Maybe some of you have seen that as reports came out about Cardinal Muller’s address to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Cardinal Kasper was in New York praising theologian Elizabeth Johnson etc.
Back in 2010 or thereabouts, Scott Hahn came to speak in Ottawa and said something along these lines: that he recognized that his delaying entry into the Catholic Church, was not obedience delayed but obedience denied. So that got me thinking, am I being disobedient by waiting to come in with my community under Anglicanorum coetibus? Should I come in right away? Was I being disobedient by waiting? Then a university near here, a Catholic University, gave an award to Elizabeth Johnson. I went and covered the event. Then I saw on the book table a book of Johnson’s entitled: She Who Is.
I was so scandalized that I ricocheted away from any thoughts of early entry into the Catholic Church. There was some other reason, too, that made me decide to delay but I can’t remember it now.
Anyway, Commonweal has published a long interview with Cardinal Kasper and just as it is helpful to read Pope Francis in full rather than truncated media reports, this interview is helpful.
CWL: Until recently you were president of the Pontifical Council on Promoting Christian Unity. How might this issue fit into ongoing ecumenical relations with the Eastern Orthodox. If there was a change in the way the Roman Catholic Church deals with remarried Catholics, would that make things much easier, or even a little easier, for rapprochement between the East and the West? Or no easier at all?
Kasper: It would be made easier. They have this old tradition, and their tradition was never condemned by an ecumenical council. The Council of Trent condemned the position of Luther, but did not discuss the Orthodox position. The council formulated the problem of the indissolubility in a very cautious way because Venice had some islands that were Orthodox but under the Latin hierarchy. They didn’t want to lose those islands. So we did not talk about this problem. We had more fundamental problems with the Orthodox. But if we could find a new solution on the basis of our own Western tradition, I do think it would be easier to find a concrete solution to our problem with the Orthodox.
CWL: When it comes to the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, you have your critics, some of whom have found outlets in the Italian press. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna, was given a great deal of space in Il Foglio to criticize your proposal. He has one question for you: “What happens to the first marriage?”
Kasper: The first marriage is indissoluble because marriage is not only a promise between the two partners; it’s God’s promise too, and what God does is done for all time. Therefore the bond of marriage remains. Of course, Christians who leave their first marriage have failed. That’s clear. The problem is when there is no way out of such a situation. If we look to God’s activity in salvation history, we see that God gives his people a new chance. That’s mercy. God’s love does not end because a human being has failed—if he repents. God provides a new chance—not by cancelling the demands of justice: God does not justify the sin. But he justifies the sinner. Many of my critics do not understand that distinction. They think, well, we want to justify their sin. No, nobody wants that. But God justifies the sinner who converts. This distinction appears already in Augustine.
I do not deny that the bond of marriage remains. But the fathers of the church had a wonderful image: If there is a shipwreck, you don’t get a new ship to save you, but you get a plank so that you can survive. That’s the mercy of God—to give us a plank so we can survive. That’s my approach to the problem. I respect those who have a different position, but on the other hand, they must see what the concrete situation is today. How can we help the people who struggle in these situations? I know such people—often women. They are very engaged in parish life; they do all they can for their children. I know a woman who prepared her daughter for First Communion. The parish priest said the girl can go to Holy Communion, but not mama. I told the pope about this, and he said, “No, that’s impossible.”
The second marriage, of course, is not a marriage in our Christian sense. And I would be against celebrating it in church. But there are elements of a marriage. I would compare this to the way the Catholic Church views other churches. The Catholic Church is the true church of Christ, but there are other churches that have elements of the true church, and we recognize those elements. In a similar way, we can say, the true marriage is the sacramental marriage. And the second is not a marriage in the same sense, but there are elements of it—the partners take care of one another, they are exclusively bound to one another, there is an intention of permanence, they care of children, they lead a life of prayer, and so on. It’s not the best situation. It’s the best possible situation. Realistically, we should respect such situations, as we do with Protestants. We recognize them as Christians. We pray with them.
CWL: And we know that they don’t consider their marriages a Catholic sacrament—
Kasper: There are other problems. We consider the civil marriage of Protestants as valid, indissoluble marriages. They don’t believe in the sacramentality. There are also internal problems in the current canon law. How do you explain this to a Protestant—“it’s a valid marriage for you, but for a Catholic it’s not”? So we should to some degree reconsider the canonical regulations.