To much fanfare in the press, Pope Francis has started a "dialogue" about the Catholic Church's marriage practices. The part that has received the most attention is whether civilly divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should be admitted to Holy Communion, without having to abandon their second marriage, which the church recognizes as continuing adultery. This issue will be addressed by the bishops of the Catholic Church at a "Synod on the Family" over this year and next.
Unfortunately, the pope's favorite theologian and the pope himself have initiated this discussion in a befogging cloud of pessimism. The pope is said to have speculated that 50 percent of Catholic marriages are invalid, which is to say they were somehow deficient in form (how the sacrament was conducted) or in intent (the couple didn't intend to marry as the church teaches) and thus are eligible for annulments. Such a dire assessment reeks of high-handed clericalism. Worse, it amounts to the pope doubting not just the sincerity of many Catholics, but the grace of God himself.
First, some background. On the one side there is the Catholic Church's doctrinal watchdog, Cardinal Muller, the German prelate leading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who fired a pre-emptive shot last year. The words of Christ forbid remarriage, and the theology of the church proclaims that the marital union reflects the faithfulness of Christ to the church. As Muller put it, "Faithfulness to marital consent is a prophetic sign of the salvation that God bestows upon the world."
On the other side, the pope has raised the profile of another German theologian, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who for 30 years has been tub-thumping for marriage reform, saying it is a kind of mercy. He holds that while civil remarriages cannot be recognized by the church, asking the civilly remarried to abandon their second marriage or be excluded from communion is untenable. During a media blitz earlier this month, Kasper revealed to Commonweal magazine the pope's eye-popping assessment that half of Catholic marriages are likely invalid.
But when Cardinal Kasper was confronted with the arguments of his opponents — namely that others in a state of mortal sin are required to confess their sins and make some kind of change to remedy their state of life — he balked at the suggestion that the civilly remarried should be required to live according to the church's teaching, that is, with sexual fidelity to the first, valid marriage. "To live together as brother and sister?" he asked. "Of course I have high respect for those who are doing this. But it's a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian."
This article continues at [The Week] Pope Francis says half of marriages today are invalid. He's wrong.