At Rorate Caeli, Augustinus has a partial translation and analysis of the Instrumentum Laboris for the coming Synod, with a particular focus on identifying those areas where the Kasper Agenda could take a foothold:
No. 115 claims that there is a widespread agreement in favor of dispensing with the “second instance” or the confirming sentence in cases of nullity. (Canon Law presently requires that a declaration of nullity by the diocesan or local tribunal — the “first instance” — must be confirmed by a higher court — the “second instance”.) Cardinal Burke has spoken (see this) about the devastating effect this has on marriages as demonstrated in the United States from 1971 to 1983, when the absence of the requirement for a confirming sentence resulted in a flood of declarations of nullity.
No. 121 in the Instrumentum Laboris calls outright for the “rethinking” of the “forms of exclusion” towards the divorced and civilly remarried in the liturgical-pastoral, educational and charity work of the Church. The same part of the document hastens to add that this is to be done “without prejudice” to Familiaris Consortio # 84 (pertaining to the pastoral care of the divorced and remarried), the same document that is one of the sources of current Church practices towards the divorced and remarried that are now denounced as “forms of exclusion” that need to be changed. Alas, the law of non-contradiction is fast becoming unknown in the current ecclesiastical climate: not a surprise when the supporters of the Kasper hypothesis can maintain with a straight face that their position does not undermine the indissolubility of marriage.
[I]t seems that the only other allusion to the “Kasper proposal” can be found in the extract from the Lineamenta that forms no. 122 of the Instrumentum Laboris. The first paragraph of no. 123, and no. 124, even relate opinions in favor of upholding current Church discipline, and this has fooled a number of commentators into thinking that the Instrumentum Laboris douses cold water upon the innovators. Further reading, however, reveals the presence of the “Kasper proposal” in the second paragraph of no. 123. Let us analyze its extremely clever language:
Others, for the penitential way, intend a process of clarification and of a new direction, after the failure experienced, accompanied by a delegated presbyter. This process should lead the person concerned to an honest judgment of his proper condition, wherein also the same presbyter may reach an evaluation so as to make use of the power to bind and loose in a way adequate to the situation.
Without mentioning “communion”, this short paragraph in fact mirrors the main outlines of the Kasperite proposal. Let us revisit the following summary of Cardinal Kasper’s proposal, published by Catholic News Service in February 2014:
Cardinal Kasper said it would be up to members of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family in October and the world Synod of Bishops in 2015 to discuss concrete proposals for helping divorced and civilly remarried Catholics participate more fully in the life of the church.
A possible avenue for finding those proposals, he said, would be to develop “pastoral and spiritual procedures” for helping couples convinced in conscience that their first union was never a valid marriage. The decision cannot be left only to the couple, he said, because marriage has a public character, but that does not mean that a juridical solution — an annulment granted by a marriage tribunal — is the only way to handle the case.
As a diocesan bishop in Germany in 1993, Cardinal Kasper and two other bishops issued pastoral instructions to help priests minister to such couples. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, made the bishops drop the plan. A similar proposal made last year by the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany, was criticized by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, current prefect of the doctrinal congregation.
Citing a 1972 article by then-Father Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal Kasper said the church also might consider some form of “canonical penitential practice” — a “path beyond strictness and leniency” — that would adapt the gradual process for the reintegration of sinners into full communion with the church used in the first centuries of Christianity.
To avoid the greater evil of offering no help to the divorced and remarried, cutting them and most likely their children off from the sacraments, he said, the church could “tolerate that which is impossible to accept” — a second union.
“A pastoral approach of tolerance, clemency and indulgence,” he said, would affirm that “the sacraments are not a prize for those who behave well or for an elite, excluding those who are most in need.”
Just like in the Kasper proposal, no. 123, paragraph 2 of the Instrumentum Laboris mentions the possibility of the “remarried” party becoming the true judge of his situation, which in the context refers to his sacramental marriage. Furthermore, just as in the Kasper proposal, there is no mention of the remarried party then seeking a declaration of nullity in order to validate his “judgment” of his own marital situation. Instead, no. 123 refers to a “delegated presbyter” who, upon reaching an “evaluation” along with the remarried party, then “makes use of the power to bind and loose in a way adequate to the situation.” Any Catholic will realize that this refers to absolution through the Sacrament of Penance, an act that… paves the way for a sinner to once more receive Holy Communion.
The extremely vague last sentence of no. 125 can also be read either in a fully orthodox way, or in a Kasperite way:
For that which concerns spiritual communion, it needs to be remembered that it presupposes conversion and a state of grace and is connected with Sacramental Communion.
The defining factor in how one interprets this depends on whether one holds that a “remarried divorcee” can, or cannot, make a spiritual communion, and whether such a person can be in a state of grace despite not renouncing his present state of cohabitation. Many conservatives (e.g. the Polish bishops) hold that such a person cannot be in a state of grace and so can receive neither spiritual communion nor Sacramental Communion (read this), while Cardinal Kasper’s argument in favor of his proposal pivots, among other things, on his contention that since a “remarried divorcee” can make a spiritual communion then he can also make a sacramental communion (as seen here) and that he is not necessarily in a state of sin (explained here).
There’s a lot to digest here, but I was struck in particular by the commonality of language between Kasper in 2014 and Pope Francis earlier this month:
Kasper: “A pastoral approach of tolerance, clemency and indulgence,” he said, would affirm that “the sacraments are not a prize for those who behave well or for an elite, excluding those who are most in need.”
Pope Francis: “The Eucharist is not a prize for the strong, but a source of strength for the weak, for sinners. It’s forgiveness, it’s the Viaticum that allows us to go forward and move along.”
What I did not realize at first glance is that this is not the first time Pope Francis has used this “not a prize” language. It also shows up in Evangelii Gaudium #47:
The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.
In the apostolic exhortation, this line is footnoted as follows:
Cf. Saint Ambrose, De Sacramentis, IV, 6, 28: PL 16, 464: “I must receive it always, so that it may always forgive my sins. If I sin continually, I must always have a remedy”; ID., op. cit., IV, 5, 24: PL 16, 463: “Those who ate manna died; those who eat this body will obtain the forgiveness of their sins”; Saint Cyril of Alexandria, In Joh. Evang., IV, 2: PG 73, 584-585: “I examined myself and I found myself unworthy. To those who speak thus I say: when will you be worthy? When at last you present yourself before Christ? And if your sins prevent you from drawing nigh, and you never cease to fall – for, as the Psalm says, ‘what man knows his faults?’ – will you remain without partaking of the sanctification that gives life for eternity?”
So we have reference to sources from antiquity, but misleading ones. Does anyone believe that St. Ambrose or St. Cyril would suggest that the faithful should “eat and drink judgement against themselves”? (1 Cor. 11:29) While it is true that reception of the Eucharist has the power to remit venial sin through its reception, any conflation of this power with the notion that the Eucharist serves as a direct remedy for grave sin without repentance or sacramental confession is deeply erroneous and, in fact, sacrilegious.
We find ourselves, in the vagueries of this language, sliding along a scale of propriety. “What was said could be taken this way,” one is tempted to think, “but could also be taken in this very different way.” And in ambiguity we find opportunity for exploitation.
As Augustinus notes,
What better way to ensure a “great majority” or even “unanimity” than to put on the table an extremely vague document that everyone can interpret as they so wish? Cardinal Kasper is very familiar with this methodology: it was he who, shortly after Pope Francis’ election, was bold enough to write about Vatican II’s intentional ambiguity.
These are dangerous waters for Catholic commentators. Augustinus astutely observes:
One common way to shut off discussions about the innovations proposed by some Synod Fathers is to accuse the critics of focusing only on the problematic proposals while “ignoring” the “vast majority” of the proposals that are doctrinally uncontroversial. This tactic ignores the very basics of the pastoral care of families and of orthodoxy. It is not much use to praise the family only to approve many of the illicit practices that undermine it. It is the task of the Church to uphold all of right doctrine, not just part or most of it. A document that is only “partly” or “mostly” orthodox might have valuable parts here and there, but on the whole it cannot be called orthodox because of the heterodoxy that poisons it. An ancient dictum expresses this principle best: “There can be nothing more dangerous than those heretics who admit nearly the whole cycle of doctrine, and yet by one word, as with a drop of poison, infect the real and simple faith taught by our Lord and handed down by Apostolic tradition.” (Cited by Pope Leo XIII in Satis Cognitum # 9).
There are a number of additional excerpts and analyses offered; too many to summarize here. We are very early on in our examination of where this document will lead us, but make no mistake: things will transpire rapidly.
Forewarned is forearmed.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.