The Troubling Case of Cardinal Kasper


“And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.”
– Jesus (Matthew 19:9)
“It’s now a new situation of a marriage. They are living together, they love each other, and to say every sexual act is sinful, that’s different. If you tell people who do it this way, and they do it in a responsible way, to tell them that’s adultery, permanent adultery, I think they would feel insulted and offended.”
– Cardinal Walter Kasper, CNS News Interview, October, 2014

It is difficult to understand how a Catholic Cardinal could take it upon himself to contradict the explicit teaching of Christ. And yet here we have perhaps the plainest evidence to date that Cardinal Walter Kasper, Bishop-emeritus of the German diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, has done exactly this. In a short video interview with Catholic News Service, Cardinal Kasper makes clear his disdain for the divinely revealed truth that individuals who divorce and remarry are guilty of the sin of adultery.

Trying to process my feeling of disbelief, I turned to The Catholic Encyclopedia. Not having ecclesiastical authority or being in the business of identifying heresy, I wanted to know the mind of the Church on the subject:

St. Thomas (II-II:11:1) defines heresy: “a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas”. “The right Christian faith consists in giving one’s voluntary assent to Christ in all that truly belongs to His teaching. There are, therefore, two ways of deviating from Christianity: the one by refusing to believe in Christ Himself, which is the way of infidelity, common to Pagans and Jews; the other by restricting belief to certain points of Christ’s doctrine selected and fashioned at pleasure, which is the way of heretics. The subject-matter of both faith and heresy is, therefore, the deposit of the faith, that is, the sum total of truths revealed in Scripture and Tradition as proposed to our belief by the Church. The believer accepts the whole deposit as proposed by the Church; the heretic accepts only such parts of it as commend themselves to his own approval. The heretical tenets may be ignorance of the true creed, erroneous judgment, imperfect apprehension and comprehension of dogmas: in none of these does the will play an appreciable part, wherefore one of the necessary conditions of sinfulness–free choice–is wanting and such heresy is merely objective, or material. On the other hand the will may freely incline the intellect to adhere to tenets declared false by the Divine teaching authority of the Church. The impelling motives are many: intellectual pride or exaggerated reliance on one’s own insight; the illusions of religious zeal; the allurements of political or ecclesiastical power; the ties of material interests and personal status; and perhaps others more dishonourable. Heresy thus willed is imputable to the subject and carries with it a varying degree of guilt; it is called formal, because to the material error it adds the informative element of “freely willed”.

Pertinacity, that is, obstinate adhesion to a particular tenet is required to make heresy formal. For as long as one remains willing to submit to the Church’s decision he remains a Catholic Christian at heart and his wrong beliefs are only transient errors and fleeting opinions. Considering that the human intellect can assent only to truth, real or apparent, studied pertinacity — as distinct from wanton opposition — supposes a firm subjective conviction which may be sufficient to inform the conscience and create “good faith”. Such firm convictions result either from circumstances over which the heretic has no control or from intellectual delinquencies in themselves more or less voluntary and imputable. A man born and nurtured in heretical surroundings may live and die without ever having a doubt as to the truth of his creed. On the other hand a born Catholic may allow himself to drift into whirls of anti-Catholic thought from which no doctrinal authority can rescue him, and where his mind becomes incrusted with convictions, or considerations sufficiently powerful to overlay his Catholic conscience. It is not for man, but for Him who searcheth the mind and heart, to sit in judgment on the guilt which attaches to an heretical conscience.

One would be hard pressed to make the argument that a prince of the Church who is publicly contradicting Christ’s own teaching in the Gospels is not “corrupting the dogmas” of the faith. The question becomes, then, the issue of pertinacity. Cardinal Kasper, recently on the verge of fading into obscurity after his retirement, is suddenly very nearly a celebrity, following the publication of his proposal at the February consistory promoting a pastoral allowance for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist.

Such a public deviation from the faith of Christ demands public reproof.  What makes the matter even more troubling is that Cardinal Kasper is getting as much mileage as possible from the praise he has received from the pope – praise that he wields like a de facto imprimatur. Two notable examples made the rounds in the media – the first coming at the very beginning of Francis’s papacy:

Sales of Cardinal Kasper’s most recent book, “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life,” got a big bump in March 2013 when Pope Francis effectively plugged it during his first Angelus address as pope.

Describing Cardinal Kasper as a “superb theologian,” the pope said his book on mercy “has done me so much good, so much good.”

“Cardinal Kasper said that feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: It changes the world,” the pope said. “A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient.”

Again in February of this year, leading into the consistory and Kasper’s own proposals on rethinking the pastoral approach to divorced and remarried Catholics, Pope Francis took time to publicly praise Kasper’s work:

The Pope walked to the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall to start off day two of the ‘Extraordinary Consistory.’ The Pope opened the session by offering some words of encouragement for Cardinal Walter Kasper, who led the main discussion on the family on Thursday morning.


“Yesterday, before falling asleep, though not to fall asleep, I read, or re-read, Cardinal Kasper’s remarks. I would like to thank him, because I found a deep theology, and serene thoughts in theology. It is nice to read serene theology. It did me well and I had an idea, and excuse me if I embarrass Your Eminence, but the idea is: this is called doing theology while kneeling. Thank you. Thank you.”

And yet despite the pope’s compliments on Kasper’s thought, never has he officially endorsed Cardinal Kasper’s erroneous views on adulterous marriages – nor could he! The infallibility of his office prevents him from doing so. Still, that hasn’t kept Kasper from making quite the show of telling anyone who will listen that he has Pope Francis’s approval, thus widely disseminating the opinion that the Church can — and will — change her teaching on this critical issue. In his own words:

“I’m not naïve,” Kasper said. “I knew that there are other positions, but I didn’t think that the debate would become, and now is shown to be also, without manners.”

“Not one of my fellow Cardinals ever spoke to me. I, instead, [spoke] twice with the Holy Father. I agreed upon everything with him. He was in agreement. What can a cardinal do, except be with Pope? I am not the target, the target is another one.”

Kasper again claimed that Pope Francis knew what he was going to propose and fully approved of his speech.

“They know that I have not done these things by myself,” he said. “I agreed with the Pope, I spoke twice with him. He showed himself content [with the proposal]. Now, they create this controversy. A Cardinal must be close to the Pope, by his side. The Cardinals are the Pope’s cooperators.”

Cardinal Kasper’s errors are — unsurprisingly — making headlines around the globe. If they are not refuted, they will lead not only to the continued propagation of grave scandal, but the impression that the Church has changed her mind, thus giving permission to those living in adulterous marriages to return to the sacraments. It doesn’t matter in the slightest that the Church cannot and will not change her teachings on the matter; if the world is given the impression that such a change is being made, they will act accordingly. This is precisely what happened with artificial contraception during the deceptive lead up to the release of Humanae Vitae – and we now have data showing that the overwhelming majority of Catholics contracept, despite the official teaching of the Church.

What recourse exists? What steps should be taken? Again, we can look to the Catholic Encyclopedia’s entry on heresy:

Heresy, being a deadly poison generated within the organism of the Church, must be ejected if she is to live and perform her task of continuing Christ’s work of salvation. Her Founder, who foretold the disease, also provided the remedy: He endowed her teaching with infallibility (see CHURCH). The office of teaching belongs to the hierarchy, the ecclesia docens, which, under certain conditions, judges without appeal in matters of faith and morals (see COUNCILS). Infallible decisions can also be given by the pope teaching ex cathedra (see INFALLIBILITY). Each pastor in his parish, each bishop in his diocese, is in duty bound to keep the faith of his flock untainted; to the supreme pastor of all the Churches is given the office of feeding the whole Christian flock. The power, then, of expelling heresy is an essential factor in the constitution of the Church.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Apostolic Signatura — the highest canonical court in the Church — has already taken aim at Kasper’s errors.

In a teleconference in preparation for the synod, Burke firmly addressed Kasper’s suggestions that criticisms of his proposal are criticisms of the pope, who (according to Kasper) agrees with the proposal:

Burke strongly defended his criticism of the “Kasper proposal,” and said it was “outrageous” for Cardinal Walter Kasper to suggest that such criticism was actually aimed at Pope Francis, during a teleconference with reporters on September 30.

“I find it amazing that the cardinal [Kasper] claims that he speaks for the Pope,” Cardinal Burke said. “The Pope doesn’t have laryngitis.”

Cardinal Burke joined several other participants in a teleconference on preparations for the Synod of Bishops. The teleconference was arranged by Ignatius Press, which will release four books on October 1 presenting arguments against the Kasper proposal and in defense of Church teaching on marriage.

Cardinal Burke said that he finds the books—and particularly Remaining in the Truth of Christ, to which he contributed—an “effective response” to Cardinal Kasper’s proposal that the Church might allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist. These works, the American cardinal said, reflect the “firm conviction of the authors and the firm conviction of the Church” that the Catholic understanding of the indissolubility of marriage is based on the clear words of Jesus Christ and cannot be altered. Saying that Cardinal Kasper “erred” in his proposal, Cardinal Burke said that the new works were “a positive contribution to get the discussion back on the right track.”

It is clear from his many interviews and public appearances that Pope Francis does not, as Cardinal Burke says, “have laryngitis.” But his silence on the matter of Cardinal Kasper is disconcerting, particularly as rumors persist that Cardinal Burke himself — currently the most qualified and vocal critic of the Kasper proposal — will soon be removed from his curial offices and given instead the ceremonial (and non-governmental) role of Cardinal Protector of the Sovereign Order of Malta. If Burke is indeed taken out of the equation — and potentially removed as a player at the synod — who will stand against Kasper’s incredibly damaging errors?

Pope Francis has the power to quell these fears as the Synod on Marriage and Family begins this Sunday. The clearest signal would be to remove Cardinal Kasper as a synod participant while retaining Cardinal Burke and those who agree with him. It would also be possible for the pope to use the synod as the opportunity to address and condemn Kasper’s proposal, though it seems an odd choice to allow the impression that Pope Francis favors Kasper’s position to continue. The longer this misconception exists, the more damaging it becomes to those Catholics in “irregular unions” who will take it as a green light to return to the communion line, regardless of the synod’s outcome.

Pray for Pope Francis, that he will courageously and unequivocally re-affirm Church teaching on the question of communion for the divorced and remarried and not allow himself or his synod to be used by those would seek to alter the Catholic Faith. Pray for Cardinal Kasper, that he will repent of his errors and submit to the mind of the Church.

The eyes of the world are on the Synod on Marriage and Family. May God’s will be done, the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar protected, and Holy Mother Church be defended by her sons.


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