Image: St. Gallen Cathedral.
Just before tomorrow’s consistory in Rome where Pope Francis will come together with the Cardinals of the Catholic Church in order to elevate his new Cardinals, it seems that the brewing conflict which started in February 2014 with Cardinal Walter Kasper’s speech at the earlier Consistory is now coming to a head. As Steve Skojec has recently reminded us, it was at that time that 85% of the cardinals who then spoke up had rejected the “Kasper prosposal” which finally wants to admit “remarried” divorcees to Holy Communion.
In this context, the Four Cardinals Letter written against the papal document Amoris Laetitia is of importance because it summarizes again the opposition of the faithful Cardinals to some of the current papal deviations from Catholic doctrine. It is important to remember, too, that this conflict which now seems to come to a head likely started already at the 2005 Conclave, when no other than one of the signatories of the Four Cardinals Letter, Cardinal Joachim Meisner himself, tried to fight the progressive “Sankt Gallen Group” of Cardinals which was trying to stop then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from being elected pope.
Among the prelates named as part of this conspiracy were Cardinal Godfried Daneels; Cardinal Walter Kasper; Cardinal Karl Lehmann; and the late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini. All of those mentioned who are still living have had a role to play in the synods or in the promotion of the permissive approach to Holy Communion for the “remarried” that has followed from them. And it appears that this was one of their agendas in the intended manipulation of the conclave since they first began interfering over a decade ago.
There are two important German sources that can help us understand this larger background. First, Paul Badde, the German journalist and Rome Correspondent, had published some time ago two important interviews where he elaborated on the Sankt Gallen Group and the important role of Cardinal Meisner in the more conservative resistance against the Sankt Gallen Group’s attempt to get one of their own progressive candidates elected – or at least to keep Ratzinger from being elected as the new pope. The other source is Julius Müller-Meiningen, also a German Vatican expert.
Paul Badde says the following concerning the Sankt Gallen Group (which includes Cardinal Walter Kasper and Danneels) and Cardinal Meisner’s own role in fighting them back in 2005:
I knew that from a very reliable source, who had told me that they [the Cardinals belonging to the Sankt Gallen Group] were trying to have Jesuit Cardinal [Carlo] Martini elected, the popular archbishop from Milan. It’s true, also Cardinal Bergoglio from Buenos Aires was considered “papabile,” but wasn’t mentioned in that context. And [I learned] that they tried everything to prevent the election of Joseph Ratzinger. In the first photo after Benedict’s election, however, in the Sala Ducale, beside the Sistine Chapel, standing next to the new pope, a meter away, was Cardinal Joachim Meisner [then archbishop of Cologne] on his right side — with then another vacant meter [space] on the right of Cardinal Meisner. It looked as if nobody would dare to come close to Cardinal Meisner, as if he were still glowing — as after an enormous fight.
Badde said elsewhere about Cardinal Meisner’s role:
It is no secret that [Cardinal] Meisner at the time [of the 2005 Conclave] was the most passionate opponent of this group [of Sankt Gallen] in general, and of Cardinal Danneels in particular.
Badde himself had heard before the 2015 Conclave that there was a group of cardinals intent on preventing Ratzinger’s election. He says:
Well, I’ve been told that, on April 5 — only three days after Karol Wojtyla’s death! — a group of cardinals had gathered secretly to prevent the election of Joseph Ratzinger, the right hand of the Polish Pope for decades.
One important part of the agenda of the Sankt Gallen Group – named after the place in Switzerland where they used to meet regularly in order to discuss Church matters – was the goal of attaining the admittance of “remarried” divorcees to Holy Communion. That is one reason why they tried to prevent Ratzinger’s election.
As Badde put it, Ratzinger spoke clearly about the “dictatorship of relativism” (which he intended to resist), while Pope Francis now follows the doctrinal and psychological line that purportedly “unlocks” new pastoral developments. The themes of the reformers have now often been discussed at the two Family Synods, according to Badde: “There is no more talk about sin.” But, it has come to be, according to Badde, about the very preservation of the “Deposit of Faith.” For, when Cardinal Marx, for example, now says at a Synod Press Conference that “one should not call [active] homosexuals sinners,” Badde adds “then that is not fully Catholic.”
Müller-Meiningen himself described in 2015 in an article for the German newspaper Die Zeit the themes of the Sankt Gallen Group, namely: “sexual morality, the ordination of women, how to deal with remarried divorcees, also about the role of the local churches.” Later, he also adds the theme of synodality. The German journalist also quotes Cardinal Kasper himself as saying: “What Francis [now] tries to implement, is, to a high degree, in accordance with the thoughts which we [the Sankt Gallen Group] had at the time.” As Cardinal Lehmann also recounts, this Sankt Gallen Group was looking “especially for a renewal of the Church similar to, and a further following up to, the Second Vatican Council.”
It seems, according to Müller-Meiningen, that this group – which officially stopped their regular meetings after their lack of success at the 2005 Conclave – effectively brought about Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s election in 2013. The author says that the Sankt Gallen Group “played a not unimportant role when Jorge Maria Bergoglio rose to the Seat of Peter.” With reference to two recently published books – one of them a biography of Danneels himself, the other being a biography of Pope Francis – he also says that “the Sankt Gallen Group had an essential influence upon the preparation of the election of Bergoglio.” Müller-Meiningen adds “that they set upon the choice of Bergoglio in order to realize their own agenda in the Conclave of 2005, as well as at the election of 2013.” This German’s witness is important also because he himself is a more openly progressive Catholic journalist who has much sympathy for Pope Francis’ reforms.
As an additional source of information, we may quote here the late Cardinal Carlo Martini himself, an important member of the Sankt Gallen Group. According to the Catholic Herald, Martini made in his last interview, in 2012, the following suggestions with regard of the reform of the Church:
The cardinal [Martini] then goes on to suggest three things that need to be done, and here too there is nothing particularly exceptional in what he has to say: we need to reform our sexual teaching, return to the Bible and return to the sacraments. […] The cardinal mentions the plight of the divorced and remarried. [my emphasis]
Here is what Martini then said, according to a National Catholic Register translation:
Who are the sacraments for? These are the third tool of healing. The sacraments are not an instrument of discipline, but a help for people in their journey and in the weaknesses of their life. Are we carrying the sacraments to the people who need new strength? I think of all the divorced and remarried couples, to extended families. They need special protection. The church upholds the indissolubility of matrimony. It’s a grace when a marriage and a family succeed …
What we thus can gather from these two German sources – as well as from the statements of Cardinal Martini himself – is that the progressive cardinals of the Sankt Gallen Group were able to get their progressive pope elected in 2013. With it, their progressive agenda now is being more and more implemented within the Catholic Church. Those prelates – among them Cardinal Meisner – who still see that this new agenda stands in opposition to Christ’s teaching on Faith and Morals, have now recently spoken up and further resist Pope Francis to his face.
It is now to be hoped that the rest of all the cardinals who had spoken up against the “Kasper proposal” in 2014 – to include, importantly, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – will use tomorrow as the occasion to resist the reigning pontiff, too, and help him to retract his serious magisterial errors. Before it is too late.
At what cost will Cardinal Müller and the other cardinals choose to remain silent, instead?