In a speech launching a new book, Cardinal Walter Kasper prepared the ground for the second round of the Vatican’s controversial synod on the family. The German Cardinal’s language was full of sweetness and light, but the sub-text was clearly one in which he was rolling up his scarlet sleeves and preparing for a slugfest synod over his controversial proposal that reception of Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics should be permissible under some circumstances.

Calling for the guidance of the Holy Spirit he said, “We should all pray for it because a battle is going on.” He continued, “Hopefully, the synod will be able to find a common answer, with a large majority, which will not be a rupture with tradition, but a doctrine that is a development of tradition.”

It is surprising that a cardinal of the Catholic Church understands so little about the principles of the development of doctrine. These guidelines were laid out by Cardinal John Henry Newman in his historic essay on the topic in 1878. Put very simply, authentic development of doctrine must not only be in continuity with the past, but there must also be a natural growth which is consistent with the past and not contradictory. What seems to be an innovation must be a logical outgrowth of the original kernel of truth. Furthermore, the “new” truth must be seen to be already existent in seed form in the primitive teaching and the “new” truth must be a consolidation not a destruction of the “old” truth. Finally, Newman says there must be “chronic vigor” in the developing doctrine — in other words it presents itself as a vibrant and dynamic outgrowth of the old truth — not a lessening or diminution of that truth. 

In his speech Cardinal Kasper said, “Mercy is, theologically, the expression of the inner nature of God: God is love.” God cannot be other than merciful…God does not let fall anybody who cries, who wants; God does not abandon anybody who hopes for a new start, a new beginning, a new chance.” While those words are heartfelt and inspiring, they do not indicate an authentic kind of development. Instead they cut right across each of Newman’s requirements.

One of the Church’s pre-eminent experts on family life, the Archbishop of Bologna, Carlo Caffarra, is a moral theologian and contributor to the pre-synod book Remaining in the Truth of ChristIn an interview with Il Foglio published on March 15, 2014, Cardinal Caffarra commented on the proposed changes.

“Those who advance this hypothesis do not have an answer to a very simple question: what about the first marriage, ratified and consummated? The proposed solution leads one to think that the first marriage remains intact, but that there is also a second form of cohabitation that the Church legitimizes. Therefore there is an extramarital exercise of human sexuality that the Church considers legitimate. But with this comes a denial of the cornerstone of the Church’s teaching on sexuality. At this point one could ask oneself: so why not approve cohabitation at will? So why not relationships between homosexuals? This is not only a question of practice, it also touches upon doctrine. Unavoidably. One may say that it doesn’t, but it does. Not only that. It introduces a custom that in the long run determines this idea in the people, and not only among Christians: there is no such thing as an absolutely indissoluble marriage. And this is certainly against the Lord’s will.”

 In other words, Cardinal Kasper’s proposals are not a development, but a denial of doctrine.

Vatican observer Sandro Magister believes Pope Francis’ enthusiasm for Cardinal Kasper is waning. He notices that Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith and the most authoritative of the five cardinals of the anti-Kasper pre-synod book, continues to speak out against a subtle Christological heresy which consists in separating doctrine from pastoral practice.

In addition, Magister notes that in an important appointment, Pope Francis has placed the Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, as head of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Cardinal Sarah also rejects the idea of giving Communion to the divorced and remarried because he believes this radically contradicts the teaching of Jesus and of the Church’s magisterium. Agreeing with Cardinal Muller, he writes, “The idea that would consist in placing the magisterium in a pretty box and separating it from pastoral practice, which could evolve according to circumstances, fashions, and impulses. This is a form of heresy, a dangerous schizophrenic pathology.”

Cardinal Sarah said the question of Communion for divorced and remarried was a Western, developed-world obsession and “not an urgent challenge for the churches of Africa and Asia.” Making what might be considered a direct answer to Cardinal Kasper’s famous snub of the Africans, Cardinal Sarah said, “I solemnly affirm that the Church of Africa will firmly oppose any rebellion against the teaching of Jesus and of the magisterium.”

The bishops of Eastern Europe have also stood up to the Kasperite proposals as have the bishops of Poland. If Cardinal Sarah is correct that the leaders of the African and Asian Churches stand against the innovations it may be that the battle Cardinal Kasper envisions will be himself, the German bishops and a few other bishops from the developed countries contra mundum.

Father Dwight Longenecker is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina.

He blogs at Standing on My Head. His latest book is Slubgrip Instructs: Fifty Days With the Devil.

Join Father Longenecker, Johnette Benkovic and Steve Wood April 11-12 for a

Divine Mercy weekend in Greenville, S.C. To learn more go to DivineMercysc.org