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Cdl. Kasper’s claim cannot be ignored

May 8, 2014

I understand Fr. Lombardi’s unwillingness to comment on statements allegedly made by the pope to private persons. I’m not sure his ‘No Comment’ policy can be observed in the long run, but I understand why he wants to avoid questions about private papal conversations. But Cdl. Kasper’s shocking claim that the pope believes half of all marriages to be invalid, is different. Very, very different.

Cdl. Kasper is no hitherto-unknown lay person living in some faraway land, he is one of the most famous cardinals in Christendom and is highly regarded by Pope Francis. The comment in question is not a pastoral observation about one specific case, it is a sweeping assertion about the vocation in which more than nine out of every ten adults live their lives. Claims by prominent prelates, directly attributed to popes, on matters of vast pastoral and social importance, cannot be ignored.

I see basically only two ways this can go.

Either the pope did not say what Kasper claims he said, whereupon the cardinal should immediately retract his words, or the pope really did tell Kasper that half of all marriages (let’s just say half of all Catholic marriages, although the phrasing here embraces all marriages on earth) are invalid, whereupon the Church needs immediately to examine the truth of that claim. If, Deus vetet, half of all Catholic marriages really are invalid we are facing an unprecedented sacramental, social, and pastoral catastrophe that demands emergency action.

I’m serious: suppose we awoke to find half of all Catholic baptisms invalid, or half of all Masses, or half of all ordinations, or half of all Confessions, would not virtually everything else in the Church come to a screeching halt until the cause of such stunning invalidity were identified, rooted out, and repaired? Of course! But by the same token, how can the possibility—one being openly attributed to the highest level in the Church—that half of all Catholic marriages are invalid not call for an equally urgent immediate ecclesiastical response? We simply have to know whether the pope (a) is really alerting us to impending disaster, or (b) was just spit-balling ideas with an old colleague (and is now steaming mad at him for broadcasting his idle remarks to the world), or (c) said absolutely nothing of the kind. Precisely because all three scenarios are possible, Fr. Lombardi has to seek a clarification from the Holy See. And, yes, I sympathize with his reluctance to do so.

To be clear, I see no evidence that half of the world’s marriages (or even half of all Catholic marriages) are invalid, but I am certainly open to examining whatever evidence the pope (perhaps) and Cdl. Kasper (at least) might have to support this astounding claim. Indeed such an investigation would be of the highest priority for many in the Church.

But, as I say, first we need to know whether the claim was really made by the one to whom it is attributed. + + +

Follow-up: A reader kindly sends a link to this interview given by Pope Francis last year, in which the pope attributes to his predecessor in Buenos Aires, Cdl. Quarracino, the view that half of all (presumably, Catholic) marriages are null. A couple of observations: first, the pope did not, at that time, expressly claim that view as his own; and second, Cdl. Kasper does attribute that view to the pope himself as garnered in direct conversation with him. So, as I said above, we really need to know whether the pope himself really thinks half of all (Catholic) marriages are null.

Update: one later post on this matter is: Does Canon 1066 amount to a coin toss? (9 may 2014).

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