'A Second Guilt'
Matthew Boudway May 8, 2014 - 11:26am
I hope that Jim Pauwels, Carlo Lancellotti, and others who have questions or objections after reading the short sample of our Cardinal Kasper interview below will read the whole interview here. And if they still have questions after that, they may want to look at Cardinal Kasper's speech before the consistory in February, which is now available in English translation here.
Kasper is clearly talking about cases where an annulment is either impossible or inappropriate. He is talking about people who have repented for the failure of their sacramental marriage (if they were responsible for its failure), cannot be reconciled to their spouse, and now, years later, are in a civil marriage with another partner. For them to quit this partnership could do tremendous damage—to their new partner and to their children if they have any. This is what the cardinal means when he says that a person in this situation could not walk away from this partnership without incurring new guilt. Some will say that's not a problem as long as the remarried person and his or her partner are willing to live "as brother and sister." But, as the cardinal recognizes, unless both partners are willing to do this, the decision by one of them to do so is likely to destroy the relationship. It would also require a kind of moral heroism that the church has been very hesitant to demand in most areas of life.
Imagine a woman with small children who was married in the church and has been abandoned by her husband. She did not want a divorce; she does not want an annulment. She doesn't believe that her marriage was invalid just because her husband failed to keep his vows. She spends months, maybe years waiting and praying for reconciliation with her spouse, who does not want reconciliation and has perhaps already started a new family with someone else. Finding it very difficult to support her children alone, and knowing that they would be better off with a father figure in the home, she meets a man who is decent and faithful and wants to help her raise her family. He is not a Catholic. Eventually they marry. Years later the woman starts going back to church. She attends Mass every week; she enrolls her children in CCD and makes sure they are confirmed. She participates in the life of the parish and wants to be able to receive communion again.
What can she do? Some would say that, given her circumstances, her only option requires moral heroism. She must refuse to have sex with her new partner, whatever the consequences for her him or her children. Some will say that if he really loves her, he will accept this decision and remain faithful to her and their children, even though he himself isn't Catholic and cannot fathom the burden she has been asked to take up. Some will say that if he doesn't accept this decision, then she is better off without him, whatever the practical difficulties involved, however much heartbreak, resentment, and loneliness this causes.
Others, including the cardinal, have pointed out that the ancient church had other ways of dealing with such situations and that the Eastern Orthodox still do. Those ways do not require the dissolution of the first marriage, but they do require that we let go of a kind of perfectionism that ends up alienating many people who are eager to receive the sacraments. As Kasper points out, Pope Benedict has already suggested that someone in the situation I've just described, having confessed her sins and done penance for them, can have spiritual communion with Christ. But the same sin that is considered so grave that it prevents somone from receiving communion would premumably also prevent full spiritual communion with Christ. To say otherwise is to drive a wedge between Christ and his church. The church's power to loose and to bind is a power Christ gave it, and no servant is better than its Master.
About the Author
Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.