Stephen Kent

Remarks from several participants attending a meeting of cardinals, a run-up to the October synod on the family, lend some encouragement to the possibility that a church of “yes” will emerge from a church of “no.”

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, at the invitation of Pope Francis, introduced in late February a discussion to the College of Cardinals on family life. The church must find a way to help those divorced and remarried Catholics who wish to participate fully in the life of the church, he said. He allowed for the possibility that, in specific cases, the church could tolerate but not accept a second marriage.

A validly married Catholic who divorces and enters a second marriage cannot participate in the Eucharist while the original spouse is alive.

While the indissolubility of a marriage and the impossibility of a new marriage cannot be abandoned, the cardinal said, “there is no human situation absolutely without hope or solution.”

“A pastoral approach of tolerance, clemency and indulgence,” he said, would show that “the sacraments are not a prize for those who behave well or for an elite, excluding those who are most in need.”


British Cardinal Vincent Nichols called for “much more positive ways we engage with people whose marriages have broken down.”

The teaching that marriage is an indissoluble bond between husband and wife cannot be changed, said German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.

“There is no solution, since church dogma isn’t just some theory created by some theologians,” Cardinal Muller said. “It represents the words of Jesus Christ, which is very clear. I cannot change church doctrine.”

There is no solution, says one. There is no human situation without hope or solution, says another. Such a classic confrontation of “we’ve always done it that way” versus “let’s think of one good reason why it can be done” seems to create a chasm.

The chasm may be bridged by Pope Francis using a new tool: love.

The synod will meet in October. But what can be accomplished is accommodating to modern times without sacrificing the truth. We can find ways to adapt to the times without changing doctrine.

A starting point is the agreement that there is a great lack of understanding among Catholics about the true nature of marriage. It is complicated to explain to two 20- or 30-somethings to search deep down, understand and appreciate what it means to be married until “death us part.”

The church can plan to do a better job in this area in the future. Meanwhile, it has to assist those who need spiritual care, not condemn them.

A shift in emphasis to help sacramental marriages prosper and to help those failing should be undertaken with the same intensity spent on opposition to same-sex marriage.

We can learn from Pope Francis taking the pastoral approach.

“When this love fails — for it often fails — we need to feel the pain of the failure,” he said, and we don’t need to condemn “but to walk with them.”

He also speaks of “how much love, and what great closeness we should also have for our brothers and sisters who, in their lives, have had the misfortune of a failed love.”

Acting pastorally, seeking solutions, let’s think of one good reason why it can be done.


Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: