VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Walter Kasper has said he thinks a “growing majority” of the synod members are in favor of his proposal to allow some divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics to receive holy Communion.

Speaking to the Register’s Rome correspondent Edward Pentin as he came out of Tuesday evening’s small working-group discussions, the German cardinal said the “growing majority are in favor of an opening.”

“I saw it [an opening] — but it’s more of a feeling,” he said, adding that the synod has yet to vote on it. He added that the Holy Father has been “silent” about his opinion and “has listened very carefully” during the synod, “but it’s clearly what he wants, and that’s evident,” he added.

“He wants a major part of the episcopacy with him, and he needs it. He cannot do it against the majority of the episcopacy,” Cardinal Kasper said. He added that the Pope had told him problems exist “in his family” and that he has “looked at the laity and seen the great majority are for a reasonable, responsible opening.”

Before the synod began, the German theologian spurred intense debate over his proposal to allow divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics to receive holy Communion after a period of repentance. The proposal has been criticized by several leading cardinals participating in the synod, including Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, Italy, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court.

Cardinal Kasper has said before that he has the “impression” the Pope would like to see an “opening” in the area of allowing Communion for divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics. His comments drew a sharp rebuke from Cardinal Burke. “The Pope doesn’t have laryngitis,” he said last month. “The Pope is not mute. He can speak for himself. If this is what he wants, he will say so.”

So far, Francis has been publicly silent regarding his views on the matter. Asked Tuesday night if Cardinal Kasper does indeed speak for the Pope, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi did not deny the cardinal’s claim, simply saying: “As I have said, Cardinal Kasper can tell reporters what he believes; he is free and responsible” to do so.

Questioned about the concern and confusion his proposal is causing, Cardinal Kasper replied: “I can only speak of Germany, where the great majority wants an opening about divorce and remarriage. It’s the same in Great Britain; it’s everywhere. When I speak to laypeople, also old people, who are married for 50, 60 years, they never thought of divorce, but they see a problem with their culture; and so every family has a problem nowadays.”

He argued that “nobody” is calling into question the indissolubility of marriage and argues that his proposal would be a “development of doctrine” rather than a change. “There must be a common faith, a common discipline, but a different application,” he said.  

In response to Cardinal Kasper’s campaign to admit some divorced-and-remarried people to Communion, Cardinals Caffarra and Müller have pointed to the consistent teaching of the Church on not admitting to Communion those who have not had a declaration of nullity for their first marriages and the convalidation of their current union or the couple abstains from sexual relations.

Cardinal Caffarra, in a March 25 interview with Catholic World Report, addressed Cardinal Kasper’s proposal directly: “The popes have always taught that ... the pope has no authority over [i.e., cannot dispense from] a ratified and consummated marriage. The proposed solution leads one to think that the first marriage remains, but there is also a second form of life together that the Church legitimizes. Therefore, there is such a thing as extramarital human sexuality that the Church considers legitimate. But that negates the central pillar of the Church’s teaching on sexuality. ... John Paul II said in 2000, in an address to the Roman Rota, that ‘it is quite clear, then, that the non-extension of the Roman pontiff’s power to ratified and consummated sacramental marriages is taught by the Church’s magisterium as a doctrine to be held definitively.”

Critics of Cardinal Kasper’s proposal have expressed concern that while the Church's fundamental teaching on divorce and remarriage cannot be changed, pastoral practice might be used as a means to get around it. This, critics fear, could lead to a weakening in the Church’s teaching and authority and possibly an eventual change in doctrine on this key issue, or at least a change in the perception of doctrine with equally as harmful consequences.

Also on the synod, the cardinal appeared to suggest that African views on homosexuality — where the issue remains a taboo — are not listened to by the Western delegates in the assembly. Noting how “impossible” it is for Western delegates to comment on African issues because they are so different, he said, likewise, “they should not tell us too much what we have to do.”

Asked whether Cardinal Kasper’s sense of a “growing majority” in support of his position on Communion for the divorced and remarried is true, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told reporters Wednesday afternoon that all he knew was that there has been a “general sense of welcoming” towards divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics.

“Questions regarding holy Communion were thought about and require careful study to ensure that the efforts we take are well-grounded theologically,” he said, “as, obviously, we want them to be well-grounded pastorally to reach out to people. But the first word is really one of reaching out and welcoming.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.