A German cardinal has lambasted fellow church leaders who support admitting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Holy Communion, calling them heretics who are putting the unity of the Catholic Church at risk.
Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, a former head of the Vatican’s commission for historical sciences, told LifeSite News Tuesday that those who support such a change are “irresponsible” and “in contradiction to the teaching of the church.”
This is the first time that a cardinal has openly voiced what a number of senior figures have said privately that those promoting such admission are teaching heresy and are no longer Catholic.
Brandmüller was responding to a proposal, put forward last year by fellow German Cardinal Walter Kasper, for remarried Catholic divorcees to receive Holy Communion after a period of penance.
The church has always forbidden such a practice on the grounds it would undermine Jesus explicit teaching that marriage is indissoluble, and that a person who divorces and “remarries” commits adultery.
The church teaches that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can only be admitted to communion if they have obtained an annulment of their first, sacramental marriages, or abstain from sexual relations with their new partners and live as “brother and sister.”
Kasper’s proposal, the subject of a church synod on the family, has therefore caused much hand-wringing in the church, with a number of cardinals publicly at loggerheads over the issue.
The church’s pastoral practice “cannot stand in opposition to binding doctrine nor simply ignore it,” Brandmüller said. “A change of the teaching, of the dogma, is unthinkable. Who nevertheless consciously does it, or insistently demands it, is a heretic — even if he wears the Roman purple.”
Kasper’s proposal has traction because of the crisis in marriage, the high rates of divorce, and increasing numbers of Catholics who married without knowledge of the faith.
Even though annulments continue to be a valid solution for some couples, not a few church leaders agree with Kasper that to allow some remarried divorcees receive communion would be both admissible and merciful.
Pope Francis is also rumored to be sympathetic to the proposal, but has never publicly expressed his support for it.
But opponents discount Kasper’s reassurance that his proposal offers remarried divorcees a “way out” while keeping their first marriage indissoluble. Instead, they argue that just to allow one exception would mean that marriage is no longer permanent, and therefore go against an inviolable teaching of the church.
They also believe it would open the floodgates to allowing all kinds if extramarital unions.
Brandmüller stressed that although the “proclamation” of the church’s teaching can adapt to the times to make it more effectively heard, its inviolable content never can. “An adaptation of the moral teaching is not acceptable,” he said. “‘Do not conform to the world,’ said the Apostle St. Paul.”
The cardinal’s criticisms are all the more powerful because his words are aimed largely at fellow German prelates. As well as Cardinal Kasper, these include Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who heads the German bishops’ conference and is close to Pope Francis, and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, who will be one of the German church’s representatives at the upcoming synod.
Brandmüller criticized Marx in the interview for suggesting the German church might go it alone if the Kasper proposal is not adopted at a church synod in October.
Brandmüller said such a move would be “in contradiction with the dogma of the Church” and that Marx and others are being “irresponsible in a pastoral respect, because they expose the faithful to confusion and doubts.”
“If he thinks that he can take nationally an independent path, he puts the unity of the Church at risk,” Brandmüller added. “It remains the binding standard for all of the teaching and practice of the church are her clearly defined doctrines.”
The German church historian’s outspoken comments are just the latest bid to firmly resist the Kasper proposal. Last week Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa, said Cardinal Kasper was not “the Pope’s theologian” as some have called him.
And in a series of recent interviews, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, reminded Catholics of the importance of doctrine, and stressed the church’s teaching must not succumb to pressure from the modern world to change.
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