Pope Francis’ use of the phrase ‘pastoral care’ and his reference to the Orthodox practice of allowing second, non-sacramental marriages, has encouraged those who have long sought to change the Church’s teaching. Three months after Pope Francis’ WYD interview, the German Archdiocese of Freiburg, unilaterally suggested ripping up the Church's teaching by proposing a permissive pastoral approach allowing divorce, re-marriage and communion. Freiburg recommended that if divorced and re-married Catholics could prove to a priest that the first marriage was definitively over, and they could show ‘new moral responsibility’, then after an appropriate sign of repentance, they would be allowed to receive Holy Communion. Freiburg did not address why or how this second marriage was no longer adulterous. Following this blatant rejection of Our Lord’s words and the Church’s 2,000 years of doctrine on marriage and the sacraments a number of German bishops have spoken out in support of the change. They have also neglected to explain how they could put aside Christ’s teaching on divorce and re-marriage. 

Speculation reached fever pitch in February 2014 when Pope Francis chose Cardinal Kasper, the arch-proponent of allowing communion for divorced and re-married, to address the consistory of cardinals in preparation for the October Synod. During his address Kasper proposed that the Church permit the impermissible, when he ‘allowed for the possibility that in very specific cases the Church could tolerate, though not accept, a second union’. Cardinal Kasper has been pushing for the Church to change her doctrine in this area for decades because lots of German Catholics are divorced and re-married. What he fails to take into account is that just because a lot of people are doing it, doesn’t make it right. It’s heartening to report that many senior cardinals took vocal exception to Kasper’s ‘pastoral’ approach.

But since Kasper’s intervention the official line from those seeking change is to state unequivocally that ‘Church doctrine will not be changed’, but that a ‘pastoral solution’ must be found.  Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor gave an example of this approach when asked the question, “Do you foresee that there could be a change in relation to the question of the divorced and remarried?” To which the cardinal replied, “I don’t know. The Church does not change, it develops. By that I mean the doctrine of the Church develops by going out in a different direction.  That is to say, it changes in an indirect way. And it could develop in the question of the divorced and remarried.”

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