Sunday 11 May 2014

A Sense of Sin

It seems to me that, underlying Cardinal Kasper's comments, is a notion of sin that is very different from mine.

I am not, as I have observed before, a trained theologian.  So if I make any gross errors, I rely on my readers to correct me (as they have done in the past).  

So here I am thinking out loud about why I find Cardinal Kasper's approach so worrying.  If I understand him correctly, he is saying two things.  One is that many marriages many be null, due to lack of understanding. That may be the case: the Church has a process for that, so we need discuss it no further here, beyond saying that the assumption of validity unless proven otherwise is clearly an imperative of both justice and good practice.

But the other type of case to which he seems to refer is the one where a valid marriage has irretrievably broken down, and one of the spouses has set up house, and had children with, someone else. Leaving aside his unfortunate words about heroism, I want to focus on something else.

The gist of his argument seems to be that it is unreasonable to expect someone to stop living in an intimate relationship with such a partner, and that mercy demands a different solution.

The problem with that argument, as I see it, is that it ignores the damaging effect of sin.

We have it on Our Lord's authority, as well as from the witness of the Old Testament, and the authority and tradition of the Church for two millenia, that sexual relations outside marriage are a serious sin.

Clearly, in the modern situation, the culpability of individuals may be minimal. Poor teaching, social pressures and so on may combine to ensure that an individual really does not believe he or she is doing something wrong. So the conditions for mortal sin may not be met.

However, we cannot simply say that there is therefore no problem.  We believe that sin damages people - by its very nature. 

One may in all innocence drink poison mistaking it for water - and be wholly innocent of the crime of self-harm.  Yet one will still be sick or die.  Subjective innocence does not protect us from all the harmful effects of objective sin.

So Cardinal Kasper may think that the kind thing to do is to accept people in their real situations; but the Church has never taught that. Following Christ, we preach the reality of sin, and the necessity of repentance and conversion.

That is one reason why Cardinal Kasper's proposals are so dangerous: they risk teaching people (who already have a natural interest in self-deception) the lie that their objective sin is, in fact, harmless.  We know that not to be the case, and in all charity to those in such situations, we are called to bear witness to that truth.

And that is without even starting to consider all the other harms Cardinal Kasper's proposals will inevitably lead to: injustices to spouses, to children, and not least to those who have obeyed what, heretofore, everyone knew the teaching of the Church to be.


I am tempted to say that this fear of considering the reality of personal sin is typical of many in the Church of today.  But unless we acknowledge the reality of sin, and the fact that it destroys us, we can have no need of a Saviour. And if we have no need of a Saviour, the Catholic Church is nothing more than a deluded do-gooding social club.  That is not what I believe.


Ttony said...

This is excellent.

Cardinal Kasper also misses, or fail to mention, the fact that everybody knows that Catholics in second marriages can't receive Communion. He can't pretend that these people turn up at the rail expecting Communion (unless the Church in Germany is in an even direr state than it seems to be).

I'm not a theologian either, but the Cardinal either knows less then we do (unlikely) or is disingenuous (to be as charitable as I can).

Joseph Shaw said...

The neglect of the importance of an objective state of sin is related to the Protestant emphasis on moral principles as divine commands. If the only virtue is obedience, then all that matters is what you *think* God commands you.

Part-time Pilgrim said...

Exactly right I think

However what should the Church's response be to people in the situation outlined in paragraph 4?

pattif said...

What makes me so hopping mad is when Cardinal K starts wittering on about compassion for people who have attempted second marriages "for the sake of their children". What about the injustice to those who have, sometimes not without considerable sacrifice, brought up their children alone precisely to remain obedient to the Church's teaching?

Maria said...

How very sad it is that Protect the Pope has been deactivated - we need it more than ever. Very few of the other Catholic blogs reach such a wide readership. Whose interests are best served by Deacon Nick's silence I wonder?