Sep 18, 2014 9:57 AM

Cardinals debate marriage before crucial meeting

The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) Five high-ranking cardinals have taken one of Pope Francis' favorite theologians to task over an issue dear to the pope's heart and key to the Vatican's upcoming two-year study on family issues.

They have written a book, "Remaining in the Truth of Christ," to rebut German Cardinal Walter Kasper, whom Francis praised in his first Sunday blessing after he was elected pope as "a great theologian."

Kasper, for a decade the Vatican's top official dealing with the Orthodox and Jews, has become the main lightning rod for internal church debate over a speech he gave cardinals in February at Francis' request. In it, Kasper asked whether Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment might be allowed in limited cases to receive the Eucharist after a period of penance.

Conservatives, including the five cardinal authors, have vehemently opposed Kasper's suggestion as contrary to Christ's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Their debate unusually raw and public for such "princes of the church" has crystalized the growing discomfort among conservatives to some of Francis' words and deeds, and sets the stage for what is likely to be a heated discussion starting Oct. 5.

Church teaching holds that Catholics who don't have their first marriage annulled or declared null by a church tribunal before remarrying can't participate fully in the church's sacraments because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, leaving untold numbers of Catholics unable to receive Communion.

Francis has asserted church doctrine on the matter but has called for a merciful, pastoral approach: He reportedly told an Argentine woman earlier this year that she was free to receive Communion even though her husband's first marriage was never annulled. Knowing the issue is divisive, though, he has convened the whole church to debate the issue as part of a broad discussion on family issues over the next two years.

The new book asserts there really is no better solution and no grounds to argue for it citing the practice of the ancient church since Catholic doctrine is clear. The authors include two of the highest-ranking Vatican officials, both appointed by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI: Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the Vatican's doctrine office, and Cardinal Raymond Burke, the American head of the Vatican's supreme court.

"These are not a series of rules made up by the church; they constitute divine law, and the church cannot change them," the book says in the introduction. It says Kasper's assertions, reading of history and suggestions for debate "reinforce misleading understandings of both fidelity and mercy."

Kasper has agreed there can be no change to church doctrine and no sweeping, across-the-board allowances. But he has said that the matter must be looked at on a case-by-case basis, and that God always gives faithful Catholics a new chance if they repent.

It is rare for cardinals to publicly and pointedly accuse another cardinal of being flat-out wrong, and rarer still for a cardinal to question the pope, as Burke has done. Regarding the purported phone call to the Argentine woman, Burke told the EWTN Catholic channel: "I wouldn't for a moment impute that Pope Francis intended to give a signal about church doctrine by calling someone on the phone. This is just absurd."

Francis last year removed Burke, a key figure in the U.S. culture wars over abortion and gay marriage, from the advisory board of the powerful Congregation for Bishops and a leading Vatican insider has reported that his days at the Vatican high court might be numbered.

The book is published in English by Ignatius Press, the Jesuit publisher that handled Benedict's English-language publications.


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