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Why Cardinal Kasper’s Proposal Is So Dangerous

Do we really want to cripple the Church’s ability to stand as the world’s last great defender of marriage?

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April 07, 2014
Why Cardinal Kaspers Proposal Is So Dangerous Marcin Mazur UK Catholic Marcin Mazur/UK Catholic
The proposals of Cardinal Kasper and various other German bishops for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to return to the reception of Holy Communion has drawn a number of criticisms from various corners.  Cardinals Burke, Cafarra, and Mueller have all made their opposition to these proposal known publicly, and other noteworthy Catholic thinkers like the canonist Dr. Ed Peters and the Patristics scholar Dr. John Rist have made their opposition known as well.

Not having the same background in theology, history, or canon law as these eminent thinkers, I wish to discuss how the Kasper proposal could have a negative effect on the Church within the public square.  Essentially, further weakening the institution of marriage by “tolerating” divorce and remarriage, even in limited circumstances, will only play into the hands of the proponents of gay marriage.  In the current cultural climate, the Church already has a difficult situation in combating the rise of gay marriage; we need not hamper ourselves further by accepting what amounts to a profound change in the very nature of marriage.


Permanence and Procreation: Two Sides of the Same Coin

In his address to a consistory of cardinals in preparation for the Church’s Synod on the Family, Cardinal Kasper proposed the idea that the Church could tolerate a Catholic’s second, civil marriage without accepting it, by admitting those in such a situation, after some period of penance, back to the Sacraments.  This, in spite of the fact that the couple would be living in a public, legally-recognized second union while their original spouse is still alive.

One of the great weaknesses the American right has in defending marriage is the fact that, broadly, conservatives do not have a proper understanding of what marriage is, or what its purpose is.  Since most Evangelical Protestants tolerate both divorce and contraception, they have lost a proper understanding of the ends towards which marriage is focused, namely, procreation and unity.  

Without procreation as a focus, gay marriage becomes a much more reasonable proposition.  Our modern idea of marriage is that it is focused chiefly on fostering affection between the two persons.  Procreation is not a chief purpose of marriage, and it is perfectly acceptable for couples to exclude the possibility of children for most, or even the entirety, of their marriage.  But affection is not a goal that is exclusive to unions between heterosexuals; homosexuals can and do feel affectionate towards each other, and use sexual activity to foster that affection.  

So how does permanence enter into the equation?  Permanence is not some separate “add-on” characteristic peculiar to Catholic marriage.  Rather, permanence is intimately bound up with procreation, and is therefore central to marriage as an institution arising out of human nature.  

Because it is oriented towards procreation, marriage must also naturally and rightly be a lifelong commitment.  The procreation of children is not a task that ends at childbirth; it must continue throughout the children’s lives as the parents provide them with a stable, loving structure in which to advance in virtue and wisdom: the family, ordinarily led by the children’s biological parents.  By having children, parents also receive a greater reason to persevere through the difficulties of their union, by working together for the benefit of their offspring.  Thus, procreation is at the same time both the motive for marriage’s permanence and its guarantee of permanence.

Thus, if the Church receives Catholics who have divorced and remarried back to the Sacraments, it not only wrecks the Church’s consistent teaching on marriage as a lifelong institution, but it would also strike at the heart of marriage as focused on procreation, on raising up and fostering life.  If Catholics are free to choose to end their marriages and take up with another person, the focus of married life shifts radically away from children and towards the self-actualization of adults.  This self-focus is at the heart of the contraceptive mentality, and (in an accelerated fashion) at the heart of the culture of death.
The proposals of Cardinal Kasper and various other German bishops for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to return to the reception of Holy Communion has drawn a number of criticisms from various corners.  Cardinals Burke, Cafarra, and Mueller have all made their opposition to these proposal known publicly, and other noteworthy Catholic thinkers like the canonist Dr. Ed Peters and the Patristics scholar Dr. John Rist have made their opposition known as well.

Not having the same background in theology, history, or canon law as these eminent thinkers, I wish to discuss how the Kasper proposal could have a negative effect on the Church within the public square.  Essentially, further weakening the institution of marriage by “tolerating” divorce and remarriage, even in limited circumstances, will only play into the hands of the proponents of gay marriage.  In the current cultural climate, the Church already has a difficult situation in combating the rise of gay marriage; we need not hamper ourselves further by accepting what amounts to a profound change in the very nature of marriage.


Permanence and Procreation: Two Sides of the Same Coin

In his address to a consistory of cardinals in preparation for the Church’s Synod on the Family, Cardinal Kasper proposed the idea that the Church could tolerate a Catholic’s second, civil marriage without accepting it, by admitting those in such a situation, after some period of penance, back to the Sacraments.  This, in spite of the fact that the couple would be living in a public, legally-recognized second union while their original spouse is still alive.

One of the great weaknesses the American right has in defending marriage is the fact that, broadly, conservatives do not have a proper understanding of what marriage is, or what its purpose is.  Since most Evangelical Protestants tolerate both divorce and contraception, they have lost a proper understanding of the ends towards which marriage is focused, namely, procreation and unity.  

Without procreation as a focus, gay marriage becomes a much more reasonable proposition.  Our modern idea of marriage is that it is focused chiefly on fostering affection between the two persons.  Procreation is not a chief purpose of marriage, and it is perfectly acceptable for couples to exclude the possibility of children for most, or even the entirety, of their marriage.  But affection is not a goal that is exclusive to unions between heterosexuals; homosexuals can and do feel affectionate towards each other, and use sexual activity to foster that affection.  

So how does permanence enter into the equation?  Permanence is not some separate “add-on” characteristic peculiar to Catholic marriage.  Rather, permanence is intimately bound up with procreation, and is therefore central to marriage as an institution arising out of human nature.  

Because it is oriented towards procreation, marriage must also naturally and rightly be a lifelong commitment.  The procreation of children is not a task that ends at childbirth; it must continue throughout the children’s lives as the parents provide them with a stable, loving structure in which to advance in virtue and wisdom: the family, ordinarily led by the children’s biological parents.  By having children, parents also receive a greater reason to persevere through the difficulties of their union, by working together for the benefit of their offspring.  Thus, procreation is at the same time both the motive for marriage’s permanence and its guarantee of permanence.

Thus, if the Church receives Catholics who have divorced and remarried back to the Sacraments, it not only wrecks the Church’s consistent teaching on marriage as a lifelong institution, but it would also strike at the heart of marriage as focused on procreation, on raising up and fostering life.  If Catholics are free to choose to end their marriages and take up with another person, the focus of married life shifts radically away from children and towards the self-actualization of adults.  This self-focus is at the heart of the contraceptive mentality, and (in an accelerated fashion) at the heart of the culture of death.



Radical Changes: Why the Church Must Be Consistent

Another way in which Kasper’s proposal hurts the Church’s defense of marriage is by playing into the argument that marriage can and has changed fundamentally over the course of time.  Proponents of gay marriage have constantly used this line of reasoning by pointing to the overturned societal conventions against interracial marriage, divorce, contraception, etc.  

Only the Catholic Church can stand against these arguments with any degree of coherence.  The Church believes in and stands for the ideal of marriage as it was from the beginning, and for the Sacramental dignity to which Christ raised Christian marriage.  She alone, among almost all Christian denominations, can credibly affirm that marriage has not, cannot, and never should change in its essential nature.  

Even with the Church’s unchanging doctrine, she still is susceptible to certain critiques on this front.  She suffers from some credibility problem due to abuses in the system of granting annulments.  Many view the annulment process as a kind of “Catholic divorce,” and in the post-Vatican II period, in many places, obtaining an annulment was as easy as getting a no-fault divorce.  

Allowing the divorced and remarried to return to the normal life of the Church, without abandoning or recanting their second “marriage,” will not actually result in a system of toleration without acceptance, as Cardinal Kasper proposes.  It is, in reality, an acceptance of manifest, grave sin as a good.  By giving Holy Communion to those who are publicly known to be living in a certain public state of life, the Church necessarily acknowledges that state as something consistent with the reception of Holy Communion.  Continuing to give Holy Communion to someone persisting in a certain public  behavior necessarily implies an acceptance of that behavior as not being contrary to Christian Faith or the natural moral law.

Whatever historical or theological arguments there may be in favor of Cardinal Kasper’s proposed solutions, I have grave fears for the results of allowing the divorced and remarried to return to the Sacraments.  It would effectively cripple the Catholic Church’s ability to stand as the world’s last great advocate for marriage in a culture that is increasingly hostile to it.


John V. Gerardi is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School. He currently works as an associate for a law firm in Massachusetts. He writes on issues relating to law, politics, and ethics for online journals such as Aleteia, Ethika Politika, and his own personal blog, johnvgerardi.wordpress.com.
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