Kasper chapter 5: Setting the stage

As Cardinal Kasper begins his chapter on the problem of the divorced and remarried, he expresses an intention of playing by the rules:

What can the Church do in such situations?  It cannot propose a solution apart from or contrary to Jesus’ words.  The indissolubility of a sacramental marriage and the impossibility of contracting a second sacramental marriage during the lifetime of the other partner is a binding part of the Church’s faith, which one cannot repeal or water down by appealing to a superficially understood and cheapened sense of mercy.

Pointing to the Church’s development of doctrine regarding religious freedom as an example of how she can move forward without contradicting what came before, he asks:

Is not a further development possible with regard to our issue too—a development that does not repeal the binding faith tradition, but carries forward and deepens more recent traditions?

For these statements, I am grateful.  Many people in our day enter the arena with an explicit hermeneutic of rupture that makes conversation nearly impossible.  Kasper may in fact embrace what amounts to a rupture with the past, but at least one can point to these words of his and make a case.

Since his book was meant to prepare the way for the bishops’ synod on marriage, one other “rule” seems to me implicit in his task:  he should be speaking to bishops.  That is to say, this should not be a book directed at the masses, at the laity and at various constituencies, but at his fellow bishops and cardinals.  His fellow bishops are intelligent and well-read men, theologically trained, but Kasper has written lots of academic pieces in the past and certainly has the chops to do something at a high level.

From that point of view, I would have to criticize the book as it has gone to this point.  Its complexity is at about the level of the Catechism, often following the Catechism in its points and how it develops them.  I would have expected a somewhat higher level of discourse.  Not a disaster, but it causes me to wonder what audience is foremost in his mind.

Lastly, just before we get into the nitty-gritty, I would have to add that chapter 5 sticks out a bit from the rest of the book.  He began the book by saying he did not want to deal with the various well-known problems that make the news but rather to present the “gospel of the family,” the “good news,” and he pursued this intention by commenting on Scripture.  Along the way he mentioned a few aspects of the current crisis, especially the disintegration of the family and the general loss of faith among Catholics, but he did not give extended attention to any one issue.

Until now.  In a book that doesn’t set out to treat deeply of any one problem, here we have a chapter that’s all about one problem and how Kasper proposes to fix it.  It just stands out from the design of the whole book in an awkward way, and it raises questions for me:

Why not talk about all those Catholics who are practicing contraception and receiving the Eucharist in sin?  According to current discipline, they shouldn’t receive communion any more than the divorced and remarried.  Is it because preachers aren’t preaching about it and the faithful aren’t worked up about it, so it somehow isn’t a problem?

Why not focus on that amazing loss of faith he describes and talk and length about how to remedy that?  Isn’t that the root issue?

I don’t mean to imply that these are whopper-stopper, unanswerable questions.  I just mean to highlight that the design of the book comes across in some ways as a long and quickly-written introduction to chapter 5 on the divorced and remarried.  This chapter is where he’s really talking to his fellow bishops.

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Author: Dr. Holmes

Dr. Jeremy Holmes teaches Theology at Wyoming Catholic College. He lives in Wyoming with his wife, Jacinta, and their eight children.

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