Criticism Mounts Over Cardinal Kasper's Speech on Divorce and Remarriage

The Holy Father welcomes an open debate on marriage and the family.
The Holy Father welcomes an open debate on marriage and the family. (photo: EP)

When Cardinal Walter Kasper gave a controversial keynote address on marriage and the family at the Feb. 21-22 extraordinary consistory on the family, several cardinals voiced their disagreement with his comments on divorce and remarriage in discussions that followed.

Cardinal Kasper insisted in an interview with Vatican Radio that the main purpose of his speech was to “deepen the theological understanding of challenges facing the family.” While the Church must remain faithful to its teaching on the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage, he said, it is vital to “help, support, encourage” those experiencing difficulties in their family life.

The Pope "wanted an open discussion about an urgent problem,” the cardinal explained, adding that the Church has to be close to those whose families fail - "to help, support and encourage them and there my proposal (was) to find a way between ‘rigorism’ (strictness) – which cannot be the way of normal Christians – and a pure ‘laxism’ (leniency)."

“I think this can be the only approach of the Church today,” he said. 

The Holy Father, in an interview with Corriere della Sera last month, called Cardinal Kasper's presentation "beautiful and profound" and said he would have been "more worried if there hadn’t been an intense discussion" that followed because "it would have been useless."

"The cardinals knew that they could say what they wanted, and they presented different points of view, which are always enriching," the Pope said. "Open and fraternal debate makes theological and pastoral thought grow. That doesn’t frighten me. What’s more, I look for it."

But now cardinals and theologians have been stepping forward to publicly express their differences - sometimes in very strong terms - with Cardinal Kasper's approach, signifying serious concerns about his proposals and the dangers they present. One of the most strident criticisms came from Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the Archbishop of Bologna, in an interview that appeared in Il Foglio 14 March. ZENIT has the full text which is worth reading in full. Two other prominent experts in the theology of John Paul II have also weighed in with strong criticisms; these can be read here and here. Cardinal Raymond Burke was also critical in a recent interview on EWTN. 

What is of greatest concern is 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 eventual change in doctrine on this key issue, or at least a change in the perception of doctrine with equally as harmful consequences.

"If the kingdom of love and liberty, which is the Church, lets itself be molded above all by the pastoral practice, sooner or later it will be part of the technical world and of its civilization, which I call production (productura) in opposition to culture (cultura)," wrote Professor Stanislaw Grygiel, a close friend and former student of Blessed John Paul II. "In pastoral production, the faith will not take root."

The debate is likely to grow even more intense as the October synod approaches.