Pope Francis Wanted Open Debate. With Clashing Cardinals, He’s Got It

Cardinal Walter Kasper (Left) and Cardinal Raymond Burke. Photos via Trace Murphy and David Gibson/RNS.

Leading up to a Vatican summit on family life that Pope Francis opens on Oct. 5, high-ranking churchmen have fiercely debated church teaching — and criticized each other — in sharp exchanges that offer a ringside seat to the kind of battles that Rome used to keep under wraps.

But amid all this verbal sparring, the opposing camps have found one point of consensus: Airing their differences is good for the Roman Catholic Church.

“Everybody is free to express his opinion. That is not a problem for me,” Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German theologian who has emerged as the point man for the reformists, said in an interview published Sept. 29 in America magazine.

“The pope wanted an open debate, and I think that is something new because up to now often there was not such an open debate. I think that’s healthy and it helps the church very much.”

A day later, Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who heads the Vatican’s highest court and a vocal exponent of the conservative camp opposing Kasper, spoke to reporters to toss back a few barbs. But he, too, praised the frankness of the exchanges.

US Cardinal Raymond Burke Mounts Defense on Catholic Teaching on Divorce

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis, has been an influential player in Rome. Photo via David Gibson/RNS.

Public disagreements over whether the Roman Catholic Church can change its teachings on Communion for remarried Catholics are growing sharper on the eve of a major Vatican summit, with conservatives led by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke making another push against loosening the rules.

In a conference call with reporters on Sept. 30, Burke, who currently heads the Vatican’s high court, singled out the leading proponent of reforms, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and his claims that critics of his proposals are really attacking Pope Francis.

Kasper has said that the pope supports his efforts to find ways to fully reintegrate divorced and remarried Catholics into church life. The proposals have become a prime focus of the upcoming Vatican meeting, called a synod, which will convene on Oct. 5 for two weeks to consider changes in family life in the modern world.

“I find it amazing that the cardinal claims to speak for the pope,” said Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis, speaking from Rome. “The pope doesn’t have laryngitis. The pope is not mute. He can speak for himself. If this is what he wants, he will say so.”

Will the Catholic Church Change Its Stand on Marriage and Divorce?

Pope Francis blesses new spouses with holy water. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service/RNS.

Pope Francis made headlines this week when he officiated at the weddings of 20 couples, including  some who had been living together and a woman who has a daughter from a previous relationship.

It was the first time that the Argentine pontiff had presided over a marriage ceremony since his election and it may have also signaled a dramatic shift in Catholic Church doctrine.

Now five conservative cardinals appear to be hitting back.

In a new book to be released days before the world’s Catholic bishops gather at the Vatican for their October Synod, the hard-liners are challenging moves to moderate church doctrine on marriage and offer Communion to divorced Catholics who remarry.

The book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, will be published in five languages, including English and Italian, on Oct. 1.

Weekly Wrap 7.4.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Afghan Taliban Bans Polio Vaccination Teams
"Afghanistan is one of just three countries, along with Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio is still endemic. There has been a rise in cases this year, with seven reported so far compared with just three for the same period of 2013, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative."

2. Communion in a Strip Club
"I found myself in a strip club years ago. I carried a meal, and that was about all I carried. And a dancer asked me if I thought Jesus was insecure.  I quickly told her no. I told her that Jesus was entirely secure, hoping she wouldn’t try to take my Jesus away."

3. This Is What Happened When I Drove My Mercedes to Pick Up Food Stamps
The birth of twins and a job loss — stories like these illustrate how close so many people are to poverty: " … the judgment of the disadvantaged comes not just from conservative politicians and Internet trolls. It came from me, even as I was living it."

4. Dismantling the White Male Industrial Complex
Christena Cleveland argues against the logic of the white man as the secret weapon in the fight against injustice. "… rather than contributing to the white male industrial complex and focusing most/all of our justice efforts on convincing and engaging white men, I propose a different strategy …"

5. The Failure of Christian Witness in a World of Violence
"Are we contributing to the epidemic of mockery and the glorification of violence in our world with what we share from our air-conditioned living rooms? If so, then the fact that we are privileged enough to have clean hands doesn’t make us any less guilty of the violence in our world than the suicide bombers and the drones."

6. 'Life Ended There:' Rare Interviews With the Children of America's Border Disaster
POLITICO Magazine puts faces and stories to the border crisis in this must-read.

7. How Hot Is It? Hot Enough to Ruin the Economy
“The increased number of excessively hot days guaranteed to come with the changing climate has the potential to dramatically denigrate worker productivity, according to recent study. … Productivity figures to be the biggest economic hit, though energy costs will certainly give it a run for its, uh, money.”

8. Cory Booker, Rand Paul Shine Light on Shadow Side of U.S. Justice System
A new proposal pairs an unlikely duo to confront the injustice of mass incarceration. Read what brought the two together to find common ground.

9. How It Feels to Love and Hate a Sex Offender
"Most people do not understand how sex offenders function and therefore do not realize the depth of their damage. … In the healing process, I've learned that the families of sex offenders, the secondary victims, just like primary victims, must learn to do basic things even when all our beliefs and emotions scream it is not safe."

10. This Land Is Their Land :The Braves, Chiefs, and Washington NFL Team All Play on Land Seized from American Indians
“It is easy to assert that the name of your favorite team expresses solidarity with the survivors of the long, sordid history of Indian dispossession. But what if sports lore included the specifics of how the U.S. acquired the land below your team’s home field?”

Vatican Confronts Shifting Landscape on Family Issues

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops. Creative Commons image by Pufui Pc Pifpef I.

Faced with a cultural landscape that’s shifting faster than the church’s ability to keep up, Catholic bishops are looking for new approaches toward unmarried couples, divorced people, and single parents who are disillusioned with the church.

The first-ever survey of 114 bishops’ conferences around the world found that many Christians “have difficulty” accepting church teachings on key issues such as birth control, divorce, homosexuality, and cohabitation.

But one senior church leader cautioned that “the doctrine of the church is not up for discussion.”

The survey’s findings, released in a 75-page document by the Vatican on Thursday, will serve as the blueprint for October’s Synod of Bishops, when bishops from around the world will gather to discuss issues facing the family.

Sacrament as Subversion

The power of the sacraments is in the faith of the individual and the grace of God. Magdalena Kucova/

Anyone who thinks much on theology will tell you that you go through patterns of thought. For a long time, I was intrigued — and still am in many ways — by the notion of Jesus as a “third way” prophet, offering something different than both church and secular culture most of the time. As I learned of different interpretations of the crucifixion, I became obsessed with nonviolent activism, and the idea of responding to force or bloodshed with something else entirely.

Now, my latest mental track is sacrament. I am interested in what makes something a sacrament, yes, but also in the power connected to sacraments and what human beings do with that power.

I am part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a denomination that has Alexander Campbell as part of its roots. Campell was notorious for supposedly causing a stir in his local church around the sacrament of communion. At that time, the Church handed out tokens to those it deemed worthy to participate in communion. No token? No communion. So this one particular day, Campbell entered the church with his token in hand, but when they offered the elements to him, he refused, tossing the token on the ground and walking out. He went on to help start the Disciples based, in large part, on the concept of the open communion table.

Cherish Each Moment — Even the Sucky Ones

Elizabeth Palmberg (photo by Heather Wilson)

ELIZABETH PALMBERG—Zab to her friends—says her motto is “Cherish each moment, even the ones that suck.”

Nine years ago, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She has had her ups and downs in her battle against cancer, but many moments in that journey have undeniably sucked.

In 2001, Zab was a college professor in California when she applied to be an intern at Sojourners. We decided her Ph.D. (in Victorian literature) perhaps qualified her to do the data entry and fact-checking work required of our editorial intern, and when her yearlong internship was over we invited her to become a full-time member of the editorial staff.

She’s been gracing us, and our readers, with her brilliant analysis and quirky wit ever since. Her knowledge, passion, and insight informed and often challenged those of us who’ve worked closely with her—and led to outside recognition as well. In 2011, for instance, Zab joined a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia, visiting communities engaged in the difficult work of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Her report on the trip—the last feature she wrote for the magazine—was honored by the Associated Church Press as the best news article of the year.

In November 2012, she wrote on her blog, “Just as I was planning a big six-year hey-they-cured-my-cancer party, it turned out I have cancer again.” Months of difficult treatment followed, and she chronicled the good times and the bad with (most of the time) her sense of humor firmly intact. For instance, she wrote that “technically, the exact wrong thing to read [during chemotherapy] is Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, which also happens to be the wrong thing to read in almost *every* context—that book really puts the “ick” in ‘Victorian.’ My deepest apologies to the one class I forced to read it. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

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Break Bread Together? Or Drive-Thru Alone?

Breaking bread, Shaiith /

Breaking bread, Shaiith /

Interesting fact: The term “breaking bread” goes back many centuries and crosses many cultures and religions. It’s a shared term for coming together in meal and friendship. The term applies today — you can find it in some urban dictionaries. 

For as long as we’ve been around, we’ve come together and connected over a meal. We enjoy breaking bread and telling stories, restoring friendships, and creating new ones.

Bread has been a staple of diets for a long time, so it’s a natural choice to capture the essence of eating together. Also, it’s wonderfully symbolic. When we break bread, each of us gets one piece of a bigger loaf. It feeds our sense of connection.

It’s not surprising that bread-breaking is a touchstone religious practice. For instance, it’s part of Jewish tradition. Two thousand years ago, a Jewish rabbi chose it as a way for his followers to remember their unity.

Jesus spent the last years of his life teaching that everyone is responsible for everyone else and must live that way — feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, care for the poor. Breaking bread is a reminder that our lives are about more than ourselves.

The State of the Communion

Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock

We were together receiving the State of the Communion of the Kingdom of God. Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock

Tuesday was a big day here in Washington, D.C. The president of the United States addressed both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, laying out his State of the Union. In this annual speech, the President lays out his vision of where the country is at, and where we are headed. With great pomp and circumstance, the Commander-in-Chief delivers a message for the whole nation.

Tuesday night was a big moment for my community, too. The D.C. small group of Friends of Jesus gathered for our first small group meeting of 2014. We caught up with one another after many weeks apart. We experienced the story of Acts 2 in the form of a bibliodrama that we acted out together. We shared a time of deep worship and prayer.