ROME, January 13, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The official Vatican newspaper has published new guidelines from Malta’s bishops that open that door for divorced and “remarried” Catholics “who are peace with God” to receive the Sacraments – a move that the Associated Press speculated could be intended to signal Pope Francis' support for the guidelines.
The bishops in the Archdiocese of Malta and the Diocese of Gozo issued guidelines on Friday permitting access to the Eucharist for Catholics living in objective sin who “with an informed and enlightened conscience … acknowledge and believe that he or she are at peace with God.”
The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, published the guidelines in full in its January 14 edition. The guidelines are some of the most liberal interpretation of the pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL) to date.
In addition to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics in their dioceses to receive Communion if they are “at peace with God,” the Maltese bishops said it might be “humanly impossible” for Catholics to abstain from marital relations when civilly remarried. In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paul II had said that “remarried” Catholics who wish to receive the Sacraments but who cannot separate for serious reasons could live together as “brother and sister” – i.e. without engaging in sexual relations.
Since its April release, Pope Francis’ controversial exhortation has divided Catholics in the clergy and the pews via the ambiguity in several passages that tacitly create access to Holy Communion for Catholics living in objective sin.
Bishops in different parts of the world have opted to interpret and implement AL in varying ways that has created confusion. Some say giving Communion to Catholics in adulterous or other “irregular” unions is “pastoral” and a way of accompanying” them. At the same time, others recognize that Church teaching is timeless and unchangeable.
The apparent leveling of Church principles regarding marriage and the Eucharist resulting from the ambiguity in AL prompted the dubia from the four cardinals, Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller, Carlo Caffarra and Joachim Meisner. It submitted in November to Pope Francis for clarification on Amoris Laetitia.
At least two Maltese bishops have communicated support for the liberal and dissident implementation of AL by their Twitter posts.
Bishop Mario Grech retweeted papal confidant and “mouthpiece” Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro’s scornful take on the criticism of AL in the December 4 edition of CRUX, as well as Italian theologian Rocco Buttigione’s sympathetic stance on the document.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna has retweeted Father Spadaro as well, along with the dissenting National Catholic Reporter article, and other reports that are critical of the dubia.
The Maltese bishops also seem to presume some single, divorced, and same-sex attracted Catholics are incapable of abstaining from sex, stating in their new guidelines regarding conjugal continence that some couples may be able to do this, but “On the other hand, there are complex situations where the choice of living 'as brothers and sisters' becomes humanly impossible and give rise to greater harm (see AL, note 329).”
As Catholics worldwide still await a response from Pope Francis on the dubia, the Maltese bishops have instructed their parishes to read a letter this weekend at Sunday Mass detailing their new guidelines on interpreting Amoris Laetitia.