PopeWatch: Walter Cardinal Kasper



PopeWatch has long regarded Walter Cardinal Kasper as the Cardinal most likely to confuse heresy with Catholicism. (That is no small feat considering some of the other cardinals in the running for that title.)  His latest remark, in which he repeats the Pope’s alleged agreement with the statement that 50% of all marriages are invalid (How on Earth would either of them know?) is not heretical per se, just profoundly, profoundly stupid.  Father Z quotes and comments on canon lawyer Ed Peters’ trip with the Cardinal to the woodshed:

The distinguished canonist Ed Peters writes about the reckless comments made by Card. Walter Kasper the other day at Fordham University.  My emphases and comments.

Even if the pope said it, it was reckless to repeat it

Cardinal Kasper, in a lengthy interview that shows no let-up in his push to change Church discipline on marriage said, among other things, “I’ve spoken to the pope himself about this, and he said he believes that 50 percent of marriages are not valid.” [?!?]

I am stunned at the pastoral recklessness of such an assertion. Simply stunned. [As we all should be!]

Suppose the cardinal had claimed that “50 percent of ordinations are not valid”. [!] Would not such a claim, coming from an internationally-renowned prelate and attributed to a pope, have a shattering effect on the morale of deacons, priests, and bishops around the world? Would not especially those clergy laboring under vocational difficulties immediately conclude that their difficulties were the consequence of having been invalidly ordained, whereupon most of them would just give up? And would not those preparing for holy orders be paralyzed with fear over proceeding to ordination until whatever is behind such a massive invalidity rate were discovered and remedied? Of course they would.

Well, if tossing out a comment to clergy alleging rampant invalidity of holy orders would be pastorally unthinkable, by what right does the cardinal casually tell laity that 50% of their marriages are invalid—even if the pope did say it? Does turmoil among married persons in the wake of such a remark not matter to any except those who suffer it? As I said, I am stunned that such a remark was made, [IN PUBLIC!  Sometimes priests will kick ideas around in private as they discuss problems today, but that doesn’t mean they a) think everything they kick around and b) would be so abysmally dumb as to repeat the conversation from their pulpits on Sunday.] even if it was a mere repetition of another’s views.

But, no matter who said it—and I have no patience left for this string of ‘guess-what-the-pope-supposedly-told-me’ disclosures—let me outline several reasons why the claim that ‘half of all marriages are null’ is not just reckless, it’s also wrong.

I preface my remarks thus: I worked in diocesan tribunals for more than 10 years and concluded that hundreds of the marriage cases I saw therein were canonically null; I have been married for nearly 30 years; and I have seen, in my own family and among my closest friends, dozens of successful and failed marriages, some of those latter being canonically null, others just ruined. In short, my perspectives here are at least as professionally credentialed and as personally experienced as anyone else’s. [Haudquaquam dubitandum’st.]

1. Marriage is, before anything else, a natural contract. Any claim, therefore, about “marriage”—including the shocking claim that half of all marriages are invalid—must be true about marriage as entered into by the great majority of the world’s population; that, or it must be abandoned. So, does Cdl. Kasper really think that half of the marriages around the world are invalid? If not, he should never have expressed himself so.

2. But perhaps the prelate only had in mind sacramental marriages (marriages entered into by two baptized persons) when he asserted that half of all marriages are null. But, if sacramental marriage perfects natural marriage and if grace builds on nature, what would make Christian marriage less stable than natural marriage?

Actually, a few things come to mind.

Some Catholic marriages are invalid for reasons having nothing to do with natural law, because they were, say, entered into by boys under age 16 contrary to Canon 1084 or by renegade priests contrary to Canon 1087. But those invalid marriages represent a proverbial drop in the bucket of invalid unions; their presence hardly allows one to claim that half of all marriages among the baptized, or even among Catholics, are invalid.

Admittedly one source of canonical nullity has no foundation whatsoever in natural law, yet accounts for thousands of invalid marriages among Catholics: what I have described as the outdated requirement of canonical form. But, while this requirement allows tens of thousands of Catholics to walk away from ‘marriages’ that we would require Protestants (and indeed all non-Catholics) to honor, violation of form does not occur in numbers that would make half of all marriages, even among Catholics, let alone among Protestants, to say nothing of non-Christians, invalid. Not even close.

Or perhaps Cdl. Kasper wants to take on the “automatic sacramentality” point of Church teaching on marriage (see 1983 CIC 1055), and from there tease out a contractual invalidity argument for any sacramentum fidei attentatum sine fide, but I’ve seen nothing so complex offered yet.

Well, there is much more to say, but keeping in mind that this is only a blog post, let me conclude by reminding all that a long, long, tradition of Church teaching recognizes humans’ natural capacity for marriage, reminds Christians that the grace of matrimony adds to the stability of marriage, and presumes the validity of all marriages unless and until it is proven otherwise.

In short, the validity of marriage far exceeds the odds one enjoys in a coin toss.

Go here to read the comments.  The Cardinal’s remarks might be a sign of bad news coming at the Synod for those who thought that Christ was not just flapping His gums when He said that marriages were indissoluble.  It is also an indication that one of the most worrying signs of the Francis papacy is the several times he has praised Cardinal Kasper.

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  1. Instant communication worldwide is new to modernity. Imagine if everything Pope Alexander VI said was communicated to the whole Catholic world. Oi Veh. Or Pope Julius II talking about his daughter Felice spending too much in Venice. It may not seem like it but all these modern Popes are a dream compared to some from the Renaissance. The Synod itself will not let the Eucharist be received unworthily and I’m the one who believes the two previous Popes got their death penalty pacifism into the catechism successfully and that that will get murder victims killed for centuries to come where influential at all. But God will stop any error on the Eucharistic reception. I have perfect confidence In this.

  2. I’ve heard that moral sin is like an umbrella–it provides a barrier between the “rain” of grace and the body. If this is true, a lot of marriages these days aren’t receiving much grace from the Sacrament (of matrimony of even the Eucharist I suppose). And because of rampant fornication, contraception, abortion and the “divorce culture” a lot of marriages are in a much shakier position than they were during my parents’ days (baptized, but non-Catholics, and not especially Sunday-services going either.)
    Similar was among the Romans at the time of Christ I think; I am not sure among the Jewish people. And yet Christ was crystal clear–no divorce.

  3. Donald R McClarey

    They have some of his cannon at Perugia, their breeches bearing his arms. The have inscriptions taken from the versicle and response at Mattins. Around the touch-hole are the words “Domine, labia mea aperies” [O Lord, open Thou my lips] and around the muzzle, “Et os meum annunciabit laudem tuum” [And my mouth shall shew forth Thy praise].

  4. The only reason why Cdl. Kasper gets away with this garbage is the Pope won’t tell him to shut up. If Pope Francis would stop making his own stupid remarks, and crack down on the cardinals and bishops who do likewise, a lot of the confusion that we now have in the church would not exist.

  5. Scary thought there Art! at least Cain had a mark on him so people knew him.

    Interesting picture of mortal sin as an umbrella DJ. makes me wonder about having to be in a state of grace to receive grace / / / whence the intervention on our behalf? the pope says people should not “interfere spiritually” with the lives of others.

  6. Isn’t praying for other people a type of spiritual intervention?
    As to the umbrella analogy, not sure where I heard it, but I am pretty sure it was in reference to the need to go to Confession.

  7. “Admittedly one source of canonical nullity has no foundation whatsoever in natural law, yet accounts for thousands of invalid marriages among Catholics: what I have described as the outdated requirement of canonical form “

    It is abundantly clear that the learned Doctor has never had to live with the consequences of a system that permits informal marriages. I have. Actions for declarator of marriage were being raised against executors well into the 1980s, many little more than blackmail

    Until 1940, in Scotland, marriage required no notice, no formality and no record of any kind. The law (which was the Pre-Tridentine canon law) was that mere consent, deliberately given, was alone sufficient to constitute a marriage; add to which that a mere promise of marriage, followed by consummation, or a living together as man and wife, with the habit and repute of marriage, but without either formal consent or promise, amounted also to a marriage, for in these cases consent was presumed. This, no doubt, is the system Dr Peters would like to restore.

    Marriage has consequences affecting others, so it is of the utmost importance that the matrimonial consent should be accompanied with evidence easily accessible; so that the rights and interests of others may not be exposed to the hazard arising from any uncertainty as to the effects of previous latent subsisting engagements, whether that hazard may arise from the fraud of one of the contraction parties, or from causes of a less culpable nature, caused by uncertainty as to the legal effects of previous conduct.

    Above all, questions of legitimacy should be avoided, by making the proof of marriage so easily accessible, by means of public records, that the claims of future generations by inheritance in the course of lawful descent, may be traced in the most certain and effectual manner.

  8. “Unfortunately he doesn’t cite ancient Scottish law practices nor does he quote obscure French philosophers speaking about unrelated matters, thus it might not meet everyone’s standards.”


  9. Stephen Dalton: “The only reason why Cdl. Kasper gets away with this garbage is the Pope won’t tell him to shut up..”, and the rest of the merry band of Sherwood Forest as well.
    Well, you are right, Mr. Dalton, but the present “melee-theology” is by design with PF, who has no clearly defined positions because he doesnt seem to know that much, bluntly speaking. He would rather the Kaspers, the Mullers, the Baldisseris and even the mad-cow-diseased theologians like Leonardo Boff (remember, who called Ratzinger a “religious terrorist” and says Israel is a “fundamentalist terrorist state”, yet is remarkably circumspect on Iran) and Gustavo Gutierrez, both of whom he has been in personal communication to obtain their input to theological development—it is these inmates that are presently running the asylum.
    However, since Kasper while at Fordham recently had the remarkable chutzpah to laugh off the Sacred Congregation for the Faith’s notifications to him (“With me, they went in one ear and out the other,” he reputedly said), I assume we are equally given the right to dismiss his, and all of PF’s circus’, theological reflections as well.

  10. Makes sense to me MPS- “Above all, questions of legitimacy should be avoided, by making the proof of marriage so easily accessible, by means of public records, that the claims of future generations by inheritance in the course of lawful descent, may be traced in the most certain and effectual manner.”

  11. Mortal sin, as I understand it, is a barrier to grace but an imperfect one. If it were perfect, no one would ever repent of anything. As for the 50% number, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s true. Legitimate, monogamous, consented-to marriages with the intent to stay together forever – I’d like to believe they’re more common, but human nature is weak enough to start with and society isn’t doing it any favors.

  12. Sounds to me suspiciously like the 50% of all marriages end in divorce statistic that gets bandied about.
    Also sounds to me like a certain Cardinal agrees with certain Protestant critics about Annulment being a Catholic word for “divorce.”

  13. Cardinal Kasper is selling his book, pure and simple. Of course in the process he is also putting forth a certain ‘theology’ of the German speaking world concerning not simply marriage but the Church and a whole array of related subjects (even if not immediately expressed).

    Besides the actual issue of “the Family” and its obviously related subject of ‘divorce and remarriage’ I also see something deeper going on. A certain understanding of Church etc has been propagated by “the German Church and theologians’ [Ratzinger an Mueller are some exceptions] from the 60’s on. Rooted in certain philosophical and their related theological currents, ‘the German Church (Austria included as well as the Benelux countries) has been in the forefront of ‘the spirit of Vatican II’ and other ‘idealist’ portrayals of Church and life in the Church. Part of their power and influence comes from the fact that the Catholic universities,Catholic theologians etc,. the bishops, priests, churches themselves are all funded by taxes of German/Austrian Catholics. This gave a huge amount of money-power within “Germany” and also within the Church funding so many charities etc.[ the positive side] however, there is a superiority etc that also accompanies all of this and makes American exceptionalism both outside and inside the Church to be almost nothing.

    A movement which began really in response to the publication of Humanae Vitae of dissent emanated first from here-and coordinated then throughout the Western countries. It was not simply birth control that they had a problem with but with the use of papal authority evidenced etc in the encyclical and what they perceived to be the beginning of a retreat from what they called Vatican II but really was their own interpretation of it. It has not gone away, but it has aged [look at the age of Hans Kung and Cardinal Kasper]. A younger generation began stepping up to the plate during the ministry of Pope Benedict, led by the Vicar General of Vienna. It swept through Austria, parts of Germany and into Ireland and Australia. Among their demands is the liberalization of the Church’s response to divorce and remarriage.

    Pope Francis, I believe very much coming out of a very intune conclave of Cardinals has called for two synods concerning the family: which is the immediate issue. However, I am beginning to see the deeper issue at hand is (as it almost always is) the unity of the Church. Another encyclical would have ‘just’ increased the dissent. A major synod however would be expressing the ‘voice of the universal church’. We are witnessing a struggle between the Church faithful to Catholic Tradition and Vatican II and that which is in the ‘spirit of Vatican II’. I have no doubt which of these two will come out of the two synods victorious.

  14. The “Spirit of Vatican II” is a clerical revolt within the Church that has been led in large part by academic clerics enamored of liberalism. Since the 1960s, many lay Catholics have just followed these wayward leaders as they marched in lock step with their secular liberal counterparts.
    At some point the clerical liberals and the secular liberals became post “modernists”….uh oh that word again.

  15. Karl, the fact that the Church is still alive and well despite all the internal and external chaos is proof positive that He is helping us. The really Good News is that He loves us.
    Deo Gratia. : )

  16. Botolph, please do not take this personally, but it must be painful the extent of the efforts and self-contortions of thought that it appears are required in order to make sense of the present veritable barnyard chaos of Muller, Baldisseri, Kasper, former Basil Hume-protege Vincent Nichols, now Cardinal of Westminster, and somewhere in there, the Pontiff-Revolutionary (recall, I am quoting Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a long-time friend of his from Buenos Aire, who has called PF “a revolutionary”).
    It is not out of some personal animus against this pontiff that it must be asserted that he is not that sharp a theological mind in navigating thepresent mists and fogs of the post-Vatican II era. He only has a licentiate(M.Lic) in philosophy from 1960s from a not-premiere theologate, the Collegio Maximo de San Jose, with later studies (an M.Div? if even?) at San Miguel de Buenos Aires. He crashed and burned when he attempted a Ph.D. in Germany in the 1980’s. None of the Jesuits from that time want to talk about why he abruptly left and never completed any degree work. Of course he needs someone else to lead him by the nose, and these are why he has a “board of consultors”—he doesnt know what tothink and therefore what to do, and in one year he has made a complete chaos of what we are to believe and practice. This is before the coming storm of the synods.

    Here on the Left Coast, PF is quoted in support of the most radical minds called “theologians” and the need for same-sex orientation accomodation of speakrs and teachers and activists in Catholic high schools. Sr Jane Laurel, the exiled Dominican nun from Charlotte, was ambuscaded by students and certain other activists who quoted PF’s positions as grounds for her tantamount dismissal. Everyone who works in Catholic institutions speak now in whispers and platitudes. Anglican soppiness is the norm of Novus Ordo preaching.

    So, Benedicamus Domino, but in the same breath I say: Usquequo, Domine.

  17. Slainte,

    Having been locked in the midst of the very heart of what this “pandemonium” is about for more than two decades has pretty much destroyed my faith both in God and, certainly, in the Catholic Church. For decades, I have held and spoken in public that I believe the presumtion of validity of a marriage in Canon Law has long been ignored in practice and pastorally. I firmly believe this, and no evidence (because anyone can “cook the books”) will, ever, convince me otherwise. I see what Cardinal Kasper said as the “nail in the coffin” to any challenge or defense that validity is presumed. Certainly, it has in my mind ended any discussion.

    I used to console myself with the very thing you mentioned but it no longer works for me. Please, however, do not take that as a personal rebuff. I have no intention to belittle your kindness and forgive me if it seems that way. I have simply been destroyed by the lack of interest in the Catholic Church for the faith of any of those involved in this particular nightmare or for the valid marriage that is still under brutal assault. For our kids, by their request, I continue the walk, at least for now.

  18. Cardinal Kasper used to be the point man in dealing with the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox. I am more and more aggravated with him each time he opens his mouth.

    I do not remember much about the time of Paul VI. He became Pope shortly before I was born and he died when I was 15. It seems as if the lunatics ran the asylum when Paul VI was in charge and now we are seeing this again.

    Kasper is a product of his time and his origin. So is Pope Francis. The Church in Latin America has been in its own chaos since before Vatican II. Vatican II did nothing to really improve things there or here in the US, either, but that’s another story.

  19. We have lost all hope for our posterity, the purpose of matrimony, as Michael Paterson-Seymour states the reasons. “Above all, questions of legitimacy should be avoided, by making the proof of marriage so easily accessible, by means of public records, that the claims of future generations by inheritance in the course of lawful descent, may be traced in the most certain and effectual manner. ”
    Matrimony without hope for children would not be matrimony, now, would it? Basically this action would remove matrimony, the Sacrament of Matrimony from purview of the Catholic Church and canon law. If Cardl Kasper removes his job at the Vatican, let him do it now before he brings chaos down on the people.

  20. Steve Phoenix,

    I did not take your response personally, but thank you for caring enough to say this. We certainly have differed in the past, that is certain. However, I believe there is at this point a certain respect which we both hold for the other although we still differ.

    The core of the issue as I see it is not even the hermeneutic of continuity [which I hold] versus the hermeneutic of discontinuity [which I believe you hold, if I am reading you correctly]. You most likely think that I am simply an optomist-that every Council of the Church was of equal value, every pope a great pope and the like. That would be an incorrect evaluation of my position. What someone might interpret as optimism simply is my reliance on Christ’s promise to be with His Church until the end of time and that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against that Church built on Peter. It is faith in Christ and His Spirit, certainly not in men or women of the Church that gives me my ‘faith’.

    I believe that the Second Vatican Council is a true Ecumenical Council of the Church, now part of her history which cannot simply be dismissed etc. I also believe that we have not only just begun to ‘receive’ the Council but we are only now just beginning to understand its true significance. Are their weaknesses in its documents? Of course. They are human documents, just as all the other Councils were-which also had their shadows as well as light.

    This leads me to the third point-my convolutions concerning all the personages involved in the present day debates etc of the Church. I agree with you it is not easy and it is better if you have a score card or ‘program’ lol but I am a student of the Fathers of the Church ( and therefore those first councils of the CHurch). Let me tell you there was nothing quiet, or peaceful about what led up to them, their proceedings nor their aftermath. The scoundrels and heretics, the jerks and the political climbers were mixed right in with the saints and Fathers [I still love the story of Saint Nicholas punching Arius in the nose during the Nicean Council-Santa Claus slugs the archheretic lolol]

    We live in a time Steve, which you probably know very much like the Church in the 400’s. Progressives were pushing from one side (Nestorians) and ultra-conservatives pushing the Church from the otherside (Monophysites). Since both got disgusted at the Church for giving in too much to the other side and left the Church in a huff [a break that is still in existence 1500 years later] the Church lost a great deal. I am hoping that this does not happen in our own day-I can always hope. That combined fracture lost the Middle East first to the unity of the Church and then to the forces of Mohammed. I pray history does not repeat itself.

  21. DJ Hesselius: “Isn’t praying for other people a type of spiritual intervention?”

    It is asking God to intervene in the spiritual life of another person, all the time willingly accepting the will of God.

  22. Botolph wrote, “The scoundrels and heretics, the jerks and the political climbers were mixed right in with the saints and Fathers”

    And also the plain misguided. Take the issue of heretical baptism, where there seemed, to all appearances, a consensus of the Fathers of the first four centuries: “The Apostolical Canons say, “Those who are baptized by heretics cannot be believers.” The Synods of Iconium and Synnada declare that “those who came from the heretics were to be washed and purified from the filth of their old impure leaven.” Clement of Alexandria, that “Wisdom pronounces that strange waters do not belong to her.” Firmilian, that “we recognize one only Church of God, and account baptism to belong only to the Holy Church.” “It seemed good from the beginning,” says St. Basil, “wholly to annul the baptism of heretics.” Tertullian says, “We have not the same baptism with heretics; since they have it not rightly; without, they have it not at all.” “Then may there be one baptism,” says St. Cyprian, “when there is one faith. We and heretics cannot have a common baptism, since we have not the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Ghost in common. Heretics in their baptism are polluted by their profane water.” St. Cyril says, “None but heretics are re-baptized, since their former baptism was not baptism.” St. Athanasius asks, “Is not the rite administered by the Arians, altogether empty and unprofitable? he that is sprinkled by them is rather polluted than redeemed.” Optatus says, “The stained baptism cannot wash a man, the polluted cannot cleanse.” “The baptism of traitors.” says St. Ambrose, “does not heal, does not cleanse, but defiles.” (Bl John Henry Newman)

    They were all wrong. St Stephen (Pope from 254 to 257) defied the whole world and ruled heretical baptism valid. A hundred and fifty years later, his view prevailed, when St Augustine affirmed it and the rigorists, the Donatists and Novatians were cast out of the Church.

    As Bl John Henry Newman remarks, “Under these circumstances, the Holy See and various Bishops took what would be called the laxer aide, as being that which charity, as well as expediency suggested, whereas the graver and more strict, as well as the ignorant portion of the Christian community did not understand such a policy, and in consequence there was, in various parts of the world, both among the educated and the uneducated, an indignant rising against this innovation, as it was conceived, of their rulers. Montanus and his sect in the East, represent the feelings of the multitude at Rome, the school of Tertullian, Novatian, and the author of the Elenchus, able and learned men, stood out in behalf of what they considered the Old Theology, terminating their course in the Novatian schism; while the learned Donatist Bishops and the mad Circumcelliones illustrate a like sentiment, and a like temper, in Africa. “

  23. Michael PS,
    I actually love your scholarship herein while not believing we have a parallel case here. You are charitably warning the strict that the strict were incorrect for four centuries on the Baptism matter…and the less strict view won out. On marriage though, Kasper et al are only thinking of the Eucharist as medicine for working against sin. But even bad humans have a right to medicine and no one has an absolute right to the Eucharist because I Cor.11:27 says: ” Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.”. That means that the Eucharist is not simply medicine but also the reception of Christ who inspired I Cor. 11:27 to tell us we must be worthy of reception unlike a captured felon in a hospital who need not be worthy of medicine.
    Their group never mention future generations either….only the expectation of those already in irregular second marriages. A change would say to future young people…if your marriage fails, marry again and receive the Eucharist….which means you are in sanctifying grace. It says to midlife crisis 55 year old men, drop your spouse, take up with a younger girl who looks like singer Joss Stone…and receive the Eucharist because you’re doing the best you can as your new wife sings ” I Put a Spell on You” to you….and yes, you’re in sanctifying grace….though your first wife is praying for your return til her death.
    A change in this area brings on the ludicrous. That’s a sign that it will be defeated at the Synod.

  24. Thank you, Botolph, I must say I admire your optimism, and I could use a steady dose of it during this pontificate. Keep it up, therefore 🙂

  25. Steve,

    Seriously, I am very glad to help. In the meantime we can keep dialoguing and hopefully we can both gain some wisdom 🙂

  26. Bill Bannon

    My point was this: that whilst the greatest saints and doctors of the Church can err and have erred, the sure touchstone of our faith is the Holy See. When everyone else was wrong, Rome was right and the single voice of Pope St Stephen, unheeded for a century and a half, was recognised at length as the voice of Shepherd.

    Fortunately, Montanists, Novatians and Donatists have left no following, but others have: Nestorian and Monophysite Churches survive to this day and each claiming to be the faithful heirs of Apostolic tradition. There is only one test by which to confute them; they are not in communion with the see of Rome. Every other test involves the vicious circle, “The true faith is what the true Church teaches” and then, “The true Church is the one that teaches the true faith.”

    That the more rigorous opinion is not necessarily the orthodox one can be illustrated from Montanists in the 3rd century through Jansenists in the 17th and Feenyites in the 20th. Of course, laxists have fallen into error at least as often.

    As for 1 Corinthians 11, I am no exegete and would not like to pronounce on what St Paul meant by “unworthily” (ἀναξίως) in v 27 and how it ties in with “not discerning the body” (μὴ Διακρίνων τὸ σῶμα ) in v 29. I do know it has produced cartloads of commentary.

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