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Paradigm shift in the Joy of Love

HONG KONG (SE): The public debate surrounding the Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia), the post-synodal document written by Pope Francis in the wake of the Bishops Synod on Marriage and Family Life, has mostly circled around the issue of whether or not divorced and remarried Catholics could possibly be readmitted to the Eucharistic table.

In a recent essay published by the Journal for Christian Culture (Stimmen de Zeit), Walter Cardinal Kasper, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, describes the protagonists in the debate as basically falling into two camps; those who say that it reflects absolutely no change in the position of the Church; and those who at least believe that it represents a paradigm shift in the thinking of the Church.

Those whom he says are commonly, if not accurately referred to as making up the conservative camp, he divides into six different shades, beginning with Raymond Cardinal Burke who proposes the exhortation is not binding; to those who see the document as a break with Church tradition, but changing nothing; and others who say it represents a progression in thinking, but not along the lines of Pope John Paul II.

What Cardinal Kasper points out is perhaps a more numerous group acknowledges a careful development in thinking that lacks concrete guidelines, some of whom propose that it leaves it up to the conscience of the person as to whether they can receive communion or not.

However, Cardinal Kasper puts the seeming confusion down to the intervention of what he calls a third party, whom he accuses of “alienating themselves from the sense of faith (sensus fidei) and life of the people of God.”

Cardinal Kasper himself believes, “That behind the pastoral tone of the document lies a well-thought out theological position.”

An article published in LifeSiteNews on October 24 describes the cardinal’s position as praising the “realistic, open and relaxed way of dealing with sexuality and eroticism that does not seek to indoctrinate or moralise.”

Cardinal Kasper says that what the Joy of Love does do is move away from a primarily negative view of sexuality and turn toward an affirming Thomistic view of creation.

On more than one occasion Cardinal Kasper has said that the moral ideal is unreachable for many. “Oftentimes, we have to choose the lesser evil in the living of life. There is no black and white, but only different nuances and shadings,” he says in his article.

However, Cardinal Kasper aligns himself with the camp that believes that the Joy of Love does not change one iota of the teaching of the Church. “Yet,” he says, “it changes everything.”

He is adamant that the text provides ground for believing that the pope, and with him the Church, is moving away from what he terms a legal morality towards what he calls the virtue morality of St. Thomas Aquinas.

The paradigm shift that he believes changes everything is the introduction of the use of prudence in the application of a norm or law in a concrete situation.

“Prudence does not give a foundation to the norm, it presupposes it,” Cardinal Kasper writes, explaining that a norm or law cannot be applied mechanically in every situation, but prudence is needed as it fits the case.

In his approach to the subject, Pope Francis has gone a step beyond his two predecessors by placing the conundrum in a process embracing a pastoral approach of gradual integration, rather than an overnight solution.

Cardinal Kasper explains, “Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love) envisages which forms of exclusion from ecclesiastical, liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional services can be overcome.”

He then posits that in giving permission for the remarried-divorced to receive communion if they lived as brother and sister, Pope John Paul was in fact making a concession.

He reasons, “Abstinence belongs to the most intimate sphere and does not abolish the objective contradiction of the ongoing bond of marriage of the first sacramental marriage and the second civil marriage.”

However, Cardinal Kasper argues that the contribution made by Pope John Paul has opened a playground between dogmatic principle and pastoral consequence, which Pope Francis has sought to widen.

In the pastoral world, Cardinal Kasper surmises that often people are not able to be convinced by a norm or a law, because it can seem to them that their situation is insurmountably estranged from the world of the ideal.

“The conscience of many people is oftentimes blind and deaf to that which is presented to them as Divine Law. That is not a justification of their error, yet an understanding and mercifulness with the erroneous person,” the cardinal says.

Cardinal Kasper believes that the Joy of Love lays the groundwork for a changed pastoral praxis in a reasoned individual case, although the pope leaves the question open in what he calls a magisterial decision of great consequence.

Cardinal Kasper believes that what Pope Francis is encouraging quite clearly is that pastoral ministry should work towards the possibility of communion rather than putting the emphasis on denying it.

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