Special Edition

June 2014

In preparation of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Family and Evangelization

Rome, October 2014

From the Editor:

Many Christians find it difficult to live up to the Gospel of the Family. Many fail to understand it properly or reject it under the influence of public opinion and media pressure. Many marriages end up in failure.

This is one of the issues the Synod of Bishops will have to deal with. Not all Bishops take part in the Synod, but all will want to be informed about the issues at stake.

The Pastoral Department of IMBISA as part of its service is making The Gospel of the Family, a speech given to cardinals in February 2014 by Cardinal Walter Kasper, available to member bishops.


Cardinal Walter Kasper has called for a deeper reflection on a practice he thinks might allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion. He believes the ancient pastoral practice of “tolerance, clemency and indulgence” might offer a way through the impasse that bars so many Catholic couples from Communion, allowing them to receive after going through a time of penance.

He told the College of Cardinals on 20 February, in a text that has just become public, that the “complex and thorny issue” of remarried divorcees must be looked at “from the perspective of those who suffer and ask for help”. He delivered his 11 000-word treatise at a two-day meeting preceding Pope Francis’ consistory to create new cardinals. It has since been published under the title “The Gospel of the Family”, Paulist Press.

“A general solution for all cases cannot exist”, Cardinal Kasper said in his long discourse before the cardinals. However, by raising provocative questions he pointed to possible ways to readmit some divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments. He said it would be “dishonest” to simply make annulments easier for first marriages that were clearly valid. “Many divorcees don’t even want such a decree of nullity” he said.

The cardinal, who has been one of the leading theologians in the post-Vatican II era, raised questions over advising “spiritual communion” as the only possibility for remarried divorcees. “The person receiving spiritual communion is one with Jesus Christ; how can she or he be in contradiction with the commandment of Christ? Therefore, why can that person not also receive sacramental Communion?” he asked. Cardinal Kasper also asked whether promoting this extra-sacramental way of salvation” did not throw into serious question the “fundamental sacramental structure of the Church”. As for those who argue that non-participation in the Eucharist is a “sign of sacrality of the sacrament”, the cardinal said: “Isn’t this an exploitation of a person that suffers and asks for help if we make him or her a sign and warning for others? Do we leave that person to die of hunger sacramentally so others may live?”

The 80-year-old cardinal cited early Church Fathers such as Origen, Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen as favouring a tolerant pastoral approach that allowed, in specific cases, for people in second unions to be readmitted to sacramental life after a period of penance. He said this approach was to “tolerate that which was in itself impossible to accept”, divorce, “in order to avoid the worst”, preventing people from the aid of the sacraments. “The sacraments are not rewards for the well-behaved or an elite, excluding all those that need them,” he said.

Kasper said this pastoral solution would probably be applicable only in a small number of cases of remarried divorcees who are “sincerely interested in [receiving] the sacraments”. But “to avoid the worst”, he seemed to suggest it was a valid way forward. “When children of remarried divorcees do not see their parents approaching the sacraments usually they, too, do not find their way to confession and Communion. Do we not realize that we also lose this generation and perhaps even the one after it?” he asked.

The bottom line was how the Church can remain faithful to Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, while faithfully offering the “mercy of God in its pastoral action”. – From THE TABLET, edited.


By Cardinal Walter Kasper

An Extract

When we speak of the family and of the beauty of family, we may not proceed from an unrealistic, romantic ideal picture. We must also see the hard realities and share the sorrow, the worries and the tears of many families. Biblical realism can, in fact, provide a certain solace. It shows us that what we bemoan today is not something that occurs nowadays for the first time; in principle, it was always this way.

We may not succumb to the temptation to romanticize the past and then, as is fashionable in many circles, view the present as a story of total decay. Praise of the good old days and complaints about the younger generation have been around ever since there has been an older generation. Not only is the Church a field hospital (as Pope Francis has said); the family too is a field hospital, where it is necessary to bind many wounds, dry many tears and establish reconciliation and peace time and again.

In the end, the third chapter of Genesis turns on a light of hope. With the expulsion from Paradise, God gave human beings a hope to take along on their journey. What the tradition describes as a protogospel (Genesis 3:15) can also be understood as a protogospel of the family. The Saviour will come from their progeny.

The genealogies in Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38) testify that the Saviour finally has come from this genealogical line, even if it ran a bumpy course. God can write straight even with crooked lines. As people’s companion, we should, therefore, not be prophets of doom, but rather bearers of hope, who dispense solace and give courage for carrying on even in difficult situations. Jesus joined a family history. He grew up in the family of Nazareth (Luke 2:51). To it belonged also brothers and sisters in the broader sense (Mark 3:31-33; 6:3) as well as distant yet obviously intimate relatives like Elizabeth, Zachary and John the Baptist (Luke 1:36, 39-56).

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus participated in the celebration of the wedding at Cana and performed his first sign there (John 2:1-12). In the process, he placed his entire ministry under the sign of a wedding and its accompanying joy. With him – the bridegroom (Matthew 9:15) – the eschatological wedding and joyful time that was promised by the prophets has dawned.

A fundamental statement by Jesus concerning marriage and family is found in his famous words about divorce (Matthew 19:3-9). Moses had permitted divorce under certain conditions (Deuteronomy 24:1). The conditions were debated among the different schools of Jewish scribes. Jesus does not engage in this casuistry. He appeals to the original will of God: “At the beginning of Creation it was not so.”

The disciples are shocked at this statement. To them it appears to be an unheard-of attack on the surrounding world’s conception of marriage, as well as a pitiless and excessive demand. “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10).

Jesus indirectly confirms that, viewed from a human perspective, this is an excessive demand. It must be “given” to human beings; it is gift of grace.

The expression “given” shows that we must not isolate Jesus’ words, but rather must understand them in the total context of his message about the Kingdom of God. Jesus attributes divorce to hard-heartedness (Matthew 19:8), which shuts one off from God and others. With the coming of the Kingdom of God, the prediction of the prophets has been fulfilled, according to which God, in the messianic age, will transform the hard heart into a new heart, which is no longer hard like a stone, but is a heart of flesh, which is soft, empathetic and compassionate (Ezekiel 36:26; cf. Jeremiah 31:33; Psalms 51:10).

So just as adultery begins in the heart (Matthew 5:28), so too the cure is possible only through conversion and through the gift of a new heart. For this reason, Jesus distanced himself from the hard-heartedness and hypocrisy of the draconian punishments imposed upon an adulteress, and he forgave a woman accused of adultery (John 8:2-11; cf. Luke 7:36-50).

Jesus’ good news is that the covenant, which the spouses establish, is embraced and borne by God’s covenant, which continues to exist even when the fragile human bond of love becomes weaker and even dies.

God’s definitive and indissoluble pledge of fidelity and covenant removes caprice from the human covenant, lending it stability and endurance. The bond that God places on the spouses would be falsely understood if one wanted to understand it as a yoke. It is God’s humane pledge of fidelity; it is encouragement and an ever-new source of strength for maintaining fidelity to one another in the midst of life’s vicissitudes.

From this message, Augustine derived the teaching concerning the indissoluble bond of marriage, which continues to exist even when the marriage, on the human plane, falls apart. To many nowadays, that teaching is scarcely intelligible. One ought not to understand this teaching as a kind of metaphysical hypostasis beside or over the personal love of the spouses; on the other hand, it is not totally absorbed in their affective, mutual love, nor does it die with it (Gaudium et Spes 48; Evangelii Gaudium 66).

It is good news, that is, definitive solace and a pledge that continues to be valid. As such, it takes the human person and his or her freedom seriously. It is the dignity of the human person to be able to make permanent decisions. They belong enduringly to the person’s history; they mark him or her in a lasting way; one cannot simply cast them off or undo them. If those decisions of commitment are broken, then that signifies a deep wound.

Wounds can heal. The scar remains and frequently causes pain, but one can and may go on living, even though it may be difficult. It is similar with Jesus’ good news; because of God’s mercy, forgiveness, healing and a new beginning are possible for the one who experiences conversion.

We are in this crisis. The gospel of marriage and the family is no longer intelligible to many. For many it does not appear to be a liveable option in their situation. What are we to do? Little is to be accomplished with good words alone. Jesus shows us a more realistic way. He says to us that no Christian is ever alone or lost, whether married or single, whether abandoned by one’s partner, or as a child or young person growing up without contact with his or her own family. He or she is at home in a new family of brothers and sisters (Matthew 12:48-50; 19:27-29). The gospel of the family becomes concrete in the domestic Church; in it, that gospel can become liveable again. Today the domestic Church is once again relevant.

Because marriage as a sacrament has a public character, the decision about the validity of a marriage cannot simply be left to the subjective judgement of the parties concerned. However, one can ask whether the juridical path, which is in fact not iure divino [by divine law], but has developed in the course of history, can be the only path to the resolution of the problem, or whether other, more pastoral and spiritual procedures are conceivable.

Alternatively, one might imagine that the bishop could entrust this task to a priest with spiritual and pastoral experience as a penitentiary or episcopal vicar. Independent of the answer to this question, it is worthwhile to recall the address that Pope Francis delivered on 24 January 2014 to the members of the Roman Rota, in which he emphasized that the juridical and the pastoral dimensions are not in opposition to each other. On the contrary, the ecclesial system of law has an essential pastoral character.

One must, therefore, ask: what does pastoral mean? Certainly not simply indulgence, which would be a false understanding both of pastoral care and of mercy. Mercy does not exclude justice; it is no cheap grace or a kind of clearance sale. Pastoral care and mercy are not contradictory to justice, but are, so to speak, the higher righteousness because behind every individual legal appeal stands not only a case that can be viewed through the lens of a general rule, but rather a human person, who is not a only a case, but rather a being who possesses unique personal dignity.

That makes necessary a hermeneutic that is juridical and pastoral and that applies a general law with prudence and wisdom, according to justice and fairness, to a concrete, often complex situation. Or as Pope Francis has said: a hermeneutic that is inspired by the love of the Good Shepherd and that sees that behind every process, behind every case stand persons who expect justice. Therefore, can it really be that decisions are made about the weal and woe of people at a second and a third hearing only on the basis of records, that is, on the basis of paper, but without knowledge of the persons and their situation?

We must once again understand the family as a domestic Church and make it the paramount path of the New Evangelization as well as the paramount path for the renewal of the Church- a Church that is on its way with the people.


Other than some comments in the media, including church media, Cardinal Kasper does not envisage a general solution applicable to all cases of divorced and (civilly) remarried people. Behind every individual legal appeal stands not only a case that can be viewed through the lens of a general rule, but rather a human person, who is not a only a case, but rather a being who possesses unique personal dignity,” the Cardinal, a former professor of theology, author, diocesan bishop and head of the Council for Christian Unity, says.

Showing mercy in certain situations which divorced Catholics may find themselves in and re-admitting them to Holy Communion would not make the problem of civilly divorced and remarried Catholics easier to handle, as if a patent recipe was offered, solving all “cases” right across the board. It would require great pastoral wisdom and discernment. Priests commissioned to find a pastoral solution would have to investigate each situation with much patience and charity, but also concern for truth and justice. He would have to have refined pastoral skills, perhaps not often found.

Many pastors see in marital problems of whatever kind “cases” for which the answer is found in rule books like canon law and its commentaries which require the cleverness of a lawyer. A knowledge of canon law will always be required, but the “pastoral solution” would go beyond that; we enter the unique situation of an individual who pleads for an answer not provided by general rules. Our God is not just a lawgiver, but also a loving healer who knows the heart of each and everyone in a unique way. We would appeal in a special way to this God of mercy and compassion and put the suffering person into his healing hands.

A priest in this situation would be a physician rather than a legal expert, though knowledge of the Church’s rules is not dispensed from. What is asked of him is more not less dedication, a greater and more personal involvement than that required of a mere interpreter of rules.

Not everyone agrees with Cardinal Kasper’s proposals. There has been considerable resistance, even among his fellow cardinals. Pope Francis has been sympathetic, but he wants to listen to the Synod first, before going any further. That is why whoever goes to Rome in October from our region wants to go well prepared. – Past. Dept. IMBISA

 ACCESS to the full text of GOSPEL OF THE FAMILY

We have published only an extract. The full text was published as a small book (print) and as an E-book (electronic, on the Internet) by Paulist Press US. The e-book version can be downloaded from the following website:


From : Pastoral Department/Communications, IMBISA, Fr Oskar Wermter SJ, , P.O.Box EH 99, Emerald Hill, Harare, Zimbabwe.





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