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Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna and Bishop Mario

January 17, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Sharp criticism came swiftly after last Friday’s release of the Maltese guidelines giving the most liberal approval for Communion to date from a bishops’ conference in response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

The Maltese bishops’ “Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia” was called a disaster, a lowering of the bar, and the sinking of a ship.

Parishes in the Archdiocese of Malta and the Diocese of Gozo were directed to introduce the guidelines at Sunday Mass this past weekend.

The Maltese bishops say in their guidelines, among other things, that it might be “humanly impossible” to observe Church teaching that Catholics must live chastely while civilly remarried, and a Catholic living in an objectively sinful situation may receive Communion if they manage(s), with an informed and enlightened conscience, to acknowledge and believe that he or she are at peace with God.”

The guidelines “can only be called disastrous,” Canon law expert Ed Peters said.

He said the Maltese bishops’ document as written compels Church ministers to comply with inappropriate reception of the Eucharist and take part in sacrilege.

Other liberal interpretations, while allowing for abuse, still left room for orthodox interpretation, Peters said. However, “the Maltese bishops in their document come straight out and say it: Holy Communion is for any Catholic who feels ‘at peace with God’ and the Church’s ministers may not say No to such requests.”

“In my view, the Maltese bishops have effectively invited the Catholics entrusted to them (lay faithful and clergy alike) to commit a number of objectively gravely evil acts,” Peters stated.

He also said the document, which was published in L’Osservatore Romano the same day, removes “plausible deniability” for Vatican representatives to say the Maltese bishops went even further in their guidelines than Amoris Laetitia (AL). 

The problems start but don’t end with a false canonical and ecclesiological view of Canons 915 and 916, improper understanding of what “conjugal” means, and inappropriate involvement of the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Baptism, and Confirmation in the Maltese bishops’ application of AL, Peters wrote.

In part, the guidelines mean a minister may be compelled to give Communion to anyone who feels they are “at peace” with God, and those living in objective sin may be allowed to be godparents, the latter in conflict with Canon Law.

“There are other serious problems with the Maltese document, but the above should suffice to show why it is, quite simply, a disaster,” Peters said.

He wrote further that the bishops of Malta “have done grave violence to the unbroken and unanimous ecclesiastical tradition barring such Catholics from reception of holy Communion without — and let me stress this, without — doing violence to the actual text of Francis’ Amoris Laetitia,” Peters wrote. “That, folks, is the central problem.” editor Phil Lawler expressed his feelings in a headline on an op-ed piece, saying the Maltese bishops’ guidelines “lowered the bar.”

To effectively demonstrate his point, Lawler plugged in various categories of sinners to that day’s Catholic Culture news headline, “Bishops of Malta: divorced/remarried should receive Communion if ‘at peace with God.’” He posited the examples of those who can now approach the Eucharist as long as they are “at peace,” including Wall Street embezzlers, mafia hitmen, pedophiles, and IRA terrorists.

The Maltese bishops’ guidelines exemplify the latitude intended by the Kasper proposal to allow individual conscience to solely dictate whether those living in objectively sinful unions should be allowed access to Communion. Lawler wrote that the Maltese bishops had “taken a commanding early lead in the rigorous-discernment-process (RDP) race.”

“Is there a term for the branch of theology that seeks to define the absolute minimum that is required for getting into heaven?” he asked, harkening back to the other recurrent and contentious Synod term of “accompaniment.” “If you stop and think about it, it’s hard to ‘accompany’ someone through a narrow gate.”

In his Mutual Enrichment blog, English scholar Father John Hunwicke addressed how the Maltese bishops’ guidelines were an example of how AL could be exploited to circumvent Catholic doctrine while giving the surface impression of preserving it.

The Maltese bishops had, he wrote, “just spectacularly confirmed the suspicion that led (him) to write” in December “that that the more heterodox members of the episcopate, in their need to force an extreme hermeneutic onto the grey areas of Amoris Laetitia, would have to rely exclusively upon the footnotes.”

The confusion surrounding interpretation of Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia “escalated with the release of the directive of two bishops in Malta,” American Papist author Thomas Peters wrote.

In his aptly titled Catholic Vote post, “Break Your Silence: Speak About Amoris Laetitia!” Peters broke from his long hiatus from blogging, saying the confusion from AL was too important to stay silent. He also begged under-40 Catholics to speak up.

The fact there is deep and widespread disagreement on what the teaching of AL is “represents a real and present crisis,” he said, “because the truth matters, and only the truth will set us free.”

The debate over AL is “if not the most important, at the very least, the most contentious theological dispute of the past half-century,” Peters said.

Peters quoted comments over the weekend in CRUX made by Italian Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, one of the four cardinals to sign the dubia submitted to Pope Francis. “Only a blind man could deny there’s great confusion, uncertainty and insecurity in the Churchl,” Cardinal Caffarra stated.

“How can we be obedient if we don’t know what the teaching is?” Peters said to underscore a point made by the cardinal. “That’s why we have to keep asking the pope to clarify what he means, and in the meantime share our own opinion about AL in whatever mediums are available to us.”

The Maltese bishops are essentially saying with their guidelines that anyone in an irregular union who feels 'at peace with God' should not be excluded from Holy Communion or from sacramental absolution, wrote Joseph Shaw at the LMS Chairman.

“The Magisterium of nods and winks is becoming more emphatic,” Shaw said, detailing examples of real-life fallout, “and the crisis deepens, with more and more bishops, priests, and laity being thrown into the position of either going with the flow and participating in sacrilege, or resisting and becoming the target of not only the heavies in Rome but many of their own colleagues, superiors, and inferiors.”

Shaw further explained how Malta’s AL guidelines constituted the next calamitous phase of division in the Catholic Church.

“This crisis is truly separating the men from the boys in the Church,” he stated. “We can either side with Christ, and his difficult, demanding, but also beautiful words on marriage and divorce, or side with the Pharisees and their modern-day successors, who search out specious casuistical exceptions to the rule until the rule is no more, who nullify God's will by the traditions of men.”