Thursday, May 08, 2014

Kasper's Interview

I was struck by this passage in Cardinal Kasper's interview at Commonweal:

That’s a real problem. I’ve spoken to the pope himself about this, and he said he believes that 50 percent of marriages are not valid. Marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament presupposes faith. And if the couple only want a bourgeois ceremony in a church because it’s more beautiful, more romantic, than a civil ceremony, you have to ask whether there was faith, and whether they really accepted all the conditions of a valid sacramental marriage—that is, unity, exclusivity, and also indissolubility. The couples, when they get married, they want it because it’s stable. But many think, “Well, if we fail, we have the right.” And then already the principle is denied. Many canon lawyers tell me that today in our pluralistic situation we cannot presuppose that couples really assent to what the church requires. Often it is also ignorance. Therefore you have to emphasize and to strengthen prematrimonial catechesis. It’s often done in a very bureaucratic way. No, we have to provide catechesis. I know some parishes in Rome where couples have to attend catechesis, and the pastor himself does it. We must do much more in prematrimonial catechesis and use pastoral work and so on because we cannot presuppose that everybody who is a formal Christian also has the faith. It wouldn’t be realistic.

Cardinal Kasper has a longstanding habit of saying things very confidently on grounds that are not obviously adequate for the confidence, but I think it needs to be pointed out that if the Cardinal is right, doing "much more in prematrimonial catechesis" and using "pastoral work" is simply not going to cut it. The level of failure he is suggesting is so extreme that it could not possibly have come about without extraordinary and culpable negligence on the part of bishops and priests. Bishops and priests exist for the purpose of maintaining and protecting the sacramental order; what Cardinal Kasper is claiming is that they have failed on such a scale that it amounts to an outright betrayal of the laity and could reasonably be said to cry out for serious public penance on the part of bishops and priests who are guilty of letting the situation deteriorate to such an astounding degree.

In any case, as Ed Peters has noted, it is an extraordinarily irresponsible thing to toss out in a public interview as if it were a serious assessment: sacramental validity is not a trivial matter, and if you are going to make a statement like this in public, as opposed to just a private conversation, you had better be doing so on the basis of rigorously established principles and you had better be offering a considerable sight more than vague suggestions about catechesis as your solution.


  1. Brendan Hodge7:32 AM

    It strikes me that in too much conversation about how to minister to the divorced and remarried, there is the underlying assumption that this is a unique and somewhat quirky Catholic hang up: that if you are not Catholic you can be married for as long as you like, stop when you please, and remarry at pleasure.

    Given US divorce culture, this is in a certain sense true. But what I think Catholics missing engaging in this thinking is that this is now how Catholicism sees marriage. Peters gets at this in his piece. According to a Catholic understanding, marriage is naturally permanent, and even for a non-Catholic to divorce and remarry is wrong.

    Instead, what we seem to get a lot of is hunting around for ways to find that virtually any Catholic marriage might be "invalid" so that should the spouses want to separate, they can do so and remarry. Instead, what people need to realize is that all marriages are by nature permanent and divorce and remarriage should be regarded as a moral problem.

    Right now people too often seem to see divorce and remarriage as a fussy little Catholic hang up like not eating meat on Fridays, not something which is always morally wrong like adultery (which, of course, it is.)

  2. branemrys9:05 AM

    There does seem to be a general problem of not even starting in the right place, as if marriage were a technicality rather than a rational and sacramental way of being.

  3. Two comments, unrelated. First, Pieper (following Aquinas in II-II Q147) famously asserts that even abstinence from food is a precept of natural law and not just a Church technicality (which everyone of course ignores). I love to spring it on my students, and I chuckled when I saw the comparison here.

    Second, Kasper was one of the cool, edgy kids decades ago who could always be counted on for a thoughtful re-examining of fundamentals. He had his mis-steps but they tended to be at least interesting. I am among the last to defend bishops who need a good smacking, but I would say that Kasper is showing his age and declining abilities at this point. I treat his comments the same way I treat the muddled interview with, say, Fr. Groeschel a few years ago. Sad to see, but we will all end up there some day. I can't be too hard on him (his position, naturally, must be exposed and destroyed).

  4. SententiaeDeo8:52 PM

    Marriage is the hardest sacrament to confer invalidly. If he's doubting its validity, a fortiori he needs to doubt the validity of the Novus Ordo and the other "New Sacraments."

  5. branemrys9:55 AM

    Yes, by its very nature its validity has to be a relatively simple matter.

    What it actually reminds me of is the old Protestant charge that since the Eucharist depends on the priest's intention that priests could secretly change their intention so that the sacrament wasn't actually valid. This misunderstood what 'intention' means in this context, since the 'intention' is the actual disposing of oneself to do what the Church does and recognizes as the Eucharist, not some private thought on the part of the priest. Even a heretical priest who secretly denies the doctrine of the Eucharist can't affect the validity of the sacrament by his private views, however much he may be doing wrong in his heart and however much he may fail to receive the grace of the sacrament. But Kasper's suggestion raises exactly the same issue for marriage -- it takes the validity of the sacrament to depend on the private views of the ministers rather than the disposition of their actions before the Church. In reality, what would seem to be required, if we aren't taking it just as a hyperbolic figure of speech, is to say that people who are being married in the Church have literally no idea that Catholic doctrine is that marriage is an indissoluble, exclusive union, and this strains credulity beyond any and all breaking point.


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