Cardinal Kasper Clarifies Issues on the Divorced-and-Remarried

«There Is Not, in Fact, an Easy Solution»

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ROME, NOV. 28, 2005 ( Cardinal Walter Kasper on Friday publicly clarified issues concerning divorced persons who have remarried.

In a commentary published in the Catholic newspaper Avvenire, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity responded to erroneous statements attributed to him in recent days in the press. Here is a translation of Cardinal Kasper’s full text.

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On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the conciliar declaration «Nostra Aetate,» a conference was held in the «Foreign Press» Room on the present state of ecumenical relations and of religious relations with Judaism. My opening address, as well as the subsequent debate (with the exception of only one intervention), was centered on the mentioned topic. However, whoever paged through the Italian newspapers of the following day (except Avvenire, which reported correctly), did not find one single word on the topic of the press conference, but rather a detailed report on the topic of divorced persons who have remarried.

My surprise, as that of many readers, was great. In fact, several articles suggested not only that I had supported the admission of divorced persons to Communion, but considered it possible that the Pope would make a change to the proposition of the Synod of Bishops on the subject. Meanwhile, the dust raised also spread to the foreign press, which in the beginning had referred correctly to what occurred.

The Foreign Press was also surprised by it, and proceeded to transcribe the recording of the discussion. From the latter derives what follows. During the exchange of questions and answers, only one question was asked on the topic of divorced persons who have remarried, and it was not followed up, as it was considered not pertinent to the topic [being discussed]. I restricted myself to speak on the following points: 1) I am not a prophet and I do not know how the Holy Father will use the proposition of the Synod of Bishops; 2) it is a serious pastoral problem, as any one who has experience in the area of the care of souls well knows; 3) a general admission to Communion is not possible, but there are individual cases on which it is appropriate to reflect further. In regard to the last affirmation, I referred expressly to what the Holy Father said to a group of priests in Val d’Aosta last summer [cf. ZENIT, Aug. 16]. I added, in any case, that it had no solution.

There is not, in fact, an easy solution. Every Catholic theologian well knows that the answer might be found only on the basis of the teachings of Jesus and the doctrine of the Church in regard to the indissolubility of marriage. If we want to remain faithful to Jesus’ words, we can only say that, when a marriage has been contracted with sacramental value, while the spouse lives there cannot be a second sacramental marriage recognized by the Church. The civil marriage of a divorced person is, objectively, in contradiction with Jesus’ teachings.

In certain circumstances, the ecclesiastical tribunals can be of help declaring the first marriage invalid. There are, however, complex cases from the pastoral point of view, for example, when the first marriage, despite its validity, was entered into in a superficial way and, in the end, fails, while the second is lived in a consciously Christian manner and is happy and harmonious. In such situations, certainly impossible in themselves, some Greek Fathers of the Church have recommended the exercise of indulgence. In 1972, the then professor Joseph Ratzinger interpreted such affirmations by way of example. The Council of Trent kept to the most rigid Latin tradition, but without rejecting outright the more mild response of the Greek Orthodox Church.

The experts are not in agreement on the consequences that must be drawn from these and other points of view. It is true that one must not move away arbitrarily from the ecclesial discipline, but [the experts] make possible a serious theological reflection. This reflection has nothing to do with the sensational newspaper headlines, which only create confusion and arouse false expectations which then end in disappointment. Precisely in the situation in which we find ourselves, the Church would not serve any one if it moved away from Jesus’ clear teaching.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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