Pope Francis’ exhortation on the family should prompt discussion and even debate, but accusing him and others of heresy is completely out of place, said German Cardinal Walter Kasper.
“A heresy is a tenacious disagreement with formal dogma. The doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage has not been called into question on Pope Francis’ part,” the cardinal, a theologian, said.
Cardinal Kasper was interviewed about his new book, The Message of ‘Amoris Laetitia’: A Fraternal Discussion.
The interview was published just a few days after Italian Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington issued detailed guidelines for accompanying couples, including those who are divorced and civilly remarried.
In his book, Cardinal Kasper describes Amoris Laetitia as “a creative renewal of traditional teaching”.
Vatican News asked Cardinal Kasper specifically about the path of discernment Pope Francis sees for some divorced and civilly remarried couples to return to the sacraments, including Communion, in some circumstances.
“Sin is a complex term. It not only includes an objective principle, but there is also the intention, the person’s conscience. And this needs to be examined in the internal forum – in the sacrament of reconciliation – if there is truly a grave sin, or perhaps a venial sin, or perhaps nothing,” the cardinal responded. “The Council of Trent says that in the case in which there is no grave sin, but venial, the Eucharist removes that sin.
“If it is only a venial sin, the person can be absolved and admitted to the sacrament of the Eucharist,” the cardinal said. “This already corresponds with the doctrine of Pope John Paul II and, in this sense, Pope Francis is in complete continuity with the direction opened by preceding Popes. I do not see any reason, then, to say that this is a heresy.”
Catholic tradition, he insisted, “is not a stagnant lake, but is like a spring, or a river: it is something alive. The Church is a living organism and thus it always needs to validly translate the Catholic tradition into present situations.”
Speaking more generally about Amoris Laetitia, Cardinal Kasper said that reading the document has helped many engaged and married couples come to a deeper appreciation of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life and about the joys and challenges facing families today.
“It is not high theology incomprehensible to people,” he said. “The people of God are very content and happy with this document because it gives space to freedom, but it also interprets the substance of the Christian message in an understandable language.”