The proposals of Cardinal Kasper and various other German bishops for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to return to the reception of Holy Communion has drawn a number of criticisms from various corners. Cardinals Burke, Cafarra, and Mueller have all made their opposition to these proposal known publicly, and other noteworthy Catholic thinkers like the canonist Dr. Ed Peters and the Patristics scholar Dr. John Rist have made their opposition known as well.
Not having the same background in theology, history, or canon law as these eminent thinkers, I wish to discuss how the Kasper proposal could have a negative effect on the Church within the public square. Essentially, further weakening the institution of marriage by “tolerating” divorce and remarriage, even in limited circumstances, will only play into the hands of the proponents of gay marriage. In the current cultural climate, the Church already has a difficult situation in combating the rise of gay marriage; we need not hamper ourselves further by accepting what amounts to a profound change in the very nature of marriage.
Permanence and Procreation: Two Sides of the Same Coin
In his address to a consistory of cardinals in preparation for the Church’s Synod on the Family, Cardinal Kasper proposed the idea that the Church could tolerate a Catholic’s second, civil marriage without accepting it, by admitting those in such a situation, after some period of penance, back to the Sacraments. This, in spite of the fact that the couple would be living in a public, legally-recognized second union while their original spouse is still alive.
One of the great weaknesses the American right has in defending marriage is the fact that, broadly, conservatives do not have a proper understanding of what marriage is, or what its purpose is. Since most Evangelical Protestants tolerate both divorce and contraception, they have lost a proper understanding of the ends towards which marriage is focused, namely, procreation and unity.
Without procreation as a focus, gay marriage becomes a much more reasonable proposition. Our modern idea of marriage is that it is focused chiefly on fostering affection between the two persons. Procreation is not a chief purpose of marriage, and it is perfectly acceptable for couples to exclude the possibility of children for most, or even the entirety, of their marriage. But affection is not a goal that is exclusive to unions between heterosexuals; homosexuals can and do feel affectionate towards each other, and use sexual activity to foster that affection.
So how does permanence enter into the equation? Permanence is not some separate “add-on” characteristic peculiar to Catholic marriage. Rather, permanence is intimately bound up with procreation, and is therefore central to marriage as an institution arising out of human nature.
Because it is oriented towards procreation, marriage must also naturally and rightly be a lifelong commitment. The procreation of children is not a task that ends at childbirth; it must continue throughout the children’s lives as the parents provide them with a stable, loving structure in which to advance in virtue and wisdom: the family, ordinarily led by the children’s biological parents. By having children, parents also receive a greater reason to persevere through the difficulties of their union, by working together for the benefit of their offspring. Thus, procreation is at the same time both the motive for marriage’s permanence and its guarantee of permanence.
Thus, if the Church receives Catholics who have divorced and remarried back to the Sacraments, it not only wrecks the Church’s consistent teaching on marriage as a lifelong institution, but it would also strike at the heart of marriage as focused on procreation, on raising up and fostering life. If Catholics are free to choose to end their marriages and take up with another person, the focus of married life shifts radically away from children and towards the self-actualization of adults. This self-focus is at the heart of the contraceptive mentality, and (in an accelerated fashion) at the heart of the culture of death.