The Merciful Call to Holiness

Addressing the Dualism Between Mercy and Doctrine in Cardinal Kasper’s Proposal

Mercy by Cardinal Walter Kasper, printed by Paulist Press.

Ever since it was first floated in his 1977 work, Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to apply mercy to those suffering outside full communion with the Church through civil divorce and remarriage has been the source of much debate.1 This argument has gained recent attention through Kasper’s re-proposal of this same idea which he put forward in the lead up to the extraordinary synod on the family which was held during October of 2014. Published as a book soon after its delivery, his address to the Consistory of Cardinals in February of 2014 restated his 1977 proposal to allow civilly divorced and remarried Catholic couples in some particularly and seemingly impossible situations back to the sacraments after a period of penance.2 In the lead up to, and in the media coverage which accompanied the synod, much was made of the proposal, and the perceived change in Church doctrine which would ensue should such proposals be adopted by the synod fathers and promulgated by the Pope.

Without wading too deeply into these highly polemical waters, constructing arguments from Canon Law, or from the Sacramentality of Marriage, this essay seeks to penetrate more deeply into the understanding of mercy which animates Cardinal Kasper’s proposal. It will argue that Kasper’s proposal inherently constructs a dualism between the unfathomable mercy of God, and the universal call of Christ to holiness that is, to “be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

Kasper’s Presentation of Mercy

In his book Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life, Kasper argues that mercy is a crucially relevant, but a tragically forgotten topic in Catholic dogmatic theology.3 While he does give some credence to the development of the theme of mercy in the work of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he does little more than give a passing reference to their teaching in this area before going to great lengths to show that, with the exception of the theologian Matthias Sheeben, the theme of mercy is glaringly absent from most manuals of theology.4 This apparent glossing over of the developments of the theme of mercy in the work of both John Paul II and in Benedict XVI will have ramifications which will be pointed out at a later point in this paper.

According to Kasper: “The failure of theological reflection concerning the message of mercy, which is central to the Bible, has allowed this concept often to be downgraded, degenerating into a “soft” spirituality or a vapid pastoral concern, lacking clear definition, and forced somehow to suit each individual.”5 Few would argue against his assertion that there is a pressing need to enshrine a correct notion of mercy into the teaching of the Church, and into popular Christian piety. Kasper is keen to position his proposal concerning the pastoral care of civilly divorced and remarried individuals within that framework of a true mercy.

Critiquing a Strictly Metaphysical Doctrine of God

In his book, Kasper presents a much-needed critique of the traditional metaphysical doctrine of God. He argues that the strong metaphysical doctrine of God, which was used particularly by neoscholastic philosophers to defend belief in the enlightenment and post-enlightenment era, in fact presented a harsh and unfeeling god, quite dissimilar from the God of the Scriptures. The shortfalls in this presentation of God stem from the inability of this doctrine to account for the Divine attributes of holiness and compassion, which are so central to the biblical accounts of God. “{If} God is Being Itself, then the absolute perfection of God’s being follows from this absolute fullness of being. Such perfection entails God’s inability to suffer because suffering must be understood as a deficiency.”6

Quite rightly, this cold and unfeeling conception of God is labelled by Cardinal Kasper as “pastorally catastrophic.” He points out that “the proclamation of a God who is insensitive to suffering is a reason that God has become so alien and finally irrelevant to many human beings.”7

After establishing this as a background to his argument, Kasper demonstrates how the language of mercy has become unfashionable in modernity, and post-modernity, particularly through the pervasiveness of Marxist, Nietzschean, and national socialist philosophies. Kasper rightly points out how the reclamation of the language and activity of mercy is very much needed as a Christian response to these insidious, and seemingly all encompassing, philosophies which played themselves out in the horrors of the twentieth century.8

Mercy as a Distinctly Christian Virtue

Superseding the harsh philosophical categories which depict a God who is cold and unfeeling, Kasper shows that the God of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, is a personal God who has a heart for his creatures.9 Like John Paul II in his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, Kasper provides an insightful word study of the term, hesed, often used in the Old Testament to describe the faithful mercy of God. Hesed,

… means unmerited loving kindness, friendliness, favor, and also divine grace and mercy. Hesed, therefore, goes beyond mere emotion and grief at human deprivation; it means God’s free and gracious turning toward the human person with care. It concerns a concept of relationship, which characterizes not only a single action, but rather an ongoing attitude or posture.10

Kasper also involves himself in a deep word study on the revealed name of God. His pages on the Tetragrammaton are insightful and thought-provoking, showing how the translation of the Holy Name in the Septuagint as “I am who is,” and its consequent influence on Western theology, with its understanding of God as “Being Itself,” has contributed to the cold metaphysical formulations of God as pure Being. Kasper discusses a more Hebraic rendering of the holy name as “I am the One who am there.” For Kasper, this denotes a uniquely relational personhood which is part of the essence of God, one who will be there. God is one who enters into our existence, and suffers with his people. “God’s being is being present for his people, and with his people. ‘God’s being is Being-for-his-people; God’s being as Pro-Existence is the wonderful mystery of his essence. Israel can unconditionally rely on this in its faith’ “11

Kasper points out, through this study, of the self-revelation of God presented in the Old Testament that God’s mercy is “the expression of his divine essence.”12 In saying all this, however, Kasper is careful to nuance these statements of God’s “Being-For-Us” such that they are not to be taken for granted.

In his mercy, God is revealed paradoxically as both “Wholly Other” and the” One Who Is So Close To Us.” His transcendence is not infinite distance, and his nearness is not chumminess. Our merciful God is not simply the saccharine “dear God,” who lets our negligence and malice pass. On the contrary, his salvific nearness is an expression of being different, and an expression of his incomprehensible hiddenness (Isa 45:15) … God’s mercy points us toward his “Being Wholly Other” and toward his complete incomprehensibility, and the reliability of his love and graciousness.13

Kasper continues to point out the paradoxical nature of a God, who condescends to meet us in the depths of our suffering. He takes great care to point out that any emphasis that he is placing on the divine attribute of mercy is not something that can degenerate into what he terms a “soft” spirituality—he does not want to show mercy as a meaningless excusal of the requirements of justice.

{W}e may not downplay God’s mercy and make God a fool, who, with liberal leniency, overlooks our mistakes and malice and lets them simply run wild in us. Nietzsche ridiculed this conception of God and said that God died because of his pit. One can’t trifle with God; he doesn’t let himself be mocked (Gal 6:7). In his compassion and mercy, God demonstrates his holiness and greatness.14

It is this use of careful nuance which makes Kasper’s proposal so difficult to critique. At every juncture, he is keen to criticize any notion which would play off mercy and justice, or mercy and truth, against one another. As will come to light, though, Kasper’s proposal errs in a slightly different way.

Mercy Encompassing and Perfecting Justice

Kasper’s insistence, that God’s mercy and his justice do not exist in some kind of dialectic, is clearly emphasized throughout his work.

{M}ercy,” he writes, “does not stand in opposition to the message of justice. In his mercy, God rather holds back his justified wrath; indeed, he holds himself back. He does this in order to provide people the opportunity for conversion. Divine mercy grants sinners a period of grace and desires their conversion. Mercy is ultimately grace for conversion.15

He disposes quickly of the dualism established by some thinkers between an angry and vengeful God in the Old Testament, set against a loving and forgiving God in the New, by demonstrating the sheer merciful nature of the act of creation, in and of itself, not to mention the many tales of God’s merciful intervention into the history of the people of Israel. 16

Human Sinfulness and the Application of Mercy

Despite these careful caveats, something is awry in Kasper’s conception and application of mercy, particularly for those in the kind of irregular marital relationships which he illustrates in his proposal. Building on what he assumes to be the sturdy ground of his reading of the Fathers, Kasper attempts to accommodate the universal call of Christ to holiness, to the experience of human imperfection. According to Kasper, “the church fathers knew the difficulties in concretely realizing this commandment in the face of the complexities and structures of sin in the world. In order to arrive at a solution, they developed a kind of two-tier ethics. According to Ambrose, it is an obligation not to repay evil for evil; but to repay evil with good is perfection.”17 In point of fact, however, Ambrose speaks clearly of the requirement of striving for perfection.18

It is in this attempt to construct a two-tier system of morality that Kasper’s proposal of mercy becomes unstuck. Despite his highly nuanced approach, and the many prefaces he makes to the contrary, Kasper seems to read into the fathers a two-tiered understanding of the call to holiness. While they acknowledge that this call to holiness applies to all, the fathers in Kasper’s reading seem to know that in reality, such a call is asking the impossible of people, and that realistically, while they should pray and strive for such perfection, they should know that such virtue is not for everyone, but only a gift of “the perfect children of God.”

Kasper returns to the fathers to highlight their admonition to the members of the church, that they must be merciful in their dealings with members of the church who had fallen back into their sinful ways, but were again seeking to be readmitted to the Church, and to her sacraments. The Cardinal paints a picture of a more merciful Church which existed in the past, making much of the fact that many of the Church’s great saints were, in fact, great sinners prior to their respective conversions.19 In advocating that we follow the merciful example of the early Church of accepting repentant sinners, the one thing that Kasper fails to recognize, though, is that these saints, despite on occasion falling from grace, always had recourse to the mercy of God, and through such mercy, sought the renunciation of the life of sin which had enslaved them. The great sinners who became great saints that he mentions—Saint Paul and Saint Augustine among them—did not just embrace God’s mercy and continue to live with their sin. Instead, their experience of the mercy of God was occasion for them to radically reform their lives, and to embrace the life which is in Christ Jesus, in all that that might mean.

According to Kasper’s presentation, the writings of the fathers steer us away from what he would characterize as a harsh rigorism; but one is left with the impression, however, that this could degenerate into a lax permissivism. “The contemporary reader,” he writes, “thus finds in these texts from the church fathers some small comfort: what we often painfully experience nowadays in the church is anything but new; apparently it was not better in the past.”20

In his address to the Consistory of Cardinals, where he restates his 1977 proposal concerning the admission to the sacraments of civilly divorced and remarried couples, Kasper again makes substantial use of the fathers to support his argument.21 While the Cardinal’s use of the fathers has been addressed adequately elsewhere, it is important to note that the fathers were, in fact, committed to encouraging all members of their congregations to be striving for perfection in Christ, whilst speaking the truth in love to those in their congregations who find themselves in all kinds of irregular circumstances.22 As a matter of fact, “they are much more rigorous in dealing with the question of remarriage, penance, and Communion, than his treatment otherwise suggests.”23

Mercy as a Backdoor: Bourgeois Pelagianism and the Universal Call to Holiness

As shown, Kasper’s proposal of a supposedly a merciful, two-tier system of morality, shows its true colors in its application to the whole issue of the re-admittance to the Sacraments of civilly divorced and remarried Catholics. This is evidenced more concretely in the many interviews that the cardinal gave in promoting his book, Mercy. In one such interview for Commonweal Magazine, he describes the heroic decision of a Catholic couple—one or both of whom are civilly divorced and remarried—to remain living together, but as brother and sister. “To live together as brother and sister? Of course, I have high respect for those who are doing this. But it’s a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian.”24 This is the two-tier system of morality in full operation. In such a system, few operate in the sphere where the call to holiness or perfection is actually binding; while everybody else is called to be as good as they can be, according to their circumstance. This viewpoint, expressed here explicitly, as well as elsewhere, is in stark contradiction, not only the words of Lumen Gentium, chapter V, but the words of Christ himself (cf. Mt 5:48; 19:16-22).

This is a classic example of what Ratzinger termed “bourgeois pelagianism.” He describes the mindset of one who suffers this kind of spiritual pathology using the following interior monologue: “If God really does exist, and if he does in fact bother about people, he cannot be so fearfully demanding as he is described by the faith of the Church. Moreover, I am no worse than others: I do my duty, and the minor human weaknesses cannot be as dangerous as all that.”25 Rowland, in her study of the theology of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, describes this as “a modern version of “acedia”—a kind of anxious vertigo that overcomes people when they consider the heights to which their divine pedigree has called them … the attitude of someone who just cannot be bothered to be great.”26

Kasper presents a highly complex and nuanced situation in his speech to the Consistory of Cardinals where he attempts to apply the teaching on mercy, developed in his book of the same name. 27 For him, the requirements of holiness for couples in such irregular situations—as had previously been identified in Vatican refutations of proposals which resemble his—are too much to ask of anyone.28 Should such a couple be moved by grace to attempt, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, to live as brother and sister under one roof for the sake of not incurring new guilt, such an act is laudable, heroic even, but hardly what should be required by the Church.

What Kasper advocates is the Church’s acceptance, in some way—which is as yet to be determined—of the new relationship which has been established between the parties outside of their previously existing and sacramentally valid marriage, all the while maintaining the validity of the initial marriage. There is a kind of contradictory mental gymnastics involved here, as Kasper claims that his proposal both respects and upholds the Church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble and monogamous. He claims that barring civilly divorced and remarried Catholics from the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist is anything but merciful, and would leave them to “starve sacramentally.”29 This clearly overlooks the powerful corrective that such a sanction can effect, not to mention “the ongoing and powerful sacramental efficacy of baptism and the ministry of the Spirit-filled word of God.”30

A Law of Gradualness, not a Gradualness of the Law

An answer to the kind of two-tier morality that Kasper constructs in his proposal is found distinctly in John Paul II’s magisterial document ,Familiaris Consortio. Here, the Pontiff differentiated between a law of gradualness, and a gradualness of the law.

And so, what is known as “the law of gradualness,” or step-by-step advance, cannot be identified with “gradualness of the law,” as if there were different degrees, or forms of precept, in God’s law for different individuals, and situations. In God’s plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able to respond to God’s command, with serene confidence in God’s grace, and in his or her own will.31

This important distinction was taken up again in the Pontifical Council for the Family’s instruction to confessors concerning moral issues in the conjugal life. “The pastoral ‘law of gradualness’ … consists of requiring a decisive break with sin, together with a progressive path towards total union, with the will of God, and with his loving demands.” This is “not to be confused with the ‘gradualness of the law’ which would tend to diminish the demands it places on us.”32 Upon examination, one can see that this is where Kasper’s proposal falls down.

The Lofty Calling of the Imago Dei: JPII’s Theological Anthropology and the Call to be Christ-Like

In his discussions concerning the application of a hermeneutic of mercy to the functioning of canon law, Kasper briefly cites the words of Pope Saint John Paul II from his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia.33 The Cardinal cites the pope as stating that “{mercy} is capable of restoring man to himself.”34 It is worth noting that John Paul II’s significant contribution to a theology of mercy is conspicuously absent from Kasper’s own work in this area, aside from a few passing references. Kasper’s fleeting use of the pope’s words in this context does not do justice to the overall message of John Paul II’s work, which is fundamentally built on an anthropology which sees deification, or perfect sanctity, as the end, or telos, of human nature. The phrase itself has echoes of paragraph 22 of Gaudium et Spes, a phrase which is thematic in the papal magisterium of John Paul II, and particularly in his encyclical on the mercy of God.35

According to John Paul II’s theological anthropology, it is Christ himself, “the incarnation of mercy,” that “the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, {that} fully reveals man to man himself, and makes his supreme calling clear.”36 It is in the person of Christ that man is to find the full revelation of what it actually means to be man. This Trinitarian and Christocentric anthropology is the key to John Paul II’s presentation and application of mercy. Mercy, “love’s second name” is a true love “{that} is capable of restoring man to Himself.”37 True love, the love which is God (1 Jn 4:8), seeks to bring man out of his sin and restore him to himself, restore him to a full life – not a life enslaved by sin, but life in Christ.

The conception of mercy which Kasper presents misses this crucial element. For Kasper, the mercy that should be applied to those in situations, which are of themselves sinful, is not one of a true, and often times, tough love—a love that desires the perfection of man which is found in the person of Christ. It is one that, in the end, degenerates into that soft spirituality, or vapid pastoral concern, that Kasper had cautioned against: accepting the irregular situation of what is, in fact, an adulterous relationship.38 While rightly seeking to emulate our merciful Lord in his acceptance of sinners, Kasper’s apparent anxiety for those who are called from these rather irregular situations, to the perfection of true holiness, is an exemplar of what Ratzinger terms a bourgeois pelagianism, as mentioned above. Kasper’s concern, however well meaning it may be, belies what is, in essence, a lack of faith in “the Holy Spirit {who} in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.”39

In his proposal, Kasper seems to be overwhelmed by the suffering of those in such irregular situations. It is as though he has forgotten that “{t}hrough Christ, and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful.”40

The Universal Call to Holiness and Life According to the Spirit

In this context, one can recall not only the call to perfection that Christ extends to all of humanity (Mt 5:48; Mk 10:17-31; and, Mt 19:16-30), but the very power that Christ bestows upon mankind through the gift of his Holy Spirit to strive for that perfection. In the Wednesday Audience addresses which made up his “Theology of the Body,” John Paul II spoke with great clarity about the enormity of the task set forward in the Gospel, and the impossibility of its attainment in human terms. He was strong, however, in his encouragement to not to be afraid of such a tremendous undertaking. “Redemption is a truth,” he proclaimed, “a reality, in the name of which man must feel himself called, and ‘called with effectiveness.’ “41 Indeed, Christ knows the true possibilities of man.

The words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount have, without any doubt, such a universal and deep reach. Only in this way can they be understood on the lips of him who “knew” to its final depth “what was in every man” (Jn2:25), and who, at the same time, carried within himself the mystery of the “redemption of the body,” as St. Paul put it. Should we fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?42

These ideas were central also to the call of the Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen Gentium, which proclaimed that “all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection proper to their own proper state.”43 More than a mere invitation, which can be accepted or rejected at will, the constitution goes on to say that “{i}ndeed, they have an obligation to strive.”44

This theological anthropology provides a deeper and fuller vision of the essence of mercy. God’s mercy is, in fact, his condescension, the condescension of the God who is love, who became like us in all ways except sin, in order to deliver us from all sin, sin that enslaves us. “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and, thus, receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”45 To put it another way, “{T}he Son of God became man so that we might become God.”46

Mercy and the Cross of Christ: The Moment of Christian Witness

Concretely, the mercy of God is experienced not in the acceptance and ratification of one’s sins by God and His Church, but through one’s experience of the corporeal and spiritual works of mercy. The Church is merciful when it accepts all people in their sinfulness, and admonishes and assists all to leave the life of sin behind, and embrace a life of grace. Ultimately, those who accept this mercy, and experience its power in their lives, become witnesses to those around them of the salvific power of Christ, to save them from enslavement to sin and death. This is most powerfully witnessed through their acceptance of the sufferings or crosses that may come in, and through, their attempts to unite themselves with the sufferings of the crucified Christ, and live such a life of grace.

In an article on the encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, Guy Mansini argues that, in order to fully understand and experience the mercy of God, “{w}e must … recover the sense of the cross as a deed, and not just a display … the cross is a deed, a work; it changes things; it changes not God, but our relation to God, because it is satisfaction for sin.”47

Pope Benedict XVI wrote that the encounter with the merciful love of Christ opens up new horizons.48 Anyone who experiences a true encounter with this love, which is most concretely displayed in the deed of the cross, is no longer bound by a rigorous moralism. Instead, he or she who encounters the incarnation of the Father’s mercy, acquires a new and decisive direction, that of perfect holiness and union with Christ in the Trinity. This union with Christ manifests itself in the individual’s acceptance of the crosses of daily existence, even to the point of martyrdom.

From the earliest times, then, some Christians have been called upon—and some will always be called upon—to give the supreme testimony of this love to all men, but especially to persecutors. The Church, then, considers martyrdom as an exceptional gift, and as the fullest proof of love. By martyrdom, a disciple is transformed into an image of his Master by freely accepting death for the salvation of the world—as well as his conformity to Christ in the shedding of his blood. Though few are presented such an opportunity, nevertheless all must be prepared to confess Christ before men. They must be prepared to make this profession of faith, even in the midst of persecutions, which will never be lacking to the Church, in following the way of the cross.49

Indeed, “Jesus Christ prophesied no other fate for his own disciples than his own: persecution, failure, and suffering to the point of death.”50 What does this mean for the couple who Kasper describes, who are caught in such an irregular situation? How are they to experience the mercy of God, and remain faithful to the call to perfection placed on them by Christ himself? It is in remaining faithful to their vocation, uniting the sufferings that come with that faithfulness, to the sufferings of the crucified Christ, that they can experience, in some small way, his redemption.

Physical martyrdom is an exceptional calling, nevertheless the Church calls on all to “be prepared to confess Christ before men.”51 The call to holiness is a call to die to self, what one could term a spiritual martyrdom. This spiritual martyrdom is not a giving up of oneself to despair, knowing that perfection or holiness is unattainable in merely human terms, it is, on the contrary, an act of supreme hope in the gratuitousness of God’s perfecting grace to be able to work in and through the sufferings which may be presented. Kasper’s so-called merciful proposal does not hold out this hope. Instead, it lowers the bar, stifling the grace which the spirit would otherwise work in the lives of those who open themselves up to it.

Conclusion: The Call to Holiness is a Merciful Gift

While a good deal of what Kasper has written in his work seems to have a solid base, both within the Scriptures and the Tradition, including his strong critique of an overly heavy metaphysically formulated doctrine of God, his sense of the possibilities open to a human nature imbued with the power of the Spirit, mediated through the Sacraments and the Church, is somewhat truncated.

Kasper’s careful nuance, constantly woven throughout his writings, does not save him from his well-meaning, but errant, proposal. The words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom he so readily quotes, seem to condemn his construction of a two-tier morality which is, in the end, “cheap grace.” “Cheap grace means the justification of the sin, and not the sinner … cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness, without requiring repentance; baptism without church discipline; communion without acknowledging sin; absolution without personal confession.”52

There is much which is praiseworthy in Kasper’s work on mercy, and in his address to the Consistory of Cardinals. Kasper is right in cautioning against a mindset which would see the sacraments as rewards for successfully doing one’s duty. He is correct, also, in pointing out that the complexities which afflict relationships in our times require a great deal of pastoral sensitivity, rather than cold-hearted judgment.

However, for all that, the proposal that Kasper puts forward, regarding the reception of the sacraments for those Catholic who are civilly divorced and remarried, does not square with the telos of God’s merciful mission, incarnated in the person of Jesus, nor the true telos of the human person: complete and perfect union with the Trinity. Kasper’s proposal, in essence, casts doubt upon the reality of the efficaciousness of God’s mercy being felt in the life of the believer, and leaves the believer to settle for less than the glory of God.



  1. Walter Kasper, Theology of Christian Marriage, tr. by David Smith (New York: The Seabury Press, 1980).
  2. Walter Kasper, The Gospel of the Family, tr. by William Madges (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2014).
  3. Walter Kasper, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life, tr. William Madges (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2013), 35-37.
  4. This is shown in his extensive footnotes on this topic. See Kasper, Mercy, footnotes chapter I, 35-37, 257-258.
  5. Kasper, Mercy, 10.
  6. Ibid., 11.
  7. Ibid., 12.
  8. Ibid, 14-15.
  9. Ibid., 43.
  10. Ibid., 43.
  11. Ibid., 48, quoting from Ulrich Wilkens, Theologie des Neuen Testaments, 2/1 (Neukirchen-Vlyun: Neukirchener Verlag, 2007), 93.
  12. Kasper, Mercy, 51.
  13. Ibid., 52.
  14. Ibid., 53.
  15. Ibid., 54.
  16. Ibid., 52-60.
  17. Ibid.139.
  18. “We must strive for that wherein perfection is and wherein is truth.” Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy, 48, nn. 248.
  19. Kasper, Mercy, 170.
  20. Ibid., 171.
  21. Kasper, The Gospel of the Family, 31-2.
  22. Adam Cooper, “Cardinal Kasper and The Church Fathers,” Catholic World Report, 8 July 2014. Retrieved from (accessed 21 July 2014).
  23. Ibid.
  24. Boudway and Gallicho, “Merciful God, Merciful Church: An interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper,” Commonweal Magazine, 7 May, 2014. Retrieved from (accessed August 12, 2014).
  25. Ratzinger, The Yes of Jesus Christ, 81, quoted in Rowland, Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) 75.
  26. Rowland, Ratzinger’s Faith, 75.
  27. Kasper, Gospel of the Family, 28-30.
  28. There is much that has been written concerning the pastoral care of individuals and couples who have experienced a breakdown in their marriage and are in irregular situations. A small sampling of such documents which address these concerns would include: International Theological Commission, “Propositions on the Doctrine of Christian Marriage” (1977), in Texts and Documents, 1969-1985, ed. Michael Sharkey (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), nos. 3.1, 3.2; John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (1984), §16; John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987), §36; John Paul II, “Address to the Roman Rota” (Feb. 10, 1995); John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), §35; “Address to the Roman Rota” (Jan. 27, 1997); John Paul II, “Address to the Roman Rota” (Jan. 21, 2000); John Paul II, “Address to the Roman Rota” (Jan. 30, 2003); Code of Canon Law, c. 135 §3; c. 1085; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the reception of Holy Communion by the divorces and remarried members of the faithful” (1994); Benedict XVI, “Address to the Roman Rota” (Jan. 26, 2013);
  29. Kasper, The Gospel of the Family, 30.
  30. Cooper, “Cardinal Kasper and the Church Fathers.”
  31. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 34.
  32. Pontifical Council for the Family, Vademecum for Confessors Concerning some aspect of the Morality of Conjugal Life, (accessed August 29, 2014), 3.9.
  33. Kasper, Mercy, 178.
  34. Dives in Misericordia, 14.
  35. See DV, section I.
  36. Gaudium et Spes, 22.
  37. DV 14.
  38. Kasper, Gospel of the Family, 32.
  39. GS 22.
  40. Ibid.
  41. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, tr. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books and media, 2006), 312.
  42. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, tr. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books and media, 2006), 312.
  43. LG 42.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939.
  46. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 54, 3: PG 25, 192B.
  47. Guy Mansini, “Mercy ‘Twice Blest.’ ” Nova et Vetera, English Edition, Vol. 3, No. 3 (2005), 526.
  48. Benedict XVI, Deus Caristas Est, 1.
  49. LG 42.
  50. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Moment of Christian Witness, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), 13.
  51. LG 42.
  52. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Costly Grace,” in The Cost of Discipleship, trans. R.H. Fuller, rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1972), n36-37, quoted in Kasper, Mercy, 174-175.
Thomas Gourlay About Thomas Gourlay

Thomas V. Gourlay is the president and co-founder of the Dawson Society for Philosophy and Culture Inc. (, and the manager of Campus Ministry at the University of Notre Dame Australia. He holds Bachelors (BEd) and Masters (MEd) Degrees in education from the University of Notre Dame Australia, and has worked as a classroom teacher and faculty head of Religious Education in a number of Catholic schools in Western Australia. Tom also holds a Masters of Theological Studies (MTS) from The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies in Melbourne, Victoria. Tom and his wife Elizabeth live in Perth, Western Australia.


  1. “Kasper’s proposal inherently constructs a dualism between the unfathomable mercy of God, and the universal call of Christ to holiness ”
    Do you this think this growing dualism has its roots in the fact that Vatcan II promulgated two 2 separate Constitutions for the Church, one Pastoral and one Dogmatic?

  2. I seem to believe that couples who entered into marriage without having the full knowledge of their faith, then their marriage failed , using contraception/abortafacients etc so they divored.
    Then many years later matured, re-married given the Grace to practice their faith again, yet can not receive Holy Communion, ought to be able to be reconciled to the Blessed Sacrament.
    The Lord will judge in the end anyway!

  3. Avatar rev nicholas harding omi says:

    Well done article. The danger of “cheap grace” mentality was prophesied by Bl Cardinal J H Newman in his sermon ” Religion of the Day”. He predicted that religion would focus only on the bright, merciful, beautiful side and neglect the severe or dark side.

    • Kindly define “cheap grace”?

      • It’s in the article: ““Cheap grace means the justification of the sin, and not the sinner … cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness, without requiring repentance; baptism without church discipline; communion without acknowledging sin; absolution without personal confession.”

  4. People will always rationalize anything until their way of thinking agrees with their way of life.
    It is very clear what the Lord says in the Scripture “Matthew 19:9”.

  5. Avatar Shawn Hughes-Camp says:

    It would appear that Walter Kasper’s dualism would apply to all difficult situations including Catholic homosexuals seeking the vocation of marriage within their own orientation. While compassion and inclusion always must apply within the Church and its members, the reality of individuals living “the best they can” within the theology especially for Americans who culturally value the rights of the individual so keenly, demonstrates the same self-defeating misunderstanding of our personal call to sainthood. No one says this is easy, but as stated, we can never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to help us continually progress to our true selves.


  1. […] communion with the Church through civil divorce and remarriage has been the source of much debate.1 This argument has gained recent attention through Kasper’s re-proposal of this same idea which […]

  2. […] communion with the Church through civil divorce and remarriage has been the source of much debate.1 This argument has gained recent attention through Kasper’s re-proposal of this same idea which […]