St. Hildegard’s Cryptic Message to Clerics Who “Neglect the Precepts they Were Meant to Uphold”

Cardinal Walter Kasper

In light of the upcoming final session of the Synod of the Family, with the “shadow synod” lurking in the background: closed-door meetings and behind-the-scenes strategy sessions to ensure success in their determination to overturn Church teaching on communion for the divorced and remarried. What came to my mind was a particular vision of St. Hildegard’s as recalled by Pope Benedict XVI, which in turn brought to mind a scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.


The focal point of Benedict’s Christmas speech were the revelations of a new series of sex abuse accusations against priests which had surfaced throughout Europe during the year. Recall that 2010 was the “Year of the Priest”; Benedict laments the unexpected irony:

“…[W]hen in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred, profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.”

The Holy Father then recalled a particular vision of St.Hildegard which he found in a letter she wrote in 1170:

“I had been lying on my sick-bed for a long time when, fully conscious in body and in mind, I had a vision of a woman of such beauty that the human mind is unable to comprehend.  …But her face was stained with dust, her robe was ripped down the right side, her cloak had lost its sheen of beauty and her shoes had been blackened. And she herself, in a voice loud with sorrow, was calling to the heights of heaven, saying, ‘Hear, heaven, how my face is sullied; mourn, earth, that my robe is torn; tremble, abyss, because my shoes are blackened!'”

“‘…For my Bridegroom’s [Christ’s] wounds remain fresh and open as long as the wounds of men’s sins continue to gape. And Christ’s wounds remain open because of the sins of priests. They tear my robe, since they are violators of the Law, the Gospel, and their own priesthood; they darken my cloak by neglecting, in every way, the precepts which they are meant to uphold; my shoes too are blackened, since priests do not keep to the straight paths of justice, which are hard and rugged, or set good examples to those beneath them.” (Letter to Werner von Kirchheim and his Priestly Community: PL 197, 269ff.).

What God, through Hildegard, wanted Werner von Kirchheim to understand, and through Benedict, the Curia to understand, was that when priests are neglecting “the precepts which they are meant to uphold”, and are “violators of the law, the Gospel, and their own priesthood”, it is as though they are physically attacking not only the Bride of Christ, but Christ Himself (“Christ’s wounds remain open because of the sins of priests”), who is their sovereign Lord and King. The gravity of the sinful actions are infinitely more severe and the spiritual devastation far-reaching: they’re essentially taking up arms against the Bride of Christ, who calls out for help to the “heights of heaven”.


On May 25, 2015 a confidential meeting took place in Rome which, according to National Catholic Register, had as its goal “… the aim of urging ‘pastoral innovations’ at the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family in October.” The article continued:

“One of the key topics discussed at the closed-door meeting was how the Church could better welcome those in stable same-sex unions, and reportedly ‘no one’ opposed such unions being recognized as valid by the Church.”

The meeting was arranged by German Cardinal Marx and included eight bishops.

There’s an upcoming conference in Rome on September 10-11 sponsored by INTAMS (International Academy for Marital Spirituality), keynote speaker: Cardinal Maradiaga. The theme of the conference is finding new perspectives on “… the relation between doctrine and pastoral practice, the sense of the faithful, an ethics of mercy, and indissolubility int he context of a contemporary theology of marriage.” Digging around their website, past articles from their journal can be read that reveal the top-notch sophistry that will be on display at the synod.

I’m highly suspicious that communion for the divorced and remarried is not the true raison d’etre for the Synod. How often does it even happen that a priest would deny communion to someone who’s divorced and remarried, cohabitating, or a homosexual? (I can think of one instance, and the priest was exiled to Russia). The effort to establish a pastoral excuse to circumvent the teaching of the Church that’s already being pastorally circumvented doesn’t strike me as worth this extraordinary effort. Last year  Pope Francis casually phoned a divorced and remarried couple in Buenos Aires who had written him complaining that they were denied communion by their priest. What did he tell the couple? “Find another church.” But hasn’t this been the informal protocol for a long time?

I’m convinced that this is an attempt to do something more fundamental: undermine the Church’s authority to declare specific moral acts as intrinsically evil. Informally, this is already reflected in many practices like the one mentioned in the previous paragraph, a notion that gradually invaded Catholic theology ever since the publication of Humanae Vitae, which was, for the most part, rejected by a majority of clerics in the West. The re-affirming of the Church’s ban on artificial birth control was too much. The Bishops didn’t want to go back to their dioceses and relate the bad news, so left it to be ultimately decided by one’s own conscience.


Pope St. John Paul II exposed this fallacious reinterpretation of Church tradition in his 1993 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor:

“Thus the traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected; certain of the Church’s moral teachings are found simply unacceptable; and the Magisterium itself is considered capable of intervening in matters of morality only in order to “exhort consciences” and to “propose values”, in the light of which each individual will independently make his or her decisions and life choices.”

He poses the question,

“…[D]o the commandments of God, which are written on the human heart and are part of the Covenant, really have the capacity to clarify the daily decisions of individuals and entire societies? Is it possible to obey God and thus love God and neighbour, without respecting these commandments in all circumstances? Also, an opinion is frequently heard which questions the intrinsic and unbreakable bond between faith and morality, as if membership in the Church and her internal unity were to be decided on the basis of faith alone, while in the sphere of morality a pluralism of opinions and of kinds of behaviour could be tolerated, these being left to the judgment of the individual subjective conscience or to the diversity of social and cultural contexts.”

We should understand that this is not the pontificate of John Paul II, or of Benedict XVI, both of which kept the invasion at bay. The opportunity to validate the informal practice of giving communion to  those divorced and remarried, and whoever else, with the authority of an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has arrived under the current pontificate. The real purpose, in my view, is to cripple the Church’s authority, and hence Her ability to teach eternal truth, a very grave objective.


macbeth1With the hour approaching to commence Macbeth’s plan to usurp the throne by impaling his sovereign Lord and King with a dagger, the Thane of Cawdor has second thoughts. He tells Lady Macbeth, ” We will proceed no further in this business, He hath honored me of late.” She responds by questioning his manhood, contrasting his weakness to her own steadfast resolve:

Lady Macbeth:
I have given suck and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me
I would, while it was smiling in my face
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains out had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.
If we should fail?
Lady Macbeth:
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
and we’ll not fail.

I don’t think Cardinal Kasper and his supporters will have second thoughts. Their resolve bears more resemblance to that of Lady Macbeth’s, and their courage seems tightly screwed to the “sticking place”.



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