Even Pope Francis is distancing himself from the latter and taking sides with the former, staying on good terms with Cardinal Müller, and promoting the African Sarah. The unyielding defenders of Catholic doctrine on marriage.
“This does not resolve anything,” Pope Francis said recently with regard to the idea of giving Communion to the divorced and remarried. Much less if they “want” it, demand it. Because Communion “is not a badge, a decoration. No.”
In his latest interview, Jorge Mario Bergoglio threw cold water on the expectations for substantial change in the doctrine and practice of Catholic marriage, which he himself had indirectly fostered: “Overblown expectations,” he called them, with no more references to the innovative theses of Cardinal Walter Kasper, which he had repeatedly extolled in the past but now seems to be keeping at a distance.
On the other hand, for some time now, Pope Francis has looked with growing attention and esteem at another cardinal theologian, who upholds ideas on the “Gospel of marriage” that are perfectly in line with tradition: the Italian Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna.
As a professor of moral theology, Caffarra was a specialist in marriage, family, and procreation. And this is why John Paul II wanted him at the head of the pontifical institute for studies on marriage and the family that he created in 1981 at the Lateran university, following the 1980 synod dedicated precisely to these themes.
So a stir was created last October by the exclusion of any representative of that institute — which since its foundation has spread all over the world — from the first session of the synod on the family.
But now this gap has been filled, because last March 14 Pope Francis appointed among the advisers of the general secretariat of the second and last session of the synod, scheduled for October of this year, none other than the vice-president of the pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, Professor José Granados.
As for Caffarra, if the Italian episcopal conference does not elect him this May among its four delegates at the synod, the Pope will certainly see to including him among the synod fathers, as he did for the previous session.
The archbishop of Bologna is one of the five anti-Kasper cardinals who assembled their ideas in the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ published in Italy by Cantagalli on the eve of the last synod and now translated into 10 languages.
And right from the start he was one of the most determined and incisive critics of the bombshell speech read by Kasper at the consistory of February 2014.
In an extensive interview with Il Foglio published on March 15, 2014, Caffarra said, among other things, with regard to Communion for the divorced and remarried: “Those who advance this hypothesis do not have an answer to a very simple question: what about the first marriage, ratified and consummated? The proposed solution leads one to think that the first marriage remains intact, but that there is also a second form of cohabitation that the Church legitimizes. Therefore there is an extramarital exercise of human sexuality that the Church considers legitimate. But with this comes a denial of the cornerstone of the Church’s teaching on sexuality. At this point one could ask oneself: so why not approve cohabitation at will? So why not relationships between homosexuals? This is not only a question of practice, it also touches upon doctrine. Unavoidably. One may say that it doesn’t, but it does. Not only that. It introduces a custom that in the long run determines this idea in the people, and not only among Christians: there is no such thing as an absolutely indissoluble marriage. And this is certainly against the Lord’s will.”
Further below, in its entirety, is Caffarra’s latest position statement on marriage and family: a conference he gave on March 12 in Rome at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce).
But first it will be helpful to recall other facts that highlight the growing approach of Pope Francis toward Kasper’s critics.
For one thing, the Pope is keeping on at the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the most authoritative of the five cardinals of the anti-Kasper book, resolute in warning against that “subtle Christological heresy” which consists in separating doctrine from pastoral practice, in the illusion that the latter can be changed without harming the former, so that second marriages can be blessed while holding firm the indissolubility of marriage.
In the second place Pope Francis, in one of the few important appointments he has recently made in the curia, has placed at the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship the Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, author of a book-length interview, Dieu ou rien. Entretien sur la foi, published in France by Fayard, in which he rejects at its root the idea of giving Communion to the divorced and remarried, which in his judgment “is the obsession of certain Western Churches that want to impose so-called ‘theologically responsible and pastorally appropriate’ solutions that radically contradict the teaching of Jesus and of the Church’s magisterium.”
Completely agreeing with Müller, Cardinal Sarah also says: “The idea that would consist in placing the Magisterium in a pretty box and separating it from pastoral practice, which could evolve according to circumstances, fashions, and impulses, is a form of heresy, a dangerous schizophrenic pathology.”
And after emphasizing that the question of the divorced and remarried “is not an urgent challenge for the churches of Africa and Asia,” he declares: “I solemnly affirm that the church of Africa will firmly oppose any rebellion against the teaching of Jesus and of the Magisterium.”
In effect, the African bishops elected so far as representatives at the next synod by their respective national Churches all hold the same unyielding positions as Sarah does, with the sole exception of Accra Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle, who has said that he is in favor not only of communion for the remarried but also — hypothetically — of divorce itself, thanks to the Pope’s powers of “binding and loosing” everything on the earth.
It must be added that intransigent positions have also been taken up by the bishops of Eastern Europe, with the Poles in the lead. And by four synod fathers elected by the episcopal conference of the United States: Joseph Kurtz, Charles Chaput, Daniel DiNardo, and José H. Gómez.
Even the most “moderate” of the four, Kurtz, did not fail to remark — in the footsteps of Cardinal Müller — that “it will be very important that there is not a gap between the way we worship, believe and provide pastoral care. There is a rightful concern that we remain true to the teaching of the Church, and that is an attitude I will take to the synod.”