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Malta’s bishops tell the remarried: take Communion if you feel at peace with God

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta (CNS)

Malta’s bishops have said that remarried people should receive Communion if they think they are at peace with God.

In a new document, Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia, the bishops say that if “a separated or divorced person who is living in a new relationship manages, with an informed and enlightened conscience, to acknowledge and believe that he or she are [sic] at peace with God, he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist”.

St John Paul II and Benedict XVI reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching that divorced and remarried Catholics cannot receive Communion, except possibly when they endeavour to live “as brother and sister”.

However, the Maltese bishops say that avoiding sex with a new partner may be “impossible”.

The new document, which has been published by the Vatican newspaper, underlines divisions among the world’s bishops over the Church’s traditional teaching, in the wake of Amoris Laetitia. The bishops of Poland and Costa Rica, several North American bishops, and others, have reiterated the traditional teaching, while others have diverged from it.

In November, the diocese of San Diego said that remarried Catholics may “conclude that God is calling them to return to full participation in the life of the Church and the Eucharist.”

Earlier this week Cardinal Raymond Burke said that, if the San Diego interpretation were to become universal, “then the Church’s teaching on marriage is finished.”

The Maltese bishops claim that Amoris Laetitia encourages a new practice because of footnote 351. This, in reference to the integration of people in “irregular situations”, states: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.”

Although Pope Francis has said he cannot remember this footnote, it has provoked much debate. Some have argued that it merely reaffirms John Paul’s teaching in Familiaris Consortio: “Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage.

“This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.’”

However, the Maltese bishops say that couples should instead “examine the possibility of conjugal continence”. The bishops refer to “complex situations where the choice of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ becomes humanly impossible”.

The Council of Trent states that it is always possible to keep the moral law: It teaches: “God does not command impossibilities, but by commanding admonishes thee to do what thou canst and to pray for what thou canst not, and aids thee that thou mayest be able.” It also states: “If anyone says that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to observe, let him be anathema.”

The Maltese document is signed by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, a former Vatican official and onetime doctoral student of Cardinal Burke, and Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo.

Four cardinals, including Cardinal Burke, have asked Pope Francis to clarify that Amoris Laetitia does not encourage divergence from the Church’s traditional teaching. One, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, has said: “Whoever thinks that persistent adultery and the reception of Holy Communion are compatible is a heretic and promotes schism.”