Cardinal Kasper again: So right, but so wrong

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”.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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25 Responses to Cardinal Kasper again: So right, but so wrong

  1. Faz says:

    It is, in fact, precisely what Bonhoeffer would have called “cheap grace”.

    Given that Bonhoeffer wasn’t a Catholic surely it is not a ‘precise fact’ that he would have called ‘it’ ‘cheap grace’?

  2. Faz says:

    Let them live as brother and sister and then approach the sacrament.

    [Picks jaw up from floor.]

    I’m not sure I can imagine a statement that encapsulates such a profound disconnect with the lives of ordinary people.

    Good people make promises with the best will in the world as best as they can. Sometimes, especially when it involves such a long time and perhaps the most profound need for honesty and self-giving, they get it wrong.

    Associating ‘cheap grace’ with the breakup of a marriage and the struggle individuals go through to rebuild their lives is nothing more than a ‘cheap shot’.

  3. Matthias says:

    I think Bonhoffer would have called it cheap grace as outlined in his classic THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP ,although he was alluding to Baptism and the way it was handled in the then German Lutheran Church -against the background of Bishop Mueller’s German Christians and their subservience to the Nazis,and the cultural relativism of that group. He could apply it to what kasper was saying. His letter on marriage in the Book LETTER’S AND PAPERS FROM PRISON ,states his position as a Christian (and as a Lutheran pastor.)

    • Faz says:

      I think Bonhoffer would have … He could apply it …

      Exactly.

      At least you pit Bonhoeffer against Kasper on the basis of ‘would have’ and ‘could have’. You don’t claim it as a ‘fact’.

      • Schütz says:

        I said “would have”. And may I remind you, Tony, that I personally have lived in the situation of which I speak.

        I am currently teaching 1 Corinthians for Anima Education, and it is worth taking a very hard look at Chapter 5. It is a situation that perhaps today we might (might) be ready to wink at, but Paul demands that the Corinthians thow the book at the fellow, and not even eat with such a one – a demand which in that context definitely included not admitting the person to the Eucharist.

        Reading Chapters 5 and 6 of 1 Corinthians, it becomes very clear that Paul is prepared to withhold judgment from so-called “outsiders” (“who am I to judge”, cf. 1 Corinthians 5:12), but those who have been initiated into the Christian community are held to the highest moral standard. The early Church knew something about this: Great mercy was shown to sinners in extending the sacrament of baptism to them – but once you accepted the sacrament and your vocation to righteousness and sanctity, no latitude was to be extended to the sinner without full repentance and renunciation of the sin.

        Perhaps the problem today is that so many baptised Christians are living lives indistinguishable to secular pagans, and have never come to terms with the high ideals (yes, I will use that word) to which their baptismal vocation has committed them. The necessity here is the proclamation of the gospel and the call to repentance. If we are to invoke Bonhoeffer, as Cardinal Kasper does, this is surely what he “would have” required, rather than the “cheap grace” of justifying the sin rather than the sinner.

        • Faz says:

          I said “would have”.

          I think that’s being tricky, David. Your assertion is ‘It is, in fact, precisely …’. I don’t have a problem with applying Bonhoeffer’s thoughts to an argument — notwithstanding that I haven’t come across him using ‘cheap grace’ in the specific way you used it — or disagreeing with Kasper, but when you assert it as ‘fact’ I think you go too far.

          And may I remind you, Tony, that I personally have lived in the situation of which I speak.

          Not sure how that informs this discussion, David, beyond saying that these issues are more than just academic for me too.

          In terms of ‘judgement of wrong’, if, by way of an example, I see a man abusing his relationship with his wife/partner it is no less wrong for a professed Catholic than an atheist. I may have a different way of approaching the individuals in terms of how they understand ‘wrong’, but from my point of view, there’s no ‘hierarchy of offence’.

          If I see a Catholic man who has, to the best of my assessment, done his best to live a good life and pay genuine heed church teaching and, at a young age, made a mistake in terms of his marriage vows and now is living with a woman he loves, I would seek to ‘judge’ what is in his heart than what rule he broke.

          When you’re part of a parish for a long time you know that it is full of people who (according to what I understand your interpretation of Paul is) could be kicked out or ‘called out’, including me.

          • Schütz says:

            Tony, all I can say is that I find no evidence of the Church in communion with the Bishop of Rome ever accepting the remarriage of Christian spouses after they have been divorced from or by their legitimate Christian partners. Any teaching to the contrary would be a complete novelty, and would only be possible on the basis of a complete reworking of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

            My comment regarding Bonhoeffer was made on the following basis:

            1) Bonhoeffer said that it was “cheap grace” when one justified the sin rather than the sinner
            2) In the linked article, Cardinal Kasper acknowledges that no one, not even the pope, can dissolve a sacramental marriage
            3) he says that in order for absolution to be given, there must be repentance for the sin committed,
            4) nevertheless, he goes on to argue that the Church should mercifully overlook the situation in which a baptised Christian is having sexual relations with someone other than the spouse to whom they are bonded in the sacrament of matrimony when in every other respect they are leading faithful Christain lives

            How is it possible to see this as anything other than justification of the sin, rather than the sinner? IOW, is this not a case of “cheap grace” under the category of Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

            • Faz says:

              I don’t know, David.

              I mean how could +Kasper get it ‘so wrong’ and ‘blow it’? What would he know about church teaching or Bonhoeffer?

              Mind you, if Magister is right (see http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350864?eng=y) , he has some impressive company.

              For me, it’s about responding to what’s in front of me. I see good people who make a mistake and go on to live in loving relationships and bear a life time of ‘good fruit’.

              Maybe the church is finding a way to come round to a similar view.

            • Schütz says:

              Thanks for the reference to Fr Dr Paul McGavin’s paper on Chiesa (direct link to the full article is here: http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350863). I know Fr McGavin quite well having worked in the same parish with him for a while about a decade ago. I read his piece right through this afternoon – and sent off a short email to him flagging a number of issues on which I would like to engage him. He responded briefly that neither Kasper’s musings nor his own essay are in any way “the last word” on the matter.

              I would say the same for my own comments – however definite the tone of my posts may be. The fact is that I would be very happy for the Church to propose a “merciful” way of handling the many irregularities in marriage that are regrettably as much a part of the life of the Christian community today as they are of our society in general. In his essay, Fr McGavin joins both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis in expressing disdain for dogmatics done on the basis of “cold syllogisms” in “ivory towers” divorced (if I may use the word) from pastoral practice. I concur.

              Nevertheless, whatever “solution” might be proposed must, as Fr McGavin himself points out, be coherent and deal with realities rather than ideas (as Pope Francis exhorted us in Evangelii Gaudium). As yet, I am not convinced that Cardinal Kasper’s proposal is coherent – either logically or with the dominical and apostolic commands of scripture and the unbroken tradition of the Western Church. I am open to being convinced. I would be happy to be convinced. But at this point, I am not convinced.

              Further, I am not exactly sure what is “real” and what is an “idea”. Some people would say that the pastoral “reality” is the broken (that is, dead, dissolved, non-existent) marriage and the “idea” is the dogmatist’s dream of the indissoluble sacramental marriage bond. I find myself wondering if in fact it isn’t the other way around: that we are today culturally convinced of the “idea” that when the relationship break down the marriage ends, when the “reality” is in fact that what God has joined together no human being is able to separate.

              I am sure that Cardinal Kasper knows very well what Church teaching is. But for the last 21 years (he began this in 1993 as John L. Allen Jnr points out in this column: http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2014/09/09/the-old-debate-on-divorce-has-a-new-wildcard-francis) he has been challenging Church teaching. It may be a case of serenity to accept the things one cannot change, courage to change the things one can, and wisdom to know the difference.

              As for Kasper’s understanding of Bonhoeffer – I don’t see why he should be any more skilled in reading Bonhoeffer than I am. After all, I read Bonhoeffer as a Lutheran, and understand his Lutheranism. I can guarantee that Cardinal Kasper has never done that. Though oddly, there are a number of German Lutheran ideas that I see coming through in Kasper’s theology. Another one is his idea of the role of a permanent deacon, and his advocation of deaconesses. In this, he seems to have been curiously affected by the 19th Century German Lutheran deaconess movement. Just an observation.

          • Faz says:

            I would say the same for my own comments – however definite the tone of my posts may be.

            The ‘tone’ and some of the expressions gave the opposite impression, at least to me.

            The fact is that I would be very happy for the Church to propose a “merciful” way of handling the many irregularities in marriage that are regrettably as much a part of the life of the Christian community today as they are of our society in general.

            And that seems to be what +Kasper was exploring, only even he came across as less ‘definitive’!

            In his essay, Fr McGavin joins both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis in expressing disdain for dogmatics done on the basis of “cold syllogisms” in “ivory towers” divorced (if I may use the word) from pastoral practice. I concur.

            On that basis, the association of ‘cheap grace’ with situations which are traumatic and confusing for the individuals but, in many cases, lead to a greater maturity and faithfulness — a ‘life lesson’ learned the hard way, if you will — seems pretty unhelpful to me.

            In my experience, those who’ve come through such difficulties with any sense of grace would argue that is was ‘hard one’.

            And if they are now in a situation of a sustained, faithful, loving and life-giving relationship, the church needs to find a way to see that for what it is and honour it.

            (And, no, I really don’t think living together ‘as brother and sister’ cuts it.)

            • Schütz says:

              On that basis, the association of ‘cheap grace’ with situations which are traumatic and confusing for the individuals but, in many cases, lead to a greater maturity and faithfulness — a ‘life lesson’ learned the hard way, if you will — seems pretty unhelpful to me… (And, no, I really don’t think living together ‘as brother and sister’ cuts it.)

              Here’s the issue:
              1) Bonhoeffer’s phrase “cheap grace” refers to a number of things, one of which is (as Kasper points out) “justifying the sin rather than the sinner”
              2) We justify the sin when we excuse what truly is sin as if it is not sin
              3) The question is: is it a sin in all circumstances for a baptised Christian to have sexual relations with someone other than the baptised Christian with whom they have contracted a valid, sacramental marriage?
              4) If the answer is “yes”, then there is no way that one can make special excuses for Christians in second marriages when the spouse of their previous valid and sacramental marriage is still living, without falling under Bonhoeffer’s condemnation of “cheap grace”
              5) If the answer is “no”, then one must explain why such a relationship is not sinful, keeping in mind the fact (as Kasper himself points out) that no power on earth, not even the pope, can dissolve a valid, sacramental marriage.

              By all means, let us be merciful. But let us do so by justifying the sinner, not by justifying the sin.

            • Faz says:

              I think your construction is exactly what brings this to mind:

              … disdain for dogmatics done on the basis of “cold syllogisms” in “ivory towers” divorced (if I may use the word) from pastoral practice …

              When, by way of an example, I see a couple who have grown old together after raising a family and having been generous members of their community, I thank God for them.

              I may know another such couple where one, or both of them, are in a second marriage under circumstances that for you (and, I assume the Church) is technically described as ‘adulterous’.

              I’m just as thankful to God for them and the notion that they are in some state of ‘sin’ is ‘ivory tower’ stuff.

              Never mind the technical constructions about ‘compassion and mercy’, that doesn’t seem compassionate, merciful or sensible any way you cut it.

              It seems to me that the church is forcing individuals to make a promise that only a ‘God’ could make and, as such, can’t be broken. I can’t think of another area of life where this applies, where, effectively, the individual is ‘punished’ for a once-only mistake.

            • Schütz says:

              You say you cannot think of another such example. Mike, in a comment on the post above (“Bringing out the big guns”) suggests a few. I could suggest another: anyone who makes a living providing abortions or running a brothel or a casino would, I think, be expected to give up that living – even if it meant financial hardship to them and their family – if they wished to live in eucharistic communion with the Church.

            • Faz says:

              Certainly getting out the ‘big guns’ there, David!

              Let’s see, someone making a living out of abortions or prostitution has some moral equivalence to a couple freely choosing to get married a second time where one or both is divorced and live like a regular married couple (ie, including engaging in sexual intimacy).

              In one case you start with an ‘activity’ that, put simply, is always wrong. It doesn’t equate to an ‘activity’ that is right in one circumstance (first marriage) and wrong in the other (second marriage).

              Also, if the same rules applied, the individual would not only have to get out of the business, but get out of business. He or she doesn’t get a second chance to run a legitimate business; it’s one strike and you’re out.

            • Schütz says:

              In 1 Corinthians 5-7, St Paul deals with a variety of sexual and marital situations. In particular we get the contrast of as sexual relations with a prostitute and sexual relations within a marriage. Interestingly, both are. Described as having “one flesh/body” consequences – but one results in uncleanness and one in sanctity. One must be abandoned and the other must not be. Basically any sexual activity outside of legitimate marriage is “porneia” – sexual immorality. The sex act may seem to be identical, but in fact it is entirely different.

            • Faz says:

              The sex act may seem to be identical, but in fact it is entirely different.

              Adding weight, I think, to the unreasonableness of the comparison to prostitution and abortion.

  4. “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.”

    David,

    The discipline which pertains in the Catholic Church is largely due to the influence of Augustine. The Eastern church has always permitted remarriage after divorce to the innocent party in the case of adultery and desertion and even in the post-Augustine West I believe some local councils also ruled thus (prior to and contemporary with Augustine there were also different views in the West, as evidenced by Tertullian and Jerome, for e.g.). In the modern context I believe the Orthodox Church also permits remarriage after divorce as a matter of pastoral ‘economia’ or discretion.

    If, for your argument’s sake, we exclude the position of Lutheran and Protestant ‘ecclesial communities’ from the discussion, we still find that the discipline of the church catholic is not as monolithic as you suggest. Clearly the Eastern churches and some Western theologians prior to and since Augustine have given more weight to the Matthean exception and/or the Pauline privilege than Rome. I would actually aver that Augustine’s/Rome’s position could be cited as a clear example of the dangers of doing theology deductively, working from a premise established by one’s theology, rather than working inductively from the ‘data’ of scripture.

    In any case, to get back to the Reformers, their views permitting divorce and remarriage in the case of adultery and desertion can be seen to have ample precedent in the tradition, not to mention Holy Scripture.

    • Schütz says:

      Dear Pastor Mark,

      I, and the Churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome, have great reason to believe that all the Church Fathers and Synods condemned as sinful the remarriage of baptised Christians after divorce from their baptised Christian spouses. I understand that you are skilled in finding support for protestant doctrines in the Patristic writings. Please produce one Church Father or Synod which dissented from this unanimous point of view. I think you will find that it is the Catholic Church which has preserved the teaching of our Lord and the Apostles on this matter.

  5. Faz says:

    Notwithstanding the way secular media often screws up reports related to the church, it would appear that PF1 is acting more in line with the sentiment expressed by +Kasper.

    There are many references to this ceremony where some of the couples had backgrounds requiring ‘forgiveness’, but this will get you started: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29198491

    • Faz, could you clarify something you wrote in an earlier comment? (I ask you this here, rather than as a reply to the comment in question, so that you don’t miss it.) You wrote that

      “It seems to [you] that the church is forcing individuals to make a promise that only a ‘God’ could make and, as such, can’t be broken.”

      Are you saying that you think that man, by his very nature (or, at least, by his fallen nature), is incapable of forming a union with a woman which only death can dissolve, irrespective of what might happen after forming that union?

      Reginaldvs Cantvar

      • Faz says:

        No, I’m saying that, with the best will in the world, people make mistakes.

        In every other area of our lives it seems, we are a product (hopefully in a positive sense!) of our mistakes. We learn and try to get better.

        Not so when we make a mistake in marriage. It’s ‘one strike and your out’. I don’t believe God would burden us with that.

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