UPDATE: Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters March 17 that the apostolic exhortation will be released sometime after Easter week, in the first half of April.

Cardinal Walter Kasper has said Pope Francis’ eagerly anticipated summary document on the Synod on the Family could be published as soon as this Saturday, and that it will mark the “first step” in a reform of the Church that has taken nearly two millennia to achieve.

According to the Italian newspaper Il Terreno, the German theologian told an audience in the Italian city of Lucca on Monday evening that in a “few days (March 19)” a document of about “two hundred pages will be released”.

It’s not clear if, by saying “released”, Cardinal Kasper meant that the document, called a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, will be published on Saturday, or be signed by Pope Francis and published later once it is translated, as usually happens with such documents.

Until now, sources in Rome have said the document will be signed on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, but the actual date of publication has remained unknown.

The cardinal, whose theology Pope Francis has often lauded, went on to say that in the document the Holy Father will “definitively express himself on family issues addressed during the last Synod, and in particular on the participation of the divorced and remarried faithful in the active life of the Catholic community.”

He added that the apostolic exhortation will represent “the first step in a reform” that will mark the “turning of a page” in the Church’s history “after 1,700 years."

"We must not repeat past formulas and barricade ourselves behind the wall of exclusivism and clericalism,” Cardinal Kasper told a packed aula in Lucca’s Real Collegio, adding that the Church must live in the current times and “know how to interpret them.” He then spoke about giving more opportunities for women to serve in Church administration. 

In a 2014 speech that opened discussions on the Synod on the Family, Cardinal Kasper introduced the possibility of the Church admitting civilly remarried divorcees to Holy Communion after a “penitential period”. Since that time, he has regularly spoken up the proposal, implying that Pope Francis will change the Church’s pastoral practice in such a way.

But theologians, canonists and other scholars have strongly opposed the so-called "Kasper thesis", arguing that it would contravene the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and represent an attack on the sacraments. The Pope has never publicly endorsed the proposal, but has called for better integration of remarried divorcees into the life of the Church.

At the Ordinary Synod on the Family last October, the synod fathers agreed to uphold the Church’s teaching on the issue, but at the same time gave more prominence to the “internal forum”, allowing discernment of conscience accompanied by a priest. The synod's final report also never mentioned reception of Holy Communion in this context.

Cardinal Kasper and a few others believed that the text nevertheless “opened a door” to remarried divorcees receiving Holy Communion — a reading strongly rebutted by Cardinal Raymond Burke and others.

Vatican sources told the Register this week that the apostolic exhortation will contain many paragraphs taken from the final report of last October’s Synod on the Family.

The document, which is understood to have been mainly drafted by Argentine theologian Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, has undergone several drafts since January and had many corrections recommended by, among others, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.