Just a month or so before the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family begins in Rome, Cardinal Kasper is at it again with an article in America Magazine, “The Message of Mercy”.
There is much to like in his article. He is right that the Church must be a reflection – a sacrament – of God’s mercy. He is right that, as taught by the Gospel of Matthew and by St Paul, the Church must have effective means of discipline lest the Gospel be received as “cheap grace”, that is (and he quotes the Lutheran martyr theologian Bonhoeffer on this) “without mincing words”:
“Cheap grace means the justification of the sin and not the sinner…. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.”
And he is absolutely right when he says that “No theologian, not even the pope, can change the doctrine of the indissolubility of a sacramental marriage”.
But then he goes and blows it all with this:
So the question is: If a person after divorce enters into a civil second marriage but then repents of his failure to fulfill what he promised before God, his partner and the church in the first marriage, and carries out as well as possible his new duties and does what he can for the Christian education of his children and has a serious desire for the sacraments, which he needs for strength in his difficult situation, can we after a time of new orientation and stabilization deny absolution and forgiveness? In the Creed we profess: “I believe in the forgiveness of sin.” When God gives a new chance, a new future to everybody who repents and does what is possible in their situation, why not the church, which is the sacrament of God’s mercy?
Again and again, Cardinal Kasper seems to be incapable of understanding the flaw in his argument. It is not the “sin” of “divorce and remarriage” that prevents a Catholic from being able to receive the sacrament (while their first spouse is still living) – it is the fact that at this point in time, they are having sexual relations with some one who is not their spouse. The Church does not dissolve sacramental marriages, as Cardinal Kasper has said. If a person in a sacramental marriage divorces and remarries, then the new relationship is not a marriage, it is adultery – at least if the couple are having sexual relations. It is this act of adultery which must be repented of, not the failure of the first marriage, or the civil marriage. Let them live as brother and sister and then approach the sacrament.
I recognise the argument Kasper makes, of course. It is the basic approach of the Lutheran and other protestant churches. But it is not recognisable as the teaching of the Catholic Church or the discipline of the Church as the scriptures direct. It is, in fact, precisely what Bonhoeffer would have called “cheap grace”.