One thing astute observers should know by now is that precious few milestones in the Vatican’s campaign for constant innovation (“always forward!”) arrive unannounced. The process to allow communion for the divorced and remarried took over two years — from the consistory keynote of Cardinal Walter Kasper in February of 2014 to the promulgation of Amoris Laetitia in April, 2016 — and many hints were dropped along the way. Like proverbial breadcrumbs, we were led from the sudden resuscitation of Cardinal Walter Kasper’s career as he was allowed to champion his eponymous proposal to the heavily manipulated synods to the eventual release of a post-synodal apostolic exhortation that confirmed the worst, and was in turn itself confirmed by even more public signalling after the fact. The handwriting, which had been on the wall from the beginning of the process, came into stark relief in the November, 2015 papal interview with Eugenio Scalfari in which Francis said, “This is bottom line result, the de facto appraisals are entrusted to the confessors, but at the end of faster or slower paths, all the divorced who ask will be admitted.”
There were many, many smaller markers in between, most of them right out in the open where anyone could see them. The problem for many Catholics was therefore not a scarcity of evidence of what was coming, but a self-imposed myopia. There seemed always to be some escape via ambiguity, some rumor not quite able to be confirmed. The fact is, the ultramontanism cultivated in the faithful during more innocent times did not easily yield to the notion that the Catholic Church — under the guidance of a pope — could do such a thing.
Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice…
Many Catholics got burned by Amoris Laetitia. But those responsible for its subtle but deadly revolt against Divine Teaching are not wasting time on victory laps. We cannot afford to be caught flat-footed again. And so, we should be paying very close attention now to the signals being given about the next major agenda item in the quest to unravel the Catholic Faith as we know it — the rapidly accelerating path to intercommunion with Protestants.
This latest initiative is beginning in the same way. Blips on the radar screen. Independent and seemingly unrelated comments that express hope but lack apparent purpose. Gestures. Officially unapproved trial runs. They are probing our defenses with public statements and actions that demonstrate — though never quite prove — that momentum is quickly building in this direction. A quick recap of the events of the last year should trace out the arc of the project:
- On November 16, 2015, Pope Francis met with a group of visiting Lutherans at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Rome, under the pastorship of Jens-Martin Kruse. A Lutheran woman, married to a Catholic man, asked the pope about the permissibility of coming to “participate in the Lord’s Supper together” with her husband in a Catholic church. Francis demurred, saying, “‘One faith, one baptism, one Lord.’ This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there. I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.” Many took this to be, with a wink and a nudge, an implicit endorsement of Lutherans approaching Holy Communion — in direct violation of Church teaching (CCC 1400) and Canon Law (Can. 844 §1) — provided that their conscience allowed for it. [NB: The fifth dubium from the Four Cardinals’ letter to the pope applies here; its answer is more pressing with this wider application.]
- On January 20, 2016, Sandro Magister related that Pope Francis, in a general audience that day, had taken up this theme again: “this grace creates an unbreakable bond between us Christians, so that, by virtue of baptism, we can be really all brothers … All, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, we form a a royal priesthood and a holy nation.”
- On January 19, 2016, Magister revealed that the same Jens-Martin Kruse whose church had been visited by Francis the previous November had stated that “The pope has invited all the faithful to take responsibility before God, to decide according to their conscience if it is possible joint participation, between Catholics and Protestants, the Eucharist. There are no theological reasons why this is not so.” Magister continued: “On the morning of January 19, Francis gave an audience in the Vatican to a delegation from the Lutheran Church of Finland, led by a woman, Irja Askola, Bishop of Helsinki, accompanied by representatives of the minority Orthodox and Catholic bishops Ambrosius and Teemu Sippo. But after the audience with the Pope, in the course of the liturgical celebrations that the delegation has officiated in Rome along with groups of faithful who came also from Finland, it happened during a Catholic Mass that communion was also given to the Lutherans.” [emphasis added]
- On January 25, 2016, additional reports about the group of Lutherans attending the Mass on January 19 in Rome indicated that “at the time of communion the non-Catholics placed their right hands on their left shoulders, a traditional way of indicating that they were ineligible to receive the Eucharist. However, the celebrating priests insisted on giving them communion.” One of those in attendance, Lutheran bishop Samuel Salmi from Finland, said, “At the root of this there is, without a doubt, the ecumenical attitude of a new Vatican … The pope was not here at the mass, but his strategic intention is to carry out a mission of love and unity. There are also theological adversaries in the Vatican, for which reason it is difficult to assess how much he can say, but he can permit practical gestures.” [emphasis added]
- On October 13, 2016, Pope Francis received a thousand German Lutherans in a papal audience. “Let us give thanks to God”, he said, “because today, as Lutherans and Catholics, we are journeying together on the way from conflict to communion. We have already traveled an important part of the road.” [emphasis added]
- On October 24, 2016, Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England — co-chair of the international dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity — gave an interview to Crux. In it, he anticipated what would be coming at the joint Vatican/Lutheran World Federation commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in Lund, Sweden, which took place on October 31, 2016. In addition to stating that “the Reformation was all a big misunderstanding!”, Kenney said, “I think you’ve got to start now moving towards that visible unity … One of the big issues – and it will be interesting to see if Francis even mentions it – is inter-communion. He’s already made a gesture about that, of course, when he visited a Lutheran church in Rome and, during a question-and-answer session, suggested to a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic man that perhaps, if her conscience permitted, she could receive communion in her husband’s church.”
- On October 31, 2016, following the commemoration, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told reporters that “it was a ‘very beautiful’ day, one that’s ‘very late’ in coming, but ‘very important.’ It’s a ‘new beginning of a way to leave conflict in the past and go toward communion in the future'”. A joint statement issued by the Vatican and Lutheran World Federation that same day said that “many members of our communities yearn to receive the Eucharist at one table, as the concrete expression of full unity. … This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavours, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue.”
Which brings us to the present moment. On December 10, 2016, Cardinal Walter Kasper gave an interview to the Italian publication Avvenire. In reference to the Catholic/Lutheran joint declaration of October 31, and its reference to intercommunion, he said: “Personally, I hope that we can use an unofficial text, prepared by a commission in the bishops’ conference of the United States, regarding this subject.” While admitting that “full agreement” was not yet possible, he indicated a hope that “the next declaration opens the way for shared Eucharistic communion in special cases.” He said that the United States and Germany were in particular need of such a solution for this “urgent pastoral problem.”
This notion of urgency, exceptions, and special cases is always the wedge in the door. The appeal is being made, yet again, to offer “pastoral provisions” for what is already forbidden. It is the same kind of argumentation we found in Kasper’s consistory keynote in February of 2014. It is the same kind of argumentation we saw in Amoris Laetitia. It is the same thing we are seeing now in response to the dubia.
It should also be remembered, in the interest of a history that rhymes, that in 2014, Kasper argued to anyone who would listen that he was not acting on his own initiative, despite the “Kasper Proposal” bearing his name:
“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.”
At the time, few took Kasper at his word. Many were in fact dismissive of his defense. Among them was Cardinal Burke, who sounded downright indignant:
“I find it amazing that the cardinal [Kasper] claims that he speaks for the Pope,” Cardinal Burke said. “The Pope doesn’t have laryngitis.”
His Eminence — who at the time had not yet been summarily dismissed from his position as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura — no doubt has a somewhat more evolved opinion on the weight of papal silence these days. Sometimes, not saying anything speaks volumes.
As for Kasper, Francis, and the rest of the Vatican players pushing hard for intercommunion, they are singing a strikingly familiar tune. The same little ditty that played out long and loud before the Synods and Amoris Laetitia brought home the reality that the so-called “Kasper Proposal” was, in fact, the Francis Proposal. The groundwork is being quickly laid for this next major item on the agenda, which dovetails perfectly with Communion for the “remarried.”
As I wrote last year:
Why am I speaking here about Communion for the divorced and remarried when the topic is Communion for Lutherans? Because it’s all of a piece. 1 Corinthians 11:28 makes it clear how we must approach Holy Communion: “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” What Francis, Kasper, and others have been advocating is the idea that this examination is not necessary. That rather than being fearful that we “eat and drink judgment (or condemnation) against” ourselves if we receive the Eucharist unworthily, we should see it as the very means by which we may be strengthened on our “journey.” This is an outrageous form of utilitarianism, in which we use God — our first beginning and final end — to accomplish some other, lesser thing. If our worthiness to receive Him is treated as a matter of no importance, how can this be viewed as anything other than elevating the concerns of man — and man himself — above God?
Elevating man over God — a theme that arose in the first exhortation of this pontificate — is really a form of idolatry. The kind of idolatry that leads, as I’ve said before, to the prioritization of things like “excessive concern for the material well-being of the poor, distribution of resources, or care for the environment – over and above concern for the salvation of souls.”
We are moving far too quickly toward the next milestone. More damage will be done. More souls harmed, or even lost.
Formal correction can’t come soon enough.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director 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 seven children.