Cardinal Kasper: Quit throwing around the word ‘heretic’

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, arrives for the concluding session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican in October 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) German Cardinal Walter Kasper, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, arrives for the concluding session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican in October 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

Think twice before calling someone a “heretic.”

That is the seemingly simple advice from Cardinal Walter Kasper, the prominent German theologian whose ideas have influenced Pope Francis, especially his view that mercy should be the guiding principle in pastoral practice.


Speaking in an interview with Alessandro Gisotti at Vatican News, the 85-year-old prelate addressed controversy about “Amoris Laetitia,” the pope’s 2016 letter on families, which includes a provision that allows some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

“First of all I would like to say that debate in the church is necessary. There is no need to fear debate!” the cardinal said.

But he said the debate on “Amoris Laetitia” has become too heated—even though the “people of God” have accepted the teaching.

“Debate in the church is necessary. There is no need to fear debate!” Cardinal Kasper said.

“There is a very bitter debate, way too strong, with accusations of heresy. A heresy is a tenacious disagreement with formal dogma.”

Cardinal Kasper rejected claims from some Catholics who accuse Pope Francis of undermining church teaching on marriage.

“The doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage has not been called into question on Pope Francis’ part!” he said. “Before saying that something is heresy, the question should be what the other person means by what has been said. And, above all, that the other person is Catholic should be presupposed; the opposite should not be supposed!”

Cardinal Kasper praised “Amoris Laetitia” for its accessibility, saying it is “not high theology incomprehensible to people” and that the “people of God understand.”

“The pope has an optimal connection with the People of God,” he said.

A quick glance at social media finds charges of heresy aimed at Catholics are not uncommon, and last month Catholic News Service reported that in a January address to Chilean Jesuits, Pope Francis said he prays for those who call him a heretic.

“When I perceive resistance, I seek dialogue whenever it is possible; but some resistance comes from people who believe they possess the true doctrine and accuse you of being a heretic," the pope told a group of Jesuits during a meeting on Jan. 16 in Santiago.

“When I cannot see spiritual goodness in what these people say or write, I simply pray for them,” Pope Francis said in response to a question about the “resistance” he has encountered as pope.

The reception of “Amoris Laetitia” has differed around the world.

Bishops in Germany and Argentina have thrown their support behind the document, while in the United States the response has been more tepid, with the implementation varying from diocese to diocese.

But just this weekend, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., unveiled a pastoral plan for parishes in and around the nation’s capital that seeks to implement a new model of family ministry. That follows a number of workshops and seminars for bishops and lay theologians, co-hosted by Cardinal Blase Cupich and Cardinal Joseph Tobin, aimed at promoting “Amoris Laetitia.”

The idea of a pathway to Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics that includes a penentential aspect but stops short of requiring an annulment is often attributed to the cardinal and is sometimes referred to as “the Kasper proposal.” While the full proposal did not make it into the final document following synods in 2014 and 2015, a footnote included in “Amoris Laetitia” and subsequent interpretations by various bishops, sometimes with the approval of the pope himself, seem to have validated the notion.

The cardinal defended the idea in the interview, saying that individual believers must be able to discern their situation in life, perhaps with a priest as part of the “internal forum.”

“Sin is a complex term,” he said. “It not only includes an objective principle, but there is also the intention, the person’s conscience. And this needs to be examined in the internal forum—in the Sacrament of Reconciliation—if there is truly a grave sin, or perhaps a venial sin, or perhaps nothing.”

“If it is only a venial sin, the person can be absolved and admitted to the Sacrament of the Eucharist,” he continued, saying the teaching “is in complete continuity with the direction opened by preceding popes. I do not see any reason, then, to say that this is a heresy.”

No “right” to the Eucharist exists, but there is a right to be welcomed and to be heard.

The interviewer noted that Francis cited the cardinal’s book, Mercy, during his first Sunday address as pope. A couple of years later, Pope Francis declared 2016 the Year of Mercy. The cardinal was discussing ideas in a forthcoming book, “Amoris Laetitia’s Message: A Brotherly Discussion.” The interviewer asked Cardinal Kasper why mercy is so essential today.

“Many people are wounded,” the cardinal said. “Even in marriages there are many who are wounded. People need mercy, empathy, the sympathy of the church in these difficult times in which we are living today. I think that mercy is the response to the signs of our times.”

The interview was published just a few days after Italian Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano issued detailed guidelines for accompanying couples, including those who are divorced and civilly remarried. Bishop Semeraro, secretary of Pope Francis' international Council of Cardinals, wrote that discussions during diocesan presbyteral council meetings made it clear that welcoming and integrating into parish life "those who approach us with the desire to be readmitted to participation in ecclesial life requires an appropriate amount of time for accompaniment and discernment that will vary from situation to situation.

"Therefore, expecting a new general, canonical-type norm, the same for everyone, is absolutely inappropriate,” he said.

No “right” to the Eucharist exists, the bishop said, but there is a right to be welcomed and to be heard. Couples who have remarried civilly without an annulment of their sacramental marriage and who have started a new family will be asked “to make a journey of faith starting from becoming conscious of their situation before God” and looking at the obstacles that would prevent their full participation in the life of the church.

Material from Catholic News Service was used in this report.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
2 months 2 weeks ago

Is the expression, "we need a new understanding" what is applicable?

Someone might want to provide an example of what will be acceptable and would have been acceptable the previous 2000 years.

Also what is heretical? Is there anything? Any suggestions?

Dawnie Jens
2 months 2 weeks ago

good point - as Jesus Christ was the same yesterday as today as tomorrow - what is "applicable" especially in light of a Catholic theologian letting me know "calling someone a heretic is serious-it used to mean a death sentence"

James Haraldson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Yeah go ahead and make “mercy” a meaningless word like peace was made meaningless in the sixties by depraved hippies and “choice” made to seem benevolent when applied to crushing the skull of a baby. Ignore the capricious consequences of how “mercy” encourages the already self-deluded serial shack-ups and child abusing and child abandoning “wounded” couples will use it to their advantage to further wreck their “commitments” so those prelates wanting to affirm their superiority to God can inflate their egos creating new vistas of “compassion” and “understanding.” Half a century of downplaying the concept of sin hasn't lessened humanity's sinfulness, including the sins of pride among theologians. Where is the mercy for all the victims of all this "mercy?" Where is the mercy for the sinners who need to know the truth about their sins?
And enough with this nothing is black and white only gray nonsense. Mitigation of culpability never alters the objective, black and white, moral nature of an act. I've know five convicted murderers in my life. Every one of them was able to grasp this self-evident concept. Too bad it's too complex for a prelate.
Junk theology is not surprising from the process theologian in chief who believes God is so dumb, He is in process of learning how to be God and still trying to figure out right from wrong and needs the help of Kasper and company to learn how to be a better God. Keep the heresies coming.

Nora Bolcon
2 months 2 weeks ago

Again, why not just allow them all the sacraments that are not affected by the remarriage. Holy Eucharist is for healing. Remarriage does not mean a person has no right to be healed by the church. Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at the well, who had many husbands and non-husbands in her life, was offered the water of salvation from Christ and not on the condition, if only she dumped her current live-in boyfriend first. This is never said by Christ nor is it implied by him.

However, we don't owe anyone a second marriage in the Church. How the couple choose to live their Christian life together with their family is something they should be allowed to decide with each other and God and priests should encourage love and patience all the way around and love toward the ex spouse too.

Communion was never designed to be a reward for good behavior or used as a punishment for sin. This is an abusive treatment of this sacrament. Even when Jesus describes how if you consider that you have something you know you need to fix with another sibling in Christ, to put down your gift before the altar and go and fix it first, if you can, and then come back and give your gift to God, the understanding is that it is the individual who is making a decision based on their own conscience. No rabbi is telling him he must fix his wrongs first. No one is keeping him from participation at the temple. He chooses to go and fix things on his own.

There are two sacraments that sometimes we use in very erroneous ways still in our church. Both the Sacrament of Holy Orders and Holy Eucharist are used as tools of abuse at times in our church. Both seem to be abused for the same reason: to give our church leaders a greater sense of control over others they feel are below them.

In the case of Holy Orders, with no sane, reasonable, scripturally backed, gospel backed reason we abusively strip all of our women of an entire sacrament, even though we know as many women as men have informed us they have been called to this same sacrament.

With Holy Eucharist we use a gift from God which is designed to heal as weapon to cut at people who break church laws and with little concern for the damage the cuts make into those human beings. We have used this tool to keep Protestants, even those who agree with us as to what the Eucharist is in faith, outside and feeling an outcast even when they want to join in worship with us. We have also used this gift as a tool to attack the non-conformist who seek change in our church, and often gospel backed change, like female same treatment and ordination.

So I guess, I more or less, agree with Pope Francis on this issue but even he could speak definitively and just allow communion and not a 2nd marriage in the church. Not being allowed communion is too brazen a sign that this couple is in sin somehow to the whole congregation. Who would feel comfortable being involved in any parish as an obvious, perpetual sinning couple? Who would want to put their kids thru that? No one - so they leave.
2 months 2 weeks ago


Rich Phillips
2 months 2 weeks ago

From the time I was in catechism, we were taught that it was a sin to receive the Eucharist in the state of sin, especially mortal sin. Now, I don’t know the sequence that the sacraments were instituted in the Church, but I don’t recall anything in the Gospels that indicate anything about the Sacrament of Reconciliation except Jesus’ telling the apostles, “…Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven….” I suspect the act of confessing one’s sins to one of these apostles wasn’t yet a matter of common practice.

Now comes the Last Supper. Jesus gathered the twelve with Him in the upper room. During the course of the meal He took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them saying, “Take and eat, for this is my body.” Then at the end he took the cup, blessed it and passed it around saying, “Take and drink, for this is the cup of my blood…Do this in memory of Me.” And the first Eucharist was instituted.

I suspect that none of the twelve was prepared for this or even realized what it was all about, so going to Confession wasn’t a real possibility. But even if it was, Judas was already prepared to betray Jesus. I can’t think of a sin more mortal than that. And yet Jesus offered it to him, knowing of his coming betrayal. He didn’t exclude him from the Eucharist. Judas took, ate and drank, along with the others, even knowing of his own sinfulness. He didn’t go into that meal knowing what was about to happen. He knew of his soon-to-be-committed betrayal, but not what was happening when Jesus blessed the bread and wine.

So, how do we deal with this in our own sinfulness? I know that the Church goes by the catechism as to what is right behavior and what is not. For three years Jesus was building His Church, one stone at a time. He knew what Judas was about to do, and He served him anyway. What has changed about what is the Church that Jesus created versus that which the magisterium has created since the death and resurrection?

Or was the fact that Jesus washed the feet of all twelve and served them all His body and blood a sign of the mercy that a divine nature has for a sinful humanity, and is more about the sacrifice He was about to perform the next day than about the judgment that an all-powerful God might otherwise have delivered on us all as sinners?

Mike Macrie
2 months 2 weeks ago

I believe in our Pope and “Amoris Laetitia,”. There will always be people who point out the most extreme cases to not accept our Pope’s guidance on Mercy in bringing people and families back to God.

James Haraldson
2 months ago

Where do you see evidence he is interested in bringing people back to God and not abusing the concept of "mercy" to encourage human vanity including his own to sustain blindness to the consequences of sin, especially the abuse of abandoned children?

Robert robtlongo
2 months 2 weeks ago

Perhaps a larger question has been raised by the Cardinal. It's time to remember that there are other grievous actions, when we attempt to justify our belief in what is right with distorted truth. Fake evidence, fallacious logic, and false witness are dishonest and not a means to a holy end. To paraphrase Viktor Frankl, we need to take responsibility for our actions in an effort to find the real truth, aka right answers. Ultimately, we will all be judged by our actions.

Christopher Lochner
2 months 2 weeks ago

"Only a church that so thoroughly shows the Love Divine of Jesus can attract all who desire Jesus to communion and reconcialiation. Because of this Pope Francis is opposed by all who consider themselves their own Pope because they have ceased to dedicate themselves to the True Christ and True Mary." This was penned by someone on this site who included the S.J. in their moniker. A priest perhaps, but he did a fantastic job of arguing against himself. We are not to judge but when we do it's because "they" are not "true believers". Hmmm. Very judgemental and in a very bad manner. We are urged not to throw the term "heretic" around yet those who disagree are referred to in this manner even if the actual word is not used. Why is there this level of absurd hypocrisy? Why is "love your friends primarily and only" the guiding principle here? Dialogue appears to travel in only one direction. Do the powers realize how out of touch they are with the Faithful or do they just not care?

James Haraldson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Nonsense. Francis is opposed by those who reject his contempt for orthodoxy and authentic humble faith in Christ, which would include the liberating and healing truths of moral absolutes and not the sophistries that accommodate our preferred delusions and all the murderous consequences that accrue from our delusions.

Dominic Deus
2 months 2 weeks ago

James--I don't think true humility in faith allows for any claim to know "moral absolutes." It might be best to rethink that. My experience with purveyors of moral absolutes is that they want something--your money, your vote, your loyalty, your conscience, your free will and pretty much anything else that makes you authentically human. We are not or, at least should not be, morally absolute creatures because that's, well, delusional. We are wrong a lot.

You are right about delusions and consequences but there is always that thorny question of who is delusional and who is truly seeing the light. People who personally experience the light of God are happy to tell you about it but have no interest in selling it to you. When you see moral absolutes, hard and fast dogma, ideology, and ignorance celebrated as virtue it's best to steer away from those people, because, after all, they are delusional or at least not humble in faith.

James Haraldson
2 months 2 weeks ago

You've worked out a neat system for avoiding truth, hanging a lot of inappropriate characterizations of impurity on purity as a way of avoiding purity. Moral absolutes are a reflection of the mind of God, which is why Jesus always preached moral absolutes. Sorry to hear of your implicit contempt for Jesus. You have a great many Orwellian reversals of understanding in your contrived understanding. Ideologies come from a rejection of absolutes, not their acceptance. And no one who accepts them is trying to sell them. On the contrary. Those who are trying to sell "complications" of truth are trying to enslave. There are only two philosophies. Everything else is derivative. Either God is a buffoon or we are. Were it the first, truth would be meaningless and always in flux. Since it actually is the latter, it is for this reason we fail to see that God did not abandon us to a capricious understanding of how we ought to order our lives together. There are principles of our being that are innate and unchanging to being a decent human being.

Kevin Murphy
2 months 2 weeks ago

If it walks like a duck . . .

Paul Crookall
2 months 2 weeks ago

The eucharist is not ours to give nor to with-hold. How can any mortal dare to presume that the Person Who gave, Who gives, and Who is the eucharist, can be denied His freedom to gather in His sheep and to feed them ?

Mark day
2 months 2 weeks ago

Sorry to inform you, but the church's magisterium has lost its moral authority because of the clerical abuse crisis. So if it can't offer compassion and mercy to divorced Catholics receiving communion, it's time to call it quits. Will the last one out please blow out the sanctuary lamp. Thanks!

Mark day
2 months 2 weeks ago

Sorry to inform you, but the church's magisterium has lost its moral authority because of the clerical abuse crisis. So if it can't offer compassion and mercy to divorced Catholics receiving communion, it's time to call it quits. Will the last one out please blow out the sanctuary lamp. Thanks!

Mark day
2 months 2 weeks ago

Sorry to inform you, but the church's magisterium has lost its moral authority because of the clerical abuse crisis. So if it can't offer compassion and mercy to divorced Catholics receiving communion, it's time to call it quits. Will the last one out please blow out the sanctuary lamp. Thanks!

James Haraldson
2 months 1 week ago

It lost its moral authority by making the accommodation of homosexuality a higher priority than saving the lives of babies having their skulls crushed. This would include not even noting the significance of the near complete unanimity of homosexual support for abortion and what this really indicates about the origins of the mindset.

Mark day
2 months 2 weeks ago

Sorry to inform you, but the church's magisterium has lost its moral authority because of the clerical abuse crisis. So if it can't offer compassion and mercy to divorced Catholics receiving communion, it's time to call it quits. Will the last one out please blow out the sanctuary lamp. Thanks!

Douglas Fang
2 months 2 weeks ago

Mercy is the essence of God. The elder son who never leaves the house never understands the mercy of the father. As the result, he becomes angry and upset at the mercy of the father. The same thing happens to people who “work” the whole day at the field. They are angry at the mercy of the owner.

The anger of the orthodox and rigid Catholics is the same anger shown by the Pharisees and High Priests, who identified themselves as the keeper of thousands of years of Old Testament tradition, against the freewheeling Jesus who mingled comfortably with the “sinners” – tax collectors, prostitutes, possessed, unclean, etc. Their arrogance turns them blind so they cannot understand and see the essence of God.

Dolores Pap
2 months 2 weeks ago

Beautifully said..I also wonder at the source of the anger of these rigidly orthodox Catholics, and why they feel that a truly merciful church is such failure in their eyes. The rates of marriage are declining anyway, would it be a lesser sin for them if the norm become serial cohabitation?

James Haraldson
2 months 2 weeks ago

You have it exactly backwards. Jesus was the sort of "rigid" orthodox moral absolutist, Who preached that truth is unchanging and eternal because it is synonymous with the mind of God, that the moral relativistic Pharisees hated. Modern day Pharisees like Kasper, Francis, and you apparently don't care how much damage you do with moral relativism. Heresy kills. Kasper hates the word. Too bad he, as the process theologian in chief, a theology that slaps God in the face, personifies the word.

Hilary White
2 months 2 weeks ago

Most sane people have shrugged at this: quit being a heretic, and you won't get called one. This is the guy who has become famous for making his whole career about tearing down Catholic doctrine, and has never made any bones about it. After this incredible coup - including his partcipation in the Sankt Gallen Mafia efforts to put their man on the throne of Peter - of the last five years, he doesn't get to complain about objections. It seems simple to people who still live in Reality. But his entire theological oeuvre for 40 years has been about replacing reality with feelings. He doesn't "feel" like he's a heretic and being called one makes him "feel" bad, so we have to stop. That he is one is irrelevant to him. Reality doesn't count anymore with a group of people who are so divorced from it that they can say without embarrassment that 2+2 can equal 5 if the pope says so. This little fad for papal positivism among the people who, not five years ago, were openly opposing every single thing two popes had done, is an exercise in the Wonderland absurdity we all now are forced to live in. But now that you have forced me to watch the disintegration of all pretense to living in the real world, don't expect me to pat you on the back and say there there when you get upset over people calling you what you so manifestly are.

Dawnie Jens
2 months 2 weeks ago

a rose is a rose by any other name - correct the heresys emanating from clergy - problem solved -a heretic is something I know/understand - "paradigm" - quit throwing around that word and explain precisely what is meant by it - do not recall such a term in Scripture - Dogma - Catholicism - to be fair what exactly is your "paradigm shift"

Dcn Cliff Britton
2 months 2 weeks ago

I try to keep things simple so that I can explain them simply. Sharing in the Eucharist recognizes a particular Catholic unity that is in "the now". This is different than our non-Catholic brothers and sisters who generally invite all believers to share "communion" based on the unity "which is to come", a reference to the 2nd Coming.

Sacramentally married Catholic couples (also believers) who civilly divorce, civilly remarry and live as a married couple have, by their decision, stepped away from the Catholic communion in "the now". That is why they have always been welcomed to the Liturgy of the Word but not able to legitimately receive the Eucharist (ignoring the adultery argument). If this practice changes, wouldn't it logically follow that the Eucharist could be (should be?) available to all believers, regardless of their denominational affiliation? The Church has stepped away from the unity "of the now" and stepped into the unity "which is to come".

Thoughts? Deacon Cliff


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