going right to the heart of the question, not simply entrenching himself behind the “non-magisterial” nature – and therefore able to be interpreted only in the light of the previous magisterium of the Church – of “Amoris Lætitia,” as Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, for example, has instead decided to do.

This bishop is, curiously, also of German ancestry. He is the auxiliary of Astana in Kazakhstan, Athanasius Schneider.

The complete text of the remarks by Bishop Schneider came out in Italian on April 24, on the online agency Corrispondenza Romana” directed by Professor Roberto de Mattei:

> “Amoris lætitia”: chiarire per evitare una confusione generale

And in English the following day on the blog “Veri Catholici”:

> Bishop Athanasius Schneider speaks on “Amoris lætitia”

On the question of communion for the divorced and remarried, Schneider’s criticism of the “confusion” produced by “Amoris Lætitia” is very tough.

“The confusion reaches its apex,” he writes, “since all, whether the supporters of the admission of the divorced and remarried to Communion, or those who oppose them, sustain that the doctrine of the Church in this matter has not been modified.”

Schneider sets up a comparison with the spread of the Arian heresy in the 4th century. In 357, the confusion reached the extreme when Pope Liberius endorsed an ambiguous formula concerning the divinity of Jesus, which made Saint Jerome say, describing the state of disorientation at the time: “The world groaned and found itself, with shock, to have become Arian.”

At that juncture – Schneider notes – “St. Hilary of Poitiers was the only Bishop to undertake grave remonstrations with Pope Liberius for such ambiguous acts.”

But today as well – continues the auxiliary of Astana – the situation is such that some might exclaim like Saint Jerome: “The whole world groans and finds itself, with shock, to have accepted divorce in practice.”

So just as in the 4th century “St. Basil the Great made an urgent appeal to the Pope of Rome to indicate with his own words the clear direction to obtain finally a unity of thought in faith and charity,” so also today “one can consider legitimate an appeal to our dear pope, Francis, the Vicar of Christ and ‘sweet Christ upon earth’ (St. Catherine of Sienna), so that he order the publication of an authentic interpretation of ‘Amoris lætitia’, which should necessarily contain an explicit declaration of the disciplinary principle of the universal and infallible magisterium in regarding to the admission to the sacraments for the divorced and separated, as it has been formulated in n. 84 of ‘Familiaris consortio’.”

Which at no. 84, “incomprehensibly absent from ‘Amoris lætitia’”, says:

“Reconciliation in the sacrament of penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who… take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”


Under the circumstances it nevertheless appears unlikely that Pope Francis would accept such an appeal.

The process of change is in motion, and he is far from showing the slightest intention to want to stop it. On the contrary.

And it is the process in which the Germans of Kasper’s line “get everything they want,” as the moral theologian E. Christian Brugger, a professor at the St. John Vianney theological seminary in Denver, observes in the analysis of “Amoris Lætitia” that he published on April 22 in “The Catholic World Report,” the online American magazine directed by  Carl Olson and published by the Jesuit Joseph Fessio, founder and director of Ignatius Press:

> Five Serious Problems with Chapter 8 of “Amoris lætitia”

Below are some of the passages of the analysis by Professor Brugger, who is about to publish an essay on the indissolubility of marriage at the council of Trent.

One last note about the alliance between the Argentine pope and the progressive wing of the German hierarchy: Cardinal Kasper, together with his countryman and comrade Karl Lehmann, had an important part in that handful of cardinals which in the decades before and after 2000 met periodically in Sankt Gallen, in German-speaking Switzerland, and from which finally emerged the election of Bergoglio as pope.


Five Serious Problems with Chapter 8 of “Amoris lætitia”

by E. Christian Brugger

For Catholics who feel weary about the abuse that the Christian family has lately suffered at the hands of militant secularism, Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Amoris lætitia” (AL) has many encouraging things to say: e.g., its forthright assertion that “no genital act of husband and wife can refuse” the truth that “the conjugal union is ordered to procreation ‘by its very nature’” (AL 80; cf. 222); its ardent rejection of the killing of the unborn (no. 83); its unapologetic affirmation that every child has “a natural right” to have a mother and a father (no. 172), and its needed treatment – the lengthiest in any papal document of the last 50 years – of the importance of fathers for children (no. 175).

But though the text says many true and beautiful things about “love in the family,” Chapter 8 (entitled “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness”) allows – and seems intentionally so – for interpretations that pose serious problems for Catholic faith and practice.

I focus here on five such problems:

1. The way it presents the role that mitigated culpability should play in pastoral care
2. Its inconsistent notion of “not judging” others
3. Its account of the role of conscience in acquitting persons in objectively sinful situations
4. Its treatment of moral absolutes as “rules” articulating the demands of an “ideal” rather than binding moral duties on everyone in every situation
5. Its inconsistency with the teaching of Trent


2. “Amoris lætitia”‘s problematic treatment of the act of “judging”

Chapter 8 insists on the “need to avoid judgments which do not take into account the complexity of various situations” (no. 296). This is, of course, sound advice and should be taken seriously by all involved in pastoral work. But at the same time the text seems also to insist that it is precisely in light of a consideration of such complexity that pastors can judge that persons are in good faith when they decide to remain in their irregularity.

But if we shouldn’t – and indeed can’t – render a judgment of condemnation on another person’s state of soul, then we shouldn’t and can’t render a judgment of acquittal either. But chapter 8 implies that pastors can have adequate certitude that a person lacks subjective culpability and so can free them to participate in the sacraments. No. 299 even refers to the divorced and civilly remarried as “living members” of the Church. The common understanding of a “living” member is a baptized person in grace.

But how can a priest judge that such people are in grace without judging? Pope Francis insists, and rightly so, that we mustn’t judge. But judgment is not only about condemning; it also means acquitting. The presumption here, and throughout the chapter, is that pastors can in fact render a judgment of acquittal on consciences so the people in irregular unions can move forward. But if we cannot and should not judge the souls of others, then we can neither condemn them by saying they are certainly guilty of mortal sin, nor can we acquit them saying they are not subjectively culpable for choosing grave matter. We cannot judge.

If pastors can’t judge souls, what are they to do? They should accept a person’s assessment of his own soul. If pastors pick up indications of mitigated culpability, they should gently help the person to see these factors, then charitably inform him about Jesus’s fuller teaching on marriage (i.e., they should engage in conscience formation); the pastor should then find out if the person is resolved to live according to Jesus’ teaching as understood by the Catholic Church; if the person says “no”, or “I can’t”, the pastor says, “Well, I cannot tell you whether you are in serious sin by refusing to accept the Church’s teaching, for I cannot judge your soul. But even if you are truly in good faith, I cannot judge that you may rightly receive the Holy Eucharist, because I cannot know that, and my telling you that might well encourage you to rationalize ongoing mortal sin and result in your eternal damnation. Moreover, as Saint John Paul II teaches, ‘if [you] were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage’ (‘Familiaris consortio’ 84).”

In this way, pastors would truly put into practice Pope Francis’ Gospel admonition to “judge not”. But these paragraphs give little encouragement to this interpretation.


4. “Amoris lætitia” treats moral absolutes as rules that articulate the demands of an ideal.


Example 2:

AL 305: “Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end [note 351: ‘In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments’]. Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that ‘a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties’. The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality.”

In this passage of AL the German bishops get all they want.

It is true that because of invincible ignorance, people can be living in grace while choosing objectively gravely immoral objects. But even if a pastor could know they are in such ignorance, he would have a duty in charity to help them get out of their objectively sinful situation.

But the passage does not presume that the sinner is in invincible ignorance or that the pastor supposes that. The passage supposes that people who are objectively committing adultery can know they are “in God’s grace”, and that their pastor can know it too, and that their judgment is right because it approves what is in fact what God is asking of them here and now, which is not yet the ideal. The pastor must help them find peace in their situation, and assist them to receive “the Church’s help”, which (note 351 makes clear) includes “the help of the sacraments.”

So, again, the German bishops finally get what they want. Divorced and civilly remarried couples are in complex situations, sometimes without guilt. Pastors should help them discern if their situation is acceptable, even if it is “objectively” sinful, so they can return to the sacraments.

More than this, all those who dissented against the Church’s teachings of moral absolutes get what they wanted. For those so-called absolutes are now non-binding ideals, and people who think that contracepting, etc., are okay for them here and now are doing what God is asking of them in their complex situations.

Another equally important point needs to be made about this process of acquitting consciences. The internal forum is only internal for priests. The divorced person is at liberty to speak about what goes on in confession. If priests acquit divorced and remarried persons to return to the sacraments without reforming their lives, some of these individuals will certainly shout from the rooftops: “I can go to communion”.

This is precisely why John Paul II said in “Familiaris consortio”: “If these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage” (FC, 84).

Why would it lead to such confusion? Because the Church not only teaches by what she says, but by what she does. If a green light were given to invalidly married persons to receive Holy Communion – and we know that the civil marriages of Catholics are invalid because at very least they lack proper form –, if priests give this green light (which would constitute an ecclesial act), this would teach that marriage is not indissoluble. How could it be indissoluble if the Church says that second unions are valid? The acts of the Church’s pastors will undermine the revealed truth of the indissolubility of marriage.


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


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About abyssum

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