Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Sensible Break

Just had to take a breather from all the nonsense of last week, not the least because of a spousal order to stop looking at that screen!

Back later today.

Meanwhile, a little piece from Noel Coward for those who are feeling desperate about the Synod next year.

Hoorah, hoorah, hoorah! Misery's on the way!



Saturday, 18 October 2014

The morning after the interview the night before

Most readers will be now well aware of the story that broke last night about Cardinal Burke. He has given an interview to Buzz News essentially confirming that he is being moved from the Apostolic Signatura, but more importantly, delivering his judgment on the business of the Synod. Here is one of the juicier sections:

If Pope Francis had selected certain cardinals to steer the meeting to advance his personal views on matters like divorce and the treatment of LGBT people, Burke said, he would not be observing his mandate as the leader of the Catholic Church.

“According to my understanding of the church’s teaching and discipline, no, it wouldn’t be correct,” Burke said, saying the pope had “done a lot of harm” by not stating “openly what his position is.”


"Cardinal Burke Buzz News" is a pretty unique search collocation so I just googled it. Buzz News is running the story of course. So is something called The Puffington. The BBC is also running a story focusing on Cardinal Burke's 'demotion'. Ah, yes, and the Fiji Broadcasting Company too. They are reporting that the Cardinal has been 'demoted'.

But nobody else! The Catholic Herald? Nada. The Tablet? Nada. National Catholic Register? Nothing. But, wait, but wait! The National Catholic Reporter has a story … and look how they start it:

U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, a former archbishop of St. Louis known for his rigorist interpretations of Catholic doctrine, has reportedly confirmed ...
(my emphasis)

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I'm afraid things are not going to get much better. At best, it will be reported that Cardinal Burke has been 'demoted', but then he will be given a label like a "rigourist" and everyone will understand why. His removal was unconfirmed before the Synod so surely some people will try to make his attack on the pope look like sour grapes.

What I am curious to see is how the commentariat comes out on this. John Allen speculated yesterday about conservatives deserting Pope Francis. That makes him prescient perhaps - unless he knew this was coming - but what line will he take now? And what about all those other big Catholic voices? Will they be feeding Burke to the vultures or will they just try to stifle what he has said with news of the end of the Synod and the beatification tomorrow?

Cardinal Burke has called them all out in a way. But if they ignore it, he will simply be isolated. That said, for this morning at least they are all wrong footed and their silence is eloquent. What do we say, what do we say? When someone of Burke's authority and character makes this kind of a stand, it forces us all to reveal who we really are inside. It does that, or else it must be subject to deconstruction (Burke is a hysteric or just silly) or to refutation (Burke has massively over exaggerated) or it will be said that in doing this he has made it impossible for more moderate voices to join him (Pell and Mueller perhaps?).

I suppose Cardinal Burke believed he had to say something in conscience, but why Buzz News? Why now when it was likely that his protest will be overshadowed by other news? Has he tried and failed to get other cardinals to back him?

I love Cardinal Burke for standing up and saying that the Emperor has no clothes. It remains to be seen whether, from a strategic and tactical point of view, he has fired his gun at the right moment and in the right way.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Myth, speed and foot rot

I made notes for a blog post on the myth machine earlier this week but almost by the hour so many new stories appeared about the Synod, so many new controversies and new commentaries, that it seemed more sensible to wait and watch developments. I'm glad I did. The spectacle of the Synod, its reception and controversies are all illustrative of the dynamics of the period in which we live. The period in which we live incidentally is one of war, and it is as brutal and as revealing as any war we might care to think of. Language is war, as I have argued here before. And this week has seen an extraordinary carpet bombing of the mind. Stay with me. I'll try to make clearer what I am getting at.

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The relatio of the Synod was published on Monday. It should have been instantly quarantined like an Ebola outbreak. Instead, its appalling assumptions and half-cock assertions were accorded citizenship rights. Never mind the circuli minores. The real victory of this Synod - for those who believe in that sort of thing - lies in invalidating the condemnation of sinful lifestyles and in placing the logic of that invalidation beyond discussion. From now on the pastoral gait of the Church - moved by the even propulsion of encouragement and admonition - must now become a one-legged hop and a descent into sentimental circularity. I suppose it had been tending in that direction anyway. Don't mention sin; I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it. Of course the 'doctrine' has been left untouched. It's just also been largely shunted into a siding, made into an 'ideal' - I cannot get over that usage in the document - whereas we realists deal with reality.

Accordingly, nobody seems to understand that there is a huge difference between allowing a one-time murderer, now repentant, to approach the altar rail, and allowing a divorced and remarried person to do so. I don't want to comment too much on how this victory was achieved in the Synod since we do not have enough information. It is clear some Synod fathers think they have been manipulated, but how many is unclear. It is clear that information has been tightly controlled to the disadvantage of the conservative line, but how tightly is again unclear. What the circuli minores have surely revealed is that no group was able to say: this relatio starts in the wrong place, develops erratically and dies in a wave of liberal hogwash. We will not have it! But of course they cannot do that now. It has citizenship rights. And the final redaction committee - now with its own positively discriminated Cardinal Napier - will do the rest.

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The confusion within the Synod was almost all about who held the levers of power. The confusion outside of the Synod, however, comes from other sources. Two waves of reactions quickly swirled around us by Monday night. The first attacked the relatio deservedly. The other began by defending it on the most spurious grounds. This is where the myth machine really got going. I was reminded again of some word of Bernanos from Nous autres Fran├žais:

“Myths spring up under the feet of the realist, and this imbecile is wrong to be surprised, for they come from him . . . To each new obscene trick of the realists corresponds a myth which is nothing other than obscene trickery itself.”

Which myths am I thinking about? Take your pick. The first was that the relatio was just a working document. You see how language is war? This claim simply forces us to accept all the document's premises; we have to work with it. It's as if the document had said, 'No African has an opinion which is relevant to Europe', and then its authors had defended it by saying it was merely a working document. Obscene trickery indeed!

Myths then started emerging from the mouths of commentators everywhere. Fr Lucie-Smith in The Catholic Herald had greeted the document by arguing that it only said about vice what his Jesuit teachers had been saying in the 1980s. But by the following day - when several important Synod fathers had said the document was a disgrace - Fr Lucie-Smith was back again but arguing this time that the document was appalling .. because of its English! Oh yes, the real shame of this document was its failure to be a work of English prose. My myth alarm rang immediately!

Then came Fr Robert Baron, moving in from the centre right with a metaphor about sausages and sausage making processes. If you like sausages, don't ask how they are made, he argued. Well, Father Baron, most people would like to know that the sausage factory is not putting horse meat in their sausages, or at least insists on industry-recognised quality levels, or just at the very least, ensures that its employees are not taking a quiet dump in the mixing machine whenever they like. But, Fr Baron being a cool realist, would he have understood us?

Fr Baron's words were typical of the language that tried to capture and tame the conservative reaction to the appalling relatio. He noted that there was hysteria, wringing of hands and bewailing of content and he advised everyone to take a deep breath. We don't want to bloviate. Okay, Father Baron, we'll just sit back, deny the evidence and mutter pieties about the Holy Spirit. Dominus vobiscum. I don't mean to pick on Fr Baron in particular. He just seems to have exemplified a particular type in this whole shebang.

I could mention other myths that sprang up almost by the hour: that the Synod was being fought by those who wanted the Church to be a hospital and those who wanted to erect a firewall; that the alternative to the relatio's right-on sensitiveness was a gruesome orthodox vindictiveness; that all the fuss was caused by the nasty media. Yes, the lies just kept on coming all week.

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And then a most interesting thing happened. The internet. It used to take months if not years for contrary opinions to circle the globe. It now takes minutes if not seconds. The Barons and Lucie-Smiths of this world had only just finished slapping themselves on the back for a job well done when the news broke that senior cardinals were calling the relatio a disgrace. A disgrace, if you please! This, dear friends, is the war of transmission. There is no time to set up your position and go to war; the war is coming to you. What I mean is that the speed of developments will expose you for who you are now. No sooner had Fr Baron told us not to worry about the process than Cardinal Pell was reported saying the Synod fathers were sick of being manipulated by the process - and that the relatio was tendentious and skewed. What is a commentator like Fr Baron to do? Where can he go now? Luckily, the avalanche of commentary might allow him to play dead and get away with it.

The most egregious victim of this process - perhaps unsurprisingly - is a man born in the 1930s, Cardinal Kasper. You all know the story but let me summarise it briefly. On Tuesday he spoke to three journalists outside the Synod and said, among other things, that the Africans cannot tell us too much what to do. His comments were reported on Zenit the next day by Edward Pentin, one of those three journalists. By Thursday morning Cardinal Kasper was being labelled as a racist - although I have not seen the story in the MSM. Then came the chicane! Thursday afternoon Cardinal Kasper tells the German media that he would never say such things about Africans and that he never spoke to Zenit: clear implication, I never said those words and I never gave that interview. Zenit - soon to be rechristened the press agency with no balls - then pulled Pentin's interview because, well, cardinals don't lie do they?

If only Edward Pentin had reserved his bullets until he could see the whites of their eyes, we might yet have seen the Catholic commentariat speculating about the appalling journalism that had tried to sabotage a cardinal's reputation: yes, they would have said, here is the last desperate act of cruel conservatism gone mad. Instead, Pentin understandably released the recording of the interview and everyone simply gasped. Has anyone seen Cardinal Kasper since? I merely ask.

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We think in some ways our problems are all tied up to the relatio. But they aren't. The relatio is appalling and I dread to think of the mess of potage the final document will contain. But our problems go beyond this. They extend also to the atmosphere of myth and lies that has surrounded this whole business. They extend to the myth and lies that people are prepared to fabricate to protect power, even when no law of God or man says power must be thus protected. The internet has let us see into the heart of the Synodal battle. We would never have known so quickly either of the treachery of the manipulators or of the courage of their adversaries otherwise. And yet the internet is also the platform for the myth makers, the ones whose reflections seem to be firstly at the service of power and not of truth.

The delightful James Preece keeps quoting the line from Chesterton that what really divides us are the vices we are prepared to excuse. And this is surely the case with regard to the Synod. Are we prepared to excuse the manipulation of the process, the dubious nature of the relatio, and the shenanigans behind the scenes? Well, may God forgive everyone his sins of course. But we cannot forget what has happened here. We cannot ignore what the implications of these days really are. And behind it all, yet to breathe a word directly about the Synod's deliberations, stands the Holy Father himself. Let us pray for him of course. Who, after all the fighting in the Synod, will pay for their actions? Who exactly has this Jesuit flushed out from their cover?

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A final thought from a friend about the word 'pastoral'. This is another mythical term now embedded in the discourse of the clergy and especially deployed during the Synod. Being a pastor of sheep has come to mean continual, soppy, Hallmark-like sentiments of gentle affectivity (to use a relatio word), or, if you are like Pope Francis, it also means smelling of the sheep (whatever that means? Does anyone yet know?). But if you are a pastor of sheep, you know that sheep are entirely capable of munching on their own faeces or of standing in their own piss and shit until they get foot rot and die of the infection.

So, are you allowed to tell them? Or must you pretend that foot rot, because it is not yet the complete loss of the foot, still contains seeds of footness which could be the basis for future development? Now, there's a thought.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Late addition to the circuli minores

In what appears to be a late concession to underrepresented episcopal conferences at the Synod, a final submission by an ad hoc committee of Galilean fishermen has been received. The Relator is a certain Bishop Simon Bar Jonah aka Cephas and it seems he has not got the message about those in imperfect situations or about appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.

The Sensible Bond humbly apologises for the "all or nothing" spirit of the following lines and is sure that none of this is the least bit relevant to synodal debates in our own day.


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[1] But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there shall be among you lying teachers, who shall bring in sects of perdition, and deny the Lord who bought them: bringing upon themselves swift destruction. [2] And many shall follow their riotousnesses, through whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. [3] And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you. Whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their perdition slumbereth not […]


[17] These are fountains without water, and clouds tossed with whirlwinds, to whom the mist of darkness is reserved. [18] For, speaking proud words of vanity, they allure by the desires of fleshly riotousness, those who for a little while escape, such as converse in error: [19] Promising them liberty, whereas they themselves are the slaves of corruption. For by whom a man is overcome, of the same also he is the slave. [20] For if, flying from the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they be again entangled in them and overcome: their latter state is become unto them worse than the former.

[21] For it had been better for them not to have known the way of justice, than after they have known it, to turn back from that holy commandment which was delivered to them. [22] For, that of the true proverb has happened to them: The dog is returned to his vomit: and, The sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

When is collegiality not collegiality? When your brother bishops won't agree with you!

I had intended to write about the myth machine tonight but I'm too amused by the latest interview of Cardinal Kasper with Zenit. He's less than pleased with all those African bishops who won't agree with his proposals and, let's face it, risk telling the Kasperites where to get off. But let me give you the Cardinal's own words. Speaking of the "topic" / "question" / "issues surrounding" homosexuality, he says:

I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general criteria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.


Well of course the African bishops shouldn't tell the rest of the Synod what to do, because

Zat is zee jop of zee Germans!

Don't you just love a liberal! If the Africans were supportive, he'd be all over them like a rash and singing about the joys of collegiality. Since they dissent from his line, he wants to invalidate their opinion on the basis that, well, how can I put this? Africans are too culture bound and primitive to understand anyone else's problems …

And there was I thinking liberal westerners were too culture bound to understand the universal moral law …!

Anyway, after all the tension of the week, just savour that for a minute:

[The Africans] should not tell us too much what we have to do.

And why is that? Well, as I say,

Because zat is zee jop of zee Germans!!!

Oh, go on, I'm afraid I cannot resist it…


Spes nostra

The rest of this week is likely to be a tense time for anyone concerned about where the Synod is going. If you think you've got it tough, think of the poor bishops and cardinals on the front line! Word reached us yesterday of a prayer appeal sent out by Cardinal Burke, asking for prayers in honour of the Holy Face.

Meanwhile, we do what we do. The purpose of this blog for quite some time has been to give comfort to the demoralised. I'll be back later with a post on the myth making that has already taken hold of some people.

Meanwhile, all we can do is pray, and when I say 'all we can do', I remind you that, according to my master Bernanos, 'In the end prayer is the only revolt that remains standing.'

God and Mary, spes nostra, guard us all.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

When a blister bursts (updated)

The already infamous relatio of the Synod on the Family has occasioned me something of a broken night. In the last 24 hours there has been a flood of written and spoken reaction. The press conference which answered questions from the media about the document was the scene of many bewildered inquiries and even more bewildering answers. This has not stopped some media sources cackling their contempt for the "[idolators] of clarity". Because, you know, clarity isn't everything …

Let me preface my remarks on the document by confessing that I am in no position to give advice on evangelisation to anyone. I am an evangelical failure really. My few sallies into active evangelisation have produced no discernible fruit and certainly none on which I could base a pretension of advising Holy Mother Church on how to go about getting her wayward children back. Still, as a Catholic, as a married man and as a father, this document engages me at the heart of my responsibilities. If that makes me bonkers to a man like Austen Ivereigh, then I am happy to rejoice in my nuttiness.

The relatio itself shows all the signs one would associate with a committee-written report drawn up in haste. This is one of its weaknesses that at least it has an excuse for. And, in spite of what I might say now, or what others have already said less than 24 hours after its publication, there are a couple of good paragraphs in it. Humanae Vitae seems to get a fairly clear passage, even if it is tucked in at the end. There is notably no hedging of bets about the consciences of the spouses in this matter of openness to life. Still, I did not quite have to get to the end before I found something of merit. Somewhere - and unfortunately, I didn't note down the paragraph - the document remarks on the family as the subject of evangelisation … or something of that ilk. Yes, I thought, bravo. That is undoubtedly true. Many people avoid church these days but they do not all avoid church-goers' houses. And where else might they encounter an example of Christ if not in our families?

Do I sound like I'm clutching at straws? Well, caritas urget nos. As an educator of young people, I'm accustomed to scraping the barrel in the search for something of merit…

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The trouble is of course that this document was not put together by a job lot of young people with not so much as two ideas to rub together. It was put together - feel free to give a hollow laugh - by leading theological and canonical experts, high-standing churchmen and people of that kind. And yet it is car-crash of a document, as hamfistedly inept as it is unwittingly perverse. It hardly knows whom it is addressing and hops from one agenda to another like… well, like a monsignor dodging the paparazzi in a Roman queer club.

Let us start with the problem of whom exactly it is talking about. Its initial intention is "to reflect upon the situation of the family" (3) and it lists all the problems that it supposes families face, such as economic precarity or heavy taxation (6). This is all fine as far as it goes, but by the end of the document we have the impression that the real difficulties of the family consist in the problems of civil marriage, cohabitation, remarriage and homosexual unions. The document leads us to expect a more general discussion - and help perhaps for ordinary pew-sitters like you and me - and then zooms in on the hard cases. I note that the head of the Polish Bishops Conference has made a similar point. The document wants to reflect on the difficulties of families. What it does in fact is to hover around a range of flash points that cause some controversy among liberal elites, before finally tossing a meagre fillip to pro-life sensibilities.

More serious in my view are what I see as the fundamental assumptions in the text. Nowhere, for example, is suffering mentioned in the context of the cross. All suffering, it would seem, is to be squeezed out of the frame. I'm not advocating some kind of dolorist Catholicism here. I'm merely reflecting on the fact that nowhere does the document offer the cross as a solution to these dilemmas of the family. The dilemma of the family - by which is meant the problems of cohabitees, the remarried and gays - are to be solved with emollient language and pastoral innovation. We are all apparently on the road to perfection, some of us are simply in a lower gear and sin is a technical problem to solve. The document talks about curing rather than condemning (25), but then goes on to insist on praising the illnesses it wants to cure.

This brings me to the document's second assumption which is the suppression of the 'obex'. I have written about this before in the context of interreligious dialogue. The document wants us to believe that in speaking positively about irregular situations - and in refusing always to speak negatively - there are no consequences. I call this an assumption but it is close to explicit in the thinking of the document's authors. It is as if sin is not an impediment! The only impediment appears to be ignorance - but even that must not be challenged too directly. The most egregious consequence of this thinking appears in section 42 when the document mentions helping the children of divorced couples to "get over" the trauma of family break up. The authors of this document have become so "realist" that the have no moral outrage on behalf of such children; and because they are resolved never to point out anybody's faults, they join in the pretence that we can all just get over divorce. So much for realism! Most families never 'get over' divorce and its consequences last for decades. God help me, am I wrong in thinking only dedicated Guardian readers could write such insouciant tripe?

I have not yet got onto the most egregious parts of this document - you know what they are! - but already my lip curls with contempt for its moral bankruptcy, its dandyish theologising and the vacant lessons it tries to draw. What, for example, does it hope to achieve by the following sentence? With reference to cohabitation and civil marriage, it states:

It is necessary that in the ecclesial proposal, while clearly presenting the ideal, we also indicate the constructive elements in those situations that do not yet or no longer correspond to that ideal. (36)

The ideal? Did Jesus come to bring an ideal, did he? Something of an idealist, was he? Who on God's earth calls the divine law "an ideal"?

And then we are confronted with the document's view of the problems of the family. Economic factors, social and cultural pressures? Yes, these are all difficulties. But nowhere do I find sin mentioned as the crux of the majority of the problems within the family. In fact sin is only mentioned three times in the document (and since Christ came to save us from sin, what does that say about Christ?). Compare that to the word "experience" which is mentioned twelve times! But then it is clear that we are starting with a methodology that is intent on seeing sin "out there" in structures, social patterns and cultural paradigms ... rather than in the heart of man.

I suppose I should be grateful that the document - unlike Pope Francis - at least does not resort to lampooning alternatives to its proposals, although it does at one stage refer to a "logic of all or nothing" (4). But this is a small mercy. The abiding impression the document leaves me with is simply the pollyannaish assurance that as long as the Church says nothing negative, all will be well.

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Even Jimmy Akin - a man who would defend the ultramontane thesis that all papal farts smell of roses - has said that the relatio's account of gradualness does not correspond to how JPII defined the term (see Paragraph 10 of his article). Even Jimmy Akin, a man who has defended the very worst of Pope Francis's dalliances … yes, even Jimmy sees a stinking big hole in the middle of this document.

When I read the first accounts of this document yesterday, I said to my wife: "This is going to cause a massive row." It is surely raging now behind the scenes. No half decent bishop will want to do anything but rip this document to shreds and start again. He may of course be forced to dialogue with it … O, the heavy charge of the apostles!

But in a way, I'm glad about this. It has the satisfaction of burst blister about it. This kind of thinking - wrank, morally stunted, theologically empty, pretentiously self satisfied - goes high up in the Church. And now, at the Synod, it has had the temerity, not to say the folly, of appearing stark-bollock naked (as we say in the UK) on a balcony in view of the whole world. And, not to put too fine a point on it, there are anatomical privations of the most desperate kind.

Need I say anything here about sections 50-52? I didn't think so.

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God forgive me for any word of injustice I speak here. But really! But really! Please, God, deliver us from this ungodly generation of mitred social scientists. And give us pastors! Yes, pastors who don't mind smelling of sheep, but pastors - God help us - who are not afraid of the sheep dip either!


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UPDATE: The following report has just come to my attention:

Cardinal Burke responded late yesterday to questions from Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, about his concerns, his view of the mid-term report, and why he thinks a statement from Pope Francis is "long overdue".

CWR: In what way is information about what is happening in the Synod being either manipulated or only partially reported and made public?

Cardinal Burke: The interventions of the individual Synod Fathers are not made available to the public, as has been the case in the past. All of the information regarding the Synod is controlled by the General Secretariat of the Synod which clearly has favored from the beginning the positions expressed in the Relatio post disceptationem of yesterday morning.

While the individual interventions of the Synod Fathers are not published, yesterday’s Relatio, which is merely a discussion document, was published immediately and, I am told, even broadcast live. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to see the approach at work, which is certainly not of the Church.

CWR: How is that reflected in the Synod's midterm document, released yesterday, which is being criticised by many for its appeal to a so-called "law of graduality”?

Cardinal Burke: While the document in question (Relatio post disceptationem) purports to report only the discussion which took place among the Synod Fathers, it, in fact, advances positions which many Synod Fathers do not accept and, I would say, as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept. Clearly, the response to the document in the discussion which immediately followed its presentation manifested that a great number of the Synod Fathers found it objectionable.

The document lacks a solid foundation in the Sacred Scriptures and the Magisterium. In a matter on which the Church has a very rich and clear teaching, it gives the impression of inventing a totally new, what one Synod Father called “revolutionary”, teaching on marriage and the family. It invokes repeatedly and in a confused manner principles which are not defined, for example, the law of graduality.

CWR: How important is it, do you think, that Pope Francis make a statement soon in order to address the growing sense—among many in the media and in the pews—that the Church is on the cusp of changing her teaching on various essential points regarding marriage, “remarriage,” reception of Communion, and even the place of “unions” among homosexuals?

Cardinal Burke: In my judgment, such a statement is long overdue. The debate on these questions has been going forward now for almost nine months, especially in the secular media but also through the speeches and interviews of Cardinal Walter Kasper and others who support his position.

The faithful and their good shepherds are looking to the Vicar of Christ for the confirmation of the Catholic faith and practice regarding marriage which is the first cell of the life of the Church.