The Gospel of the Family: Going Beyond Cardinal Kasper’s Proposal in the Debate on Marriage, Civil Re-Marriage, and Communion in the Church. Authors: Juan Jose Perez-Soba and Stephan Kampowski. Publisher: Ignatius Press (2014)
The topic of marriage has always been a sticky one. Moses allowed divorce, “but from the beginning it was not so.”(Mt 19:8) Followers of Christ were to be held to a higher standard.
However, human nature doesn’t change. Hearts are still hard and marriage is more so. So, in an era of widespread marital instability, it’s rather unremarkable that Christ’s – and, therefore, the Church’s – position on marriage should be challenged.
In this instance, Cardinal Walter Kasper, speaking on behalf of a sizeable percentage of Catholics in the western hemisphere, delivered a speech at an extraordinary consistory on the family that discussed “the gospel of the family.”[i] In it, he asked the Church to consider the situation of civilly-remarried divorcees.
Cardinal Kasper acknowledged that the Church cannot deny Christ’s teaching about the indissolubility of sacramental marriage and, therefore, there can be no possibility of entering into a new marriage while a living spouse remains. But he suggested that, even as John Paul II removed the automatic excommunication of civilly-remarried divorcees, the Church might find a way to “open doors” without violating dogmatic teachings.
If civilly-remarried divorcees are not excommunicated but may receive spiritual communion under the usual conditions and are therefore considered as one with Jesus Christ, Cardinal Kasper argues, why can’t they receive sacramental communion?
To explore this question, Juan Jose Perez-Soba and Stephan Kampowski have written The Gospel of the Family: Going Beyond Cardinal Kasper’s Proposal in the Debate on Marriage, Civil Re-Marriage, and Communion in the Church. Father Perez-Soba is a moral theologian teaching at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome and Dr. Kampowski is professor of philosophical anthropology there.
Perez-Soba and Kampowski begin their examination with a consideration of the family, “the first and inescapable expression of the vocation of love… The personal integrity that the family requires is the testimony that makes this love credible in the world.” This is an interesting beginning because it frames the discussion about marriage in the context of the “nuclear” community rather than the individual spouse.
The Cultural Challenge
The Perez-Soba and Kampowski book is organized around three themes: the cultural condition of today’s contemporary family, the centrality of the family to the Christian message, and the pastoral care that is most efficacious for today’s family.
Concerning the contemporary family’s cultural challenges, there is little said here that will come as a surprise. Today’s family stands in stark contradiction to neo-pagan sexual mores that sunder sexual relations from love and commitment.
However, “It is here that the Gospel brought in a true novelty in the ancient world, and it does so again today; the field of human sexuality, that is, the realm that touches on our sexual differentiation, can be redeemed and raised up—it no longer needs to be the battlefield of mutual exploitation, domination, and seduction. Jesus offers us a new power: sexuality can have something to do with love.” (p. 27)
The early Church understood itself as a bride, espoused to Christ-God. That, in turn, tells us something about how the Church understands the nature of marriage – that it is designed to be a school of love, fidelity, exclusivity, and sacrifice.[ii]
And this is “good news,” say Perez-Soba and Kampowski, because it proclaims the possibility of “true love,” between husband and wife as well as between man and God.
Cardinal Kasper says that the Church puts “intolerable burdens” on remarried divorcees when it denies them reception of sacramental communion but Perez-Soba and Kampowski are perplexed to understand what, exactly, these burdens are. The indissolubility of marriage? No, because Cardinal Kasper agrees that the bond of marriage is indissoluble. “Given that Cardinal Kasper explicitly upholds the indissolubility of marriage, and given that he would hardly want to propose that a person could live in two valid and indissoluble marriages at the same time, his solution effectively seems to suggest that “the first matrimony remains, but that there is also a second kind of cohabitation that the Church legitimizes.” (p. 31)
This is problematic.
The Centrality of Family
The discussion is complex and fascinating, exploring gender theory and a host of other contemporary topics from a scriptural perspective, from the vantage point of recent papal documents, and from sociological considerations. Perez-Soba and Kampowski are so thoughtful in setting forth their points that one wonders how Cardinal Kasper might respond.
The upcoming Synod is titled “The Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” Just as the family is designed to be a person’s first school in love, commitment (fidelity), and sacrifice, it is also the starting point for evangelizing both the individual and society. Conversely, the family’s failure quickly becomes the Church’s loss.
Mary Eberstadt, who wrote How the West Really Lost God, says mainline liberal Protestant and Anglican churches are committing “assisted religious suicide:” “In sum, the churches that did most to loosen up the traditional moral code of Christianity are the same churches that have ended up suffering most for that effort—demographically, financially, morale-wise, and otherwise. Some are on the brink of actual extinction” (pp 44-45) due to their failure to take the family seriously.
Reflecting on a quote from Benedict XVI, “The mystery of God’s love for men and women receives its linguistic form from the vocabulary of marriage and the family,”[iii] Perez-Soba and Kampowski note that “God has revealed himself to us as Father; Jesus calls himself the Son of God, raising us up to become God’s adopted sons and daughters, which turns the believers into actual—and all individuals into potential—brothers and sisters. According to the Scriptures, the Church is the mother of all believers (see Gal 4:26) and the bride of Christ (see Rev 21:9). What meaning could there be to this Gospel proclamation if people were no longer born and raised in the bosom of a family? They would no longer possess the fundamental experiences at the heart of the Christian faith: spousality, paternity, filiation, and fraternity. The faith would simply become unintelligible to them.” (p. 56)
Elsewhere, another quote from Benedict states simply: “There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage.” (p.170)
Pastoral Care of the Family
“The greatest of the pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization, then, is this: how are we to proclaim the gospel of the family in a pansexualistic culture?” (p. 41)
While Cardinal Kasper, Perez-Soba, and Kampowski agree that mercy (an expression of divine love) makes no sense if it isn’t rooted in truth, they appear to part ways when it comes to application. Perez-Soba and Kampowski –in keeping with traditional Church understanding – write that mercy “has nothing to do with any sort of tolerance with respect to the sin; rather it is about seeking the conversion of the sinner.” (p. 80)
The truth of the indissoluble marital bond, therefore, means that “mercy with regard to a person who has been unfaithful to this union does not consist in declaring that the covenant no longer exists, or that it has been destroyed irremediably, but rather consists in affirming that there is a ‘greater justice’ that is possible only thanks to the divine gift that springs from God’s pardon.” (p. 80) “Any sort of spousal relationship apart from this bond will always be an unfaithful relationship and, for that very reason, adulterous.” (p. 87)
In the light of the above, what pastoral care can be offered to civilly-divorced remarried people? Certainly, they can’t be denied the truth of their situation. Perez-Soba and Kampowski decry the decidedly unhelpful “strategy” of “sowing doubt, without providing convictions” that results in moral confusion. (p. 100)
The historical practices of the Church in this regard are interesting and insightful, above and beyond the witness of Saint John the Baptist and the English Martyrs who “shed their blood in defense of the sanctity of the marital bond.” (p. 129) Perez-Soba and Kampowski painstakingly argue against false assertions that the early Church accepted remarriage after divorce and then present evidence that, indeed, the Church accepted no such thing. Even the few texts cited by Cardinal Kasper to support his proposals – in counter distinction to many unambiguous one – are revealed, on closer examination, to support nothing of the sort.
The first pastoral service must be “to assure that marriages are contracted validly.” (p. 131) A part of that service is to impress upon the affianced couple that marriage is not a product they procure with a contract but a binding covenant. The Church accomplishes this, in part, by how seriously she takes the commitment, that she “really believes what she is saying.” (p. 137) “If she loves human beings, if she wants to help to rebuild the moral subject, she will always make clear her opposition to divorce and insist that for her the State has no more authority to define marriage as it has authority to define the law of gravity, and that therefore, by defining terms of divorce, it is overstepping its boundaries.” (pp. 136-137)
As part of its obligation, the Church must tell people the truth. A “pastoral ministry of Mercy” can’t be considered apart from reality. It “is not a question of seeking tolerance with respect to a problem, but rather of being much more aware of the regenerating role of grace in the life of individual persons, without denying the profound change of life that this presupposes.” (p. 169)
If one is not “simply to adapt to the demands of the present day,” (p. 172) then it becomes obvious that it “is altogether inadequate to design a pastoral program that does not take into account the moral truth of the action performed in light of the law, or that falls into the temptation to measure its actual expediency only by means of technical results, or else that confuses mercy …with compassion to the detriment of the truth of justice.” (p. 174) Better catechesis, ecclesial support, but above all “the gift of indissolubility” (p. 174)are the resources on which any efficacious pastoral care must be grounded.
There is detailed response to Cardinal Kasper’s question of why, if civilly-divorced remarried Catholics are invited to participate spiritually at Mass, they cannot also receive sacramental communion. The short version is that: “[I]t is beneficial to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion, praised by Pope John Paul II and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life” (no. 55). Here, the practice of spiritual Communion would not seem to refer to the fulfillment or fruit of sacramental Communion, but rather to ‘the desire of the Eucharistic sacrament’.” (p. 152)
Given that Cardinal Kasper’s thoughts about marriage and the Church’s pastoral response to civilly-divorced remarried Catholics will be much under consideration during the Synod on the Family, Perez-Soba and Kampowski have provided a very useful, readable response formed from the Church’s traditional teachings about marriage. It couldn’t come at a better time.
(As a final note, Ignatius Press is also releasing a collection of essays on the subject, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, which includes the thought of Cardinal Raymond Burke.)
[i] Cardinal Walter Kasper has written a booklet with the same title: The Gospel of the Family, Paulist Press (2014). Perez-Soba and Kampowski are primarily considering this writing, whose ideas will presumably be considered at the Vatican’s October 2014 Synod on the Family.
[ii] See Ephesians 5.
[iii] Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Participants in the Ecclesial Diocesan Convention of Rome”, June 6, 2005, p. 5.