Rorate Caeli

Chastity is Impossible: The Kernel of the Kasperite Position

Regarding the debate over marriage and divorce, serial polygamy, and admission to communion, Cardinal Kasper does not dismiss the need for the sacrament of Penance prior to reception of the Eucharist when one is conscious of grave sin. Nevertheless, he does not seem to affirm the necessity of a firm purpose of amendment for Penance, since in the case at hand such a purpose would demand the renunciation of the use of marriage—the repudiation of an adulterous union. Or, if he does admit the necessity of amendment, then he must not affirm the objective gravity of divorce itself (a mere fiction of civil law, no more real, in the spiritual order, than a pink elephant) and especially of attempted “re-marriage” or of sexual relations with someone other than one’s legitimate spouse. Kasper’s error seems to be simultaneously an error about the indissolubility of marriage, the preconditions of absolution, and the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist.

There is, moreover, not sufficient clarity in these discussions about the distinction between actual and sanctifying grace, e.g., there seems to be in the minds of some a conflation of the fact that “God is working somewhere” with being in what our catechisms used to call, with supernatural realism, the state of grace. After all, God sends actual graces to all human beings, including pagans He is calling to the Christian faith, and fallen-away Christians He is summoning to return. They are understood as “pushes” by which God, often gently and sometimes forcibly, moves us to repentance and conversion, to a new understanding of the faith, to a new practice of the sacraments. Sanctifying grace is a real and abiding quality of the soul, a possession of divine sonship as real as the possession of art, science, prudence, or moral virtues, but deeper and with a far greater capacity for action. 

Possibly, too, there is lack of clarity in these discussions about the qualitative difference between mortal (or grave or serious) sin and venial sin. Has not the Church been practically in a state of denial about mortal sin for 50 years or more? It is rarely mentioned, rarely preached on, forms little or no part in the formation of children and adolescents. No one, it seems, is really such a bad person after all; everyone has their problems, and these problems fully explain our bad behavior. Voila, the guilt evaporates—and not by means of confession but by means of repression, forgetfulness, denial, or the ruses of pop psychology. This is why, with the exception of conservative and traditional Catholic enclaves, the Sacrament of Confession or Penance has vanished as a regular and defining feature of Catholic life.

We need, more than ever, a strong affirmation of the reason why those in a state of manifest grave sin cannot receive Communion, namely, the grave sin part. Priests are accustomed to meeting with couples in these irregular marital situations (or couples planning to enter these situations) and hearing them say something like: “Oh, we just can’t receive Communion, right?,” giving the impression that they didn’t see that ceremonial detail as connected in any way to the moral quality of their actions.

What a sad world it is when the path of chastity, purity, self-control, is apparently no longer a viable option for people. Even now, the divorced and “remarried” are able to receive Penance and the Eucharist—if they are willing to live in continence, as brother and sister (absent scandal). The real problem is not in Church law or practice or history or theology, but in the will of those who choose not to live chastely, who will not take up their Cross and follow Christ on the narrow and difficult path. The Church should be supporting them in knowing, seeking, and living the good of chastity; she should be helping people to experience that living chastely is not impossible, not too much to ask when it is a matter of pleasing God and inheriting eternal life!

Chastity is, at the end of the day, the fundamental issue that none of the progressives want to touch. For them, it is an outmoded category, a relic of an old-fashioned and unhealthy era in which people put restraints on their erotic desires. The unseen premise behind all of the progressivist argumentation is: “People cannot be expected to control their passions, so we must make this or that allowance, exception, relaxation.” 

In the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor of 1993, Pope John Paul II gave the lie once and for all to this pernicious error, one of the devil’s perennial temptations of shepherds and flocks alike:

Even in the most difficult situations man must respect the norm of morality so that he can be obedient to God’s holy commandment and consistent with his own dignity as a person. Certainly, maintaining a harmony between freedom and truth occasionally demands uncommon sacrifices, and must be won at a high price: it can even involve martyrdom. … But temptations can be overcome, sins can be avoided, because together with the commandments the Lord gives us the possibility of keeping them: “His eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man. He has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and he has not given any one permission to sin” (Sir 15:19-20). Keeping God’s law in particular situations can be difficult, extremely difficult, but it is never impossible. … It is in the saving Cross of Jesus, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, in the Sacraments which flow forth from the pierced side of the Redeemer (cf. Jn 19:34), that believers find the grace and the strength always to keep God’s holy law, even amid the gravest of hardships.

Only in the mystery of Christ’s Redemption do we discover the “concrete” possibilities of man. “It would be a very serious error to conclude . . . that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an ‘ideal’ which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a ‘balancing of the goods in question.’ But what are the ‘concrete possibilities of man’? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit.”[1]

The rejection of the possibility of chastity is the reason why Humanae Vitae  was rejected—at root, there is no other. It is the reason why we have rampant pornography, abortion, homosexual activity, the clergy scandals, and every other sexual aberration. The Church’s hierarchy has been complicit every step of the way by refusing to preach chastity “in season and out of season,” regardless of the opposition of the world or the incredulity of worldly Catholics. Priests and bishops (sometimes) condemned the evil fruits, but they refused to name the evil tree of unchastity, they would not put the axe to its trunk. And now the tree, having grown unchecked for decades, having been manured and pampered by its votaries, is an enormous plant, imposing, blocking out the light of the sun and the stars, with abundant dark and sickly-sweet fruits filled with poison. This is the bitter harvest that is ours. We must spit out every bit of this wretched fruit, and begin to hack away at the root with every axe on hand. But it will not be until the clergy at every level join with us that we will have any chance of turning the tide.


[1] Joseph Ratzinger, “Truth and Freedom.”

[1] See here for some of the many Veritatis Splendor excerpts pertinent to the Synod debates, and here for similarly timely excerpts from John Paul II’s Letter to Families.