by Jean Francois Delacroix
Why the incredible ardor of Kasper & company to be more inclusive without conversion? Where is the dogma of the Church to be found for Kasper & company? What is all this protestation really about? Why the adamancy to change defined doctrine, what is the need to create so much confusion in the minds of simple Catholics? What are these public declarations of agnosticism over defined doctrines really all about?
For more than 10 years, when he and other German bishops raised the question with the Vatican, retired German Cardinal Walter Kasper has been arguing for doctrinal changes regarding the distribution of Holy Communion. Although this is not the only change he is seeking, the Cardinal’s emphasis has been on a change in doctrine to allow the distribution of communion to divorced members who have divorced and remarried without a previous annulment. Cardinal Kasper is not the only one pushing for this radical change. The basis of their argument? The Church must show mercy.
Instrumentalizing mercy to achieve ideological aims is a cheap trick for a theologian. It is an old trick and one that abuses the philosophical and theological notion of virtue itself.
The false arguments presented to defend this doctrinal change are camouflaged with the usual tactic of speculating about the ramifications of the practice of the ancient Church (the Jesuits’ Karl Rahner was an expert at this strategy). These modern theologians love to speculate. But despite their insatiable taste for speculation, most of Catholic theology is not speculative. The realm of genuine speculative theology is very small and limited. For example, the question of what happens to unbaptized babies after they die may call for legitimate speculation. At one time, there was speculation about the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was legitimate speculation, until the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
But for some “progressive”theologians, dogma never reaches a final point, a conclusion, a definition. All things are open to further speculation, and more speculation. This is what Cardinal Kasper means when he says that “Church doctrine is not a closed system.” Indeed, Kasper clearly foreshadows in a September 29 interview with America Magazine, where his hyperbolic skepticism and misguided speculation may focus next: “Yes, there is not only the question of the divorced and remarried but also same-sex unions, rainbow families, stepfamilies, the whole gender problematic and many other problems.”
This view is fatal to sound Catholic theology and inimical to propositional theology and the truths they enshrine. Is the creed part of speculative theology as well? Are the commandments suggestions, upon which prelates must speculate, deliberate prudentially, and pastorally decide? Church doctrine is not a subject of prudence (another fallacious argument Kasper is trying to slip in, under the authority of St. Thomas Aquinas), and Church doctrine is not the same as the discipline of the Church. The doctrine of the Church, that is, the teaching of the Church on matters of faith and morals, no earthly authority has the power to change it. Kasper’s proposal on Holy Communion is a bait and switch, which presumes much ignorance on the part of his fellow Cardinals. He erroneously states (along with other bishops), that allowing the divorced and remarried (without a previous annulment) to receive communion is just liturgical discipline, when in fact it is a simple logical conclusion based on the infallible doctrinal teaching of the Church. A disciplinary change in the reception of communion was to allow people to receive communion on the hand, or to decrease the fast period before communion.
Kasper and co-thinkers have adopted an obvious theological ruse. Catholic Church doctrine is not something obscure, unclear, and murky that requires heroic powers of discernment from the faithful. It is so clear and transparent, that it requires Cardinals to obfuscate the matter for the simple faithful to be confused. Much of what is at present being presented as speculative is clearly defined and not an issue for theological debate. Astonishingly, Cardinal Hummes of Brazil is also unsure about almost everything. In a lengthy interview in Brazil’s Zero Horo newspaper on July 26, the Cardinal was asked: “If Jesus were alive today, would he be in favor of gay marriage?” Hummes replied: “I don't know. I formulate no hypothesis on this.”
I would have thought the Cardinal would have been offended at such an absurd question, but I guess these days all is possible with the men in red.
Where is the dogma of the Church to be found for Kasper & company? Not in the simple and crisp definitions of faith of the Church, faithful to tradition and Scripture. No, the champions of the “hermeneutic of discontinuity,” believe dogma is to be found (for the time being), at the intersection of the culture of the times and the accommodation needed to meet that “culture.”
Truth be told, Kasper is not and has never been a great theologian. He may be a well-known theologian, but as a witness of the Catholic faith he is far from the essence of a Catholic theologian. His philosophical and theological foundations is also inimical to sound theology.
Doctrine by Public Opinion?
Let us look back more closely on Kasper’s argument for changing Church doctrine (he argues he only wants a change in practice. But as it is obvious one cannot have both at one and the same time. The changes are being justified as a response to a greater need for mercy in the Church.
Where is the hyperbolic emphasis on mercy coming from? Not from a deep and complex theological debate or discourse, but rather from a public opinion poll commissioned by the German bishops. The bishops were in a fix. Hundreds of thousands were leaving the Church in Germany and Austria every year, not only on account of spiritual disaffection, but also under the pressure of the infamous church-tax levied by the government on every parishioner registered in any denomination. The opinion poll was an attempt to test the waters and stop the bleeding. The German bishops received answers to many questions regarding faith and morals and in those answers they discovered that what the disaffected Catholics wanted most was “mercy.” By “mercy” they meant a Church that would accommodate Catholic doctrine to their own subjective situations. This is politics not theology. Sadly, the sheep which Kasper seeks to please have already lost their way: weekly Church attendance in Germany has fallen to about 13%. Many have joined Protestant denominations.
Cardinal Kasper in my view is disingenuous. Kasper stated he has not been proposing answers to the problem of the divorced and remarried, just raising friendly questions. But unfortunately the Cardinal is not truly speculating at all about communion to more and more groups of disaffected Catholics. He has pushed for changes on reception of communion for more than a decade, and requested specific changes for the divorced and remarried to be allowed to receive communion since 2005. Kasper has clashed with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who denied the possibility for many years. In 2005, that Kasper refused to accept the decision of another synod denying the possibility of communion in these cases, of the synod’s conclusion against his proposals, Kasper stated, “… it is not the final result”.
Kasper is not waiting to see what the Church may or may not say; he had already put a new policy into effect when he was an active bishop in Germany. In 1993, as bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Kasper produced a pastoral letter with Bishop Karl Lehman in which they allowed the divorced and remarried to receive communion. It would be refreshing for the cardinal not to hide behind the fig leaf of mercy.
Church Doctrine and Pastoral Practice
Kasper’s second theological problem is the false dichotomy he invents between the teaching of the Church and pastoral practice. It is evident to anyone with an ounce of common sense that the pastoral practice of the Church exists to serve the revealed truth of the Church. Pastoral practice is at the service of the proclamation of the faith, the dogmatic teaching of the Church. Defined teaching is not ruled by “pastoral theology.”
Pastoral practice properly understood, serves to protect the teaching of the Church and seeks to communicate it. It is not the function of pastoral practice to determine what truth is. Pastoral practice is at the service of the magisterial doctrine of the Church. Pastoral practice ought to be simply the application and effective communication of the sacred doctrine of the Church.
Furthermore Kasper and company (Rahner was masterful at this), love to quote St. Thomas Aquinas, to cloak their errors with the mantle of his authority. They do so disregarding the fact that their methodology is completely contrary to Thomistic philosophy. These “theologians,” should remember that the discipline of the Church regarding communion or anything else has as its aim the good and happiness of man, one of Aquinas’s most powerful themes. These are not arbitrary norms of an archaic Church that is not with the times. Things are forbidden in the Church because they are contrary to man’s happiness. As Thomas writes, “The end and the norm of discipline is happiness.” (Summa Theologica, II-II, 141, 5 ad. I). The discipline of the Church exists to insure a clear path for man’s felicity. To distribute communion without conversion is not the path to happiness. The discipline in the case of the reception of the holy Eucharist is derived as a logical consequence of the doctrinal and defined teaching on grace, the Eucharist, absolution, the commandments, and the reality of Heaven and Hell. The remarried without annulment receiving communion is not a disciplinary matter at all, it is a non-speculative doctrinal issue.
We are not dealing with a holy day of obligation being moved to a Sunday (a matter of liturgical discipline). What is at stake are not guidelines, as Kasper tries to suggest, for the commandments. What is at stake is the commandment itself. To marry a divorced woman or man without a previous annulment is adultery and adultery is forbidden by the sixth commandment, ergo communion is not possible.
Receiving communion under conditions of objective sin, is of no use to the communicant. In fact it causes spiritual harm to the person receiving communion. It is the simple duty in justice for true shepherds--priests and bishops--at the most basic level, “to do no harm.” This is the compassion and mercy required. Communion is the culmination of a path of conversion and perseverance in grace. Without these preconditions, only harm can come to souls that are not properly disposed for its reception. It is a grave lie to propose antidotes that do not heal but hurt the communicant under the guise of mercy. As St. Paul warns, the undiscerning reception of the body and blood of Christ is the reason“... many among you are ill and infirm and a considerable number are dying.” (1 Cor. 11:27-31).
No priest, regardless of what any bishop may say, can escape his moral duty to withhold communion for the good of the communicant in accordance with the doctrinal, liturgical, and sacramental discipline of the Church. Priests must fulfill their duty regardless of what their bishop may think. The responsibility for spiritual harm to the individual that approaches for communion is not exculpated by the fiat of the local bishop. For a priest to disregard his duty, in order to guard his career and remain in the good graces of his local bishop does not absolve him of moral fault.
Kasper’s Error on Revelation
Kasper’s third error from a methodological and theoretical point of view is his incorrect understanding of Revelation and its function. With the hyperinflation of practice over theory, some, like Kasper, erroneously believe that Revelation depends on and its truth is to be judged in its certitude, by results. The proclamation of Revelation is not dependent on how many people listen, obey, believe, or follow Church teaching. This is only a secondary effect that may or may not come as the true Gospel is preached. Results are absolutely irrelevant to the truth of the theological propositions taught by the Church. Whether millions or none obey the teaching of the Church, whether the many agree or disagree with the Magisterium or practice Catholic doctrine in their lives has absolutely no bearing on the truth of Revelation. Divine Revelation is not the promulgation of policy opinions, which need to be checked against the will of the people to determine their validity. Divine Revelation is not subject to the opinions of retired theologians, or special interest groups, or efficiency arguments (how many do we convert with this doctrine?). If people heed the Gospel or not is irrelevant to what must be taught as true or false. The Gospel needs to be proclaimed in its entirety as Our Lord taught and as the Church has transmitted it to humanity. The number of conversions is not the measure of the truth of a theological proposition of the faith.
Our Lord taught many. At times, few listened. The Gospel of John, Chapter 6, tells us that after Our Lord taught about His true presence in the Eucharist, almost all of his disciples left Him and would no longer follow Him. Our Lord was completely undeterred. He did not fret. He did not take polls. He did not try to change things, when His words fell on deaf ears. In fact He asked the twelve if they too desired to depart.
Defined Catholic doctrine cannot be changed and the authority of a synod is almost zero. This is not an ecumenical council, this is not an infallible proclamation form the seat of Peter. It is a gathering of bishops to foster unity and provide advice. However, it remains a problem as many will take the opportunity to confuse the faithful, subvert doctrine in practice, and lead to more division in the Church.
The crisis of faith today is largely summed up in the poor choices of bishops we have received. These weak bishops and those who use their theological training to incite polemic and uncertainty, are a reflection of the condition of their own local churches. The condition of these churches throughout Europe reveals the situation: A good bishop will yield a good diocese and the contrary will also follow.
The Austrian and German church are the perfect example of what no bishop should follow. Kasper states that the doctrine of the Church is like a museum of days gone by. He could better apply this metaphor to his own country’s magnificent churches—which are empty. After decades of speculating bishops, uncatechized populations are losing all vestiges of the faith. The perfect formula for devastating the faith in other nations is to follow the German and Austrian episcopate and their recommendations. The “Germanic contingent” should have more shame and rather sit silent, for their results and pastoral practices are empirically and verifiably ruinous to the Catholic faith. The German and Austrian church present the perfect negative argument of precisely what needs to be avoided.
The Question of the German Church Tax
But there is more. Why the incredible ardor of Kasper & company to be more inclusive without conversion? What is all this protestation really about? Why the adamancy to change defined doctrine, what is the need to create so much confusion in the minds of simple Catholics? What are these public declarations of agnosticism over defined doctrines really all about? Perhaps these questions should be on the list of topics we speculate on.
Consider this. The German and Austrian governments have in place a tax system for Catholics (Protestants and others have it as well), whereby they must pay taxes in order to remain affiliated and in good standing with their church. The government collects these taxes and turns them over to the churches. The tax amounts to an extra 8-9% of their income tax bill. Considering the amount of taxation German citizens and Austrians are already paying, this is not an insignificant fee. One can avoid paying the tax, but to do so one must formally write a letter declaring to have ceased to be a Catholic and formally stating a departure from the Catholic Church. In turn, the faithful who decide to do this will receive what amounts to a letter of excommunication from their diocese, which bars them from receiving the sacraments, and participating in the life of the Church. In fact, the German bishops have denied baptism, marriage, and funeral rites for those who decide to not pay their Church tax. Where is the mercy now, where is the pastoral concern that keeps Cardinal Kasper up at night?
Here is a pastoral practice that ought to be changed immediately. This is not the time to debate this problem, but undoubtedly Catholics need not support their episcopal conferences when with their funds (charity being voluntary), they could support so much good work in the Church which is being carried out by the rest of the Church through private efforts within the Church. It is these same bishops who insist when trying to undermine the hierarchy of the Church, that we are all church, but when it comes time to collecting funds all of a sudden they are the only church. Please. Perhaps Catholics should exercise the power of the purse and send a message and reminder to their bishops.
It seems one can therefore speculate legitimately that it is not coincidental that the German and Austrian bishops are pushing for these changes. The push for the all-inclusive communion tent comes at a time when their coffers are being emptied as hundreds of thousands depart from the Catholic Church in these nations. In 2010, some 180,000 parishioners asked to stop paying the membership tax and be removed from registers in the 27 German dioceses. In 2011, total of 126,488 Catholics took the same step, according to the bishops' conference. German newspapers reported the Bavaria region had suffered the worst losses. The dioceses of Augsburg, Bamberg, Eichstatt, Passau, and Wurzburg reported a 70 percent increase in departures in 2010, the height of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. In Austria over 40,000 Catholics for this and other reasons depart from the fold of the Catholic Church on a yearly basis.
What is at stake here? The taxes collected for the German Church through the state amount to approximately $6.4 billion. Given that the Austrian and German churches have built a superstructure of activities and employees dependent on tax collection, the loss in revenue of the hundreds of thousands departing from the Church constitutes a most serious revenue loss.
Some Catholics wish to stop paying the tax and yet have no desire to abandon the Catholic Church. A German court in Frieburg initially upheld the right of Hartmut Zapp to administratively take himself off the tax rolls of the Catholic Church, while still remaining a Catholic as it was his desire to practice his faith and remain a Catholic. The German episcopate wasted no time in suing the hometown of Mr. Zapp, for allowing this “anomaly.” Clearly the German bishops were worried about a loophole that would cause an even greater wave of departures and further loss of tax revenue. The entire German bishops’ conference against a single lay Catholic--there’s mercy for you. In 2012, the German courts sided with the government against Mr. Zapp.
It was amazing to witness the successors of the apostles suing in an appeal, a simple Catholic who wanted to remain in the faith. No, what really mattered was the tax revenue they could exact from Mr. Zapp, and, above all, ensuring that no one would follow his lead and refuse to pay his church tax. The good of his soul--not so important.
Interesting that Austrian and German bishops, do not believe they can keep the faithful contributing simply because the faithful find great added value to their life and happily and voluntarily contribute to their church. I believe the case, says a lot more about the German bishops than it does about Mr. Zapp. It is interesting to observe, that the Archdiocese of Frieburg, where the bishops sued Mr. Zapp, was also the diocese that, in 2013, released a document presenting a “pastoral” plan to allow the divorced and remarried to receive communion. It is not hard to connect the dots. I speculate this is not coincidental.
The landmark ruling initially went in favor of Mr. Zapp, and the German court upheld the right of a Catholic to refuse to pay the tax and yet remain a member of the Catholic Church. It would later be reversed by another court decision, which did not allow the distinction of an administrative departure from the Church tax role and abandonment of Church membership. A victory for the German bishops?
The Path to True Reform
The Austrian and German church have built their local churches on a statist model that makes them completely dependent on the government and the economics of tax collection. These bishops believe they need to become better tax collectors, and, of course, make sure no tax evasion ever takes place. Their “pastoral” solution to this immense exodus of the faithful from their churches in Germany and Austria? Switch the doctrine, of course. They should try preaching and teaching the Gospel; that worked for centuries in the Church.
Pope Francis has given unstinting emphasis to having a “poorer church for the poor,” and the need for reform along the lines of a Franciscan spirituality. I submit that disentangling the German and Austrian church from this Church tax system would be a great place to start. This would be a serious and difficult reform. But it would be welcomed by all, except perhaps the bishops of these nations.
True reform is what is needed. For changing where the Pope lives, what shoes he wears, what cars he uses, is really of no significance. What would St. Francis say instead about 1.1 million de facto excommunications dealt out by the German bishops to Catholics from 1998-2007, because they refused to pay a tax? It would be good for these high prelates to remember that Our Lord taught unequivocally, "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (Luke 16:13).
Instead of promoting doctrinal confusion on the doctrine of whether the remarried may receive Holy Communion, the German and Austrian bishops need to reread the passage of the calling of Christ to St. Matthew the tax collector. As soon as Jesus uttered the words, “Follow me…he got up (from the customs table) and followed Him.” (Matt. 9:9). A pilgrimage to the Caravaggio painting depicting the call to Matthew the tax collector, could serve as an inspiration while they are in Rome. They know where to find it.
The 20th day of this month marks the 75th anniversary of a magnificent – yet today mostly ignored - encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, the first encylical of Venerable Pius XII. The encyclical’s title in English is usually given as “On the Unity of Human Society”. Pius’s great concern at that time was the outbreak of the Second World War several weeks earlier, and the division of the human race along warring lines of nations, races and classes.