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The extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family will not open until Oct. 5, but some of its most prominent members are already publicly debating what is bound to be one of its most controversial topics: the eligibility of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

In an interview published Sept. 18, a proponent of changing church practice to allow such Catholics to receive Communion answered criticism from some of his fellow cardinals, suggesting they are seeking a "doctrinal war" whose ultimate target is Pope Francis.

"They claim to know on their own what truth is, but Catholic doctrine is not a closed system, but a living tradition that develops," German Cardinal Walter Kasper told the Italian daily Il Mattino. "They want to crystallize the truth in certain formulas ... the formulas of tradition."

"None of my brother cardinals has ever spoken with me," the cardinal said. "I, on the other hand, have spoken twice with the Holy Father. I arranged everything with him. He was in agreement. What can a cardinal do but stand with the pope? I am not the target, the target is another."

Asked if the target was Pope Francis, the cardinal replied: "Probably yes."

Cardinal Kasper, who will participate in the upcoming synod by personal appointment of the pope, was responding to a new book featuring contributions by five cardinals, including three of his fellow synod fathers, who criticize his proposal to make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

According to church teaching, Catholics who remarry civilly without an annulment of their first, sacramental marriage may not receive Communion unless they abstain from sexual relations, living with their new partners "as brother and sister."

Pope Francis has said the predicament of such Catholics exemplifies a general need for mercy in the church today, and has indicated that their predicament will be a major topic of discussion at the synod. In February, at the pope's invitation, Cardinal Kasper addressed the world's cardinals at the Vatican and argued for allowing some Catholics in that situation to receive Communion.

The Oct. 5-19 synod is not supposed to reach any definitive conclusions but instead set the agenda for a larger synod on the family in October 2015, which will make recommendations to the pope, who will make any final decisions on change.

"Remaining in the Truth of Christ," which Ignatius Press will publish Oct. 1, includes essays in response to Cardinal Kasper's proposal by three synod fathers: Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature; and Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, Italy.

On the same day, Ignatius Press will also publish two other books in which synod fathers respond to Cardinal Kasper's proposal: "The Hope of the Family," an extended interview with Cardinal Muller; and "The Gospel of the Family," which features a foreword by Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. (Cardinal Kasper's address, published by Paulist Press, is also titled "The Gospel of the Family.")

Cardinal Pell calls for a clear restatement of the traditional ban on Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, to avoid the sort of widespread protests that greeted Pope Paul VI's affirmation of Catholic teaching against contraception in 1968.

"The sooner the wounded, the lukewarm, and the outsiders realize that substantial doctrinal and pastoral changes are impossible, the more the hostile disappointment (which must follow the reassertion of doctrine) will be anticipated and dissipated," writes Cardinal Pell, who sits on the nine-member Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis on Vatican reform and governance of the universal church.

Cardinal Muller's essay, previously published in the Vatican newspaper, reaffirms the traditional ban. However, the cardinal notes that many Catholics' first marriages might be invalid, and thus eligible for annulment, if the parties have been influenced by prevailing contemporary conceptions of marriage as a temporary arrangement.

In the book-length interview, Cardinal Muller, whom Pope Francis made a cardinal in February, makes an apparent reference to Cardinal Kasper's argument, which underscores the importance of mercy.

"I observe with a certain amazement the use by some theologians, once again, of the same reasoning about mercy as an excuse for promoting the admission of divorced and civilly remarried persons to the sacraments," Cardinal Muller is quoted as saying. "The scriptural evidence shows us that, besides mercy, holiness and justice are also part of the mystery of God."

Cardinal Burke, head of the Vatican's highest court, warns that any reform of the process for annulling marriages -- something both Pope Francis and Cardinal Kasper have said is necessary -- should not oversimplify the judicial process at the cost of justice, since Catholics seeking an annulment deserve a decision that "respects fully the truth and, therefore, charity."

Cardinal Caffara, whom Pope Francis personally named to participate in the synod, argues that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may not receive Communion because their situation "is in objective contradiction with that bond of love that unites Christ and the church, which is signified and actualized by the Eucharist."

To lift the ban, Cardinal Caffarra argues, would be to legitimize extramarital sexual relations and effectively deny the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage.

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David Pasinski
9 years 6 months ago
Pell's remarks illustrate one reason why the largest denomination next to Catholics are ex-Catholics. I hope Francis is up to the conflict that rear-guard actions across the board will begin. This is only an opening salvo..."POWER" is at stake, not doctrinal purity or holiness.
Bruce Snowden
9 years 6 months ago
"Wars and rumors of wars" sweeping the Planet reach the Vatican? Those rebellious Cardinals out "to get" Pope Francis who listens attentively to the coo of the Spirit Dove as he attempts to "rebuild My Church which is falling into ruin" words spoken to Francis of Assisi by Christ, scandalize the Church! As Judge Judy likes to say, "Put on your listening ears" Eminences! You may very well have the "good of the Church" at heart, and that's fine. But remember as Scripture says, the Father always listens to Jesus "because of his reverence." Show the Church "reverence" for The Vicar of Christ , knowing well as you do, that, "God gives Grace to the humble but resists the proud."
Trish Keller
9 years 6 months ago
Will the bishops address the annulment requirement for people seeking to enter the Church through the RCIA? Also, some inquirers are married but seeking Catholicism on their own -- their spouses are not religious. The annulments required of these spouses bears discussion as well.
Mike Evans
9 years 6 months ago
And there is the further complication of imposing a rule of our church upon people who come from either no religion or a tradition which allows for divorce and remarriage. We thus often become "damn fool gatekeepers."
Mike Evans
9 years 6 months ago
As scripture points out, the Pharisees bind up people with impossible ties and burdens. The eastern church has found a solution in the principle of "economia." It appears they understand the problems of being human and God's mercy for being stranded in an asexual single life, especially when the split is involuntary and the previous marriage long dead. No pretense of "annulment," instead a simple process of remarriage and admittance to the sacraments. One wonders what the arch-conservatives' motives really are.
William Atkinson
9 years 6 months ago
Mike: The eastern church's are mostly working from early Christian beliefs, The western church, has for 1500 years been tied into Greco/Roman Anglo/Saxon law. In the east you'll find the churches mostly about the people on a journey to follow Jesus to the Father, His Father. The west is so tied up with the Law, like in Moses's days, that they can't see pass the LAW, They still punish the individuals for how and what their parents, or lack of parents, do. Some of this is greatly due to the inequality of how they deal with commoners and women. The church, especially the Catholic church is so engrossed with the royalty and superiority of their royalty, princes and cardinals that they have lost all touch with the life of Christ. Just look at the people they canonize as saints, predominantly their royal personage.
Colin Donovan
9 years 6 months ago
If the law is considered an end, then the Church is no better off than those whom Jesus criticized. However, law can be mindful of man's true end, in this world and the next, or unmindful. The Church must obviously be mindful, loosing where it can, binding where it must. The Divine law is always mindful of its End. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" cannot, therefore, be subject to epikeia or economia, unless one is prepared to suggest that there is some circumstance or set of circumstances that evaded the Divine Wisdom. Human beings must naturally still grapple with what actually constitutes a valid marriage, and thus adultery, versus mere fornication, which is exactly what the Church seeks to do in her canon law. The processes and procedures are certainly reformable, but not the purpose: a moral certainty of freedom to marry, objectively arrived at, and which permits a conjugal life. It would ultimately be self-defeating and unmerciful for the Church to renew canon law and sacramental praxis along any other lines than perfect conformity to the divine law.

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