Cardinal Kasper on Vatican II, Curial Reform, and Communion Reception by Remarrieds and Non-Catholics

The Second Vatican Council is not a “completed history, but rather the beginning of a beginning,” Cardinal Walter Kasper said at a talk last night at the University of Munster, Germany, at which he was a professor 1964-1970. To advance the necessary reception of the Council, it is hardly useful to appeal to a “vague spirit of the Council,” but rather, the documents of the council must be re-read.

After a return to a “new centralism” in the post-conciliar era, it is necessary to recall “subsidiarity as a rule of competence,” the cardinal said. “The higher level intervenes only when the next level cannot handle something on its own.” At the same time, he warned of a “relapse into the notion of national churches.”

It is time to change the “outmoded clericalist atmosphere in the curia,” the cardinal said, for example by having more women in Vatican leadership positions. He is certain that Pope Francis will decentralize the church and strengthen local churches. In general, there is a need for “a different style of exercise of office,” with more emphasis on communication and taking laity more seriously. Francis will move in this direction.

In the question-and-answer period, Cardinal Kasper treated the question of communion for those divorced and remarried. In 1993, as Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, he had released a pastoral letter along with Karl Lehman (then Bishop of Mainz) and another bishop which allowed for such people to receive Communion after serious examination of their conscience. He said last night: “Turning someone away from the communion rail – one doesn’t do that.” He said that priests need clear directions from the bishops in this matter.

The cardinal expressed similar sentiments on the reception of Communion by non-Catholics. He has recommended to such people, “Ask yourself whether you can truly say ‘Amen’ to what is prayed in the Canon [Eucharistic Prayer – ed.] of the Mass. Reflect on this – it is a decision of conscience!”


  1. Well, this sounds about right too, especially this: “Turning someone away from the communion rail – one doesn’t do that.”

    His next remark, however, makes me wonder a bit: “Ask yourself whether you can truly say ‘Amen’ to what is prayed in the Canon [Eucharistic Prayer – ed.] of the Mass…”

    If you can say truly say Amen to the Eucharistic Prayer, then uh… why are you not Catholic? :\

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #3:

      Thank you for these.

      From that link: … there does “exist room, beneath the threshold of the binding teaching, for pastoral flexibility in complex individual cases that is to be used responsibly.”

      I think this best captures my hope for what is to come. As the Pope keeps reminding us, the Church is for everyone and Jesus excludes no one.

      Also, it is very exciting to see these discussions happening.

  2. “Canon 915. Most Catholics — and many priests — do not know that, since the new Code of Canon Law abolished the excommunication that was formerly attached to marriages unrecognized by the Church, there is nothing in Canon Law that forbids those “married out of the Church” to receive Communion. This is not a “legal” matter, but a matter of conscience to be worked out with one’s confessor.”
    from the book “A Fresh Look at Confession” by David M. Knight.
    Is he correct? Why/why not?

  3. Elizabeth – other experts have shown how theologians, bishops, and VII expanded the understanding of the sacrament of marriage (not just using legal terms or that its purpose is to produce children only). VII and subsequent theological debate has made a distinction between a sole focus on the word *bond* (as if this *legal concept* is something separate and above the reality that marriage is a living, loving relationship for the couple that may also support children). Thus, the argument is that we move away from *bond* as this is defined to *loving relationship* and that our sacramental practice be determined by the *loving relationship* rather than some type of *ontological bond*. Compare it to the same problems we see with the sacrament of priesthood – using Trent, we define the sacrament as causing an *ontological* change that is forever (so, then church/canon law has to *invent* a legal process called *laicization* – makes a distinction between the *ontological change* (which is forever) and the power to minister which is provided by a local bishop – without that permission, you can not function as a priest. In some ways, the current annulment system mirrors this same approach. Kasper/Lehmann, etc. are arguing to move away or understand better the limited Trentan definition of the sacrament so as to move toward the VII understanding and development of the sacrament which supports their pastoral decisions about remarriage and divorce/communion.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #6:

      Thank you again for your thoughtful post.

      I feel I should clarify though, that my original wondering/question was actually more about “the reception of Communion by non-Catholics” than the divorced-remarried.

  4. While I do not usually enter into the PTB, I want to respond to this particular question about “non-Catholics” receiving communion and assenting to the Eucharistic Prayer. Saying Amen to the Eucharistic Prayer is not giving assent to doctrinal or dogmatic propositions. “Liturgical language, [as Taft has written on several occasions] is typological, metaphorical; more redolent of Bible and prayer than of school and thesis; more patristic than scholastic; more impressionistic than systematic; more suggestive than probative. In short, it is symbolic and evocative, not philosophical and ontological.” In such a way, a “non-Catholic” can, certainly on some occasions, “truly say Amen” liturgically without assenting to all of Catholic dogma by that liturgical assent.

    1. @Maxwell Johnson – comment #9:

      Thank you.

      But your post makes me wonder even more:

      1. If a non-Catholic person, as you said, does not “assent to all of Catholic dogma,” then why would the person want to receive communion at a Catholic mass?

      2. Why do you not usually enter into the PTB? 🙂

      1. @Elisabeth Ahn – comment #10:

        The question is about “assent” to the Eucharistic Prayer, not an intellectual assent to dogmatic propositions. That is a different reality. Cardinal Kasper’s comments are addressed equally to Roman Catholic communicants about being able to say “Amen” in this context. You might appreciate Kevin Seasoltz’s wonderful essay on this exact issue, “One House, Many Dwellings: Open and Closed Communion,” WORSHIP 79, 5 (2005), 405-18. Thank you.

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