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Malaysian bishop joins ‘Pastoral Appeal’ on Communion and moral teaching

The statement says that to receive Communion, Catholics need 'contrition for their sins, including a resolve to avoid all sin' (Getty)

A retired Malaysian bishop has joined an appeal on behalf of traditional teaching about morality and the sacraments.

Bishop Emeritus Anthony Lee Kok Hin, who retired from the diocese of Miri in 2013, endorsed the Pastoral Appeal, which has been signed by 250 priests in 39 countries since it was launched on May 2.

In their latest statement, the organisers say that the statement has been “mistakenly cast” as a “veiled criticism” of Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia.

Nevertheless, the statement, which asks bishops to publicly reaffirm Church teaching and condemn errors, refers indirectly to controversies which have followed Amoris.

For instance, the pope’s document is ambiguous on the subject of whether the divorced and remarried, if in an ongoing sexual relationship, may receive Holy Communion. This has led to conflicting interpretations from different bishops.

The Pastoral Appeal effectively sides with the Church’s traditional teaching, affirmed several times by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, that receiving the Eucharist is only possible if a remarried person resolves not to have sex with their new partner.

The Appeal justifies this by saying: “To receive Holy Communion, Christians who recognise that they are guilty of mortal sin must have true contrition for their sins, including a resolve to avoid all sin in the future.”

Bishop Lee told the organisers of the appeal: “God bless you for providing me this opportunity to join you in upholding the principles of pastoral ministry as found in the Gospels.”

The bishop is one of the first Southeast Asian prelates to publicly comment, even indirectly, on the recent conflicts around the Church’s sacramental teaching – debates which have been most vociferously conducted in Europe and North America, and to some extent in South America.

As Bishop of Miri, Lee emphasised life issues, founding the Human Life Service in Miri. Bishop Lee wrote to all the doctors in Miri, Catholic or non-Catholic, asking them to refer women in crisis pregnancies to the HLS.

The Pastoral Appeal also asks bishops to condemn a “mistaken approach” which “denies that certain behaviours are always evil and claims that in some circumstances those behaviours are the most realistic good that can be achieved or, indeed, are simply good”.

In response, the priests say that “fidelity to Christ and his teachings is realistic and achievable, not an abstract ideal needing to be adjusted to circumstances of life”.

129 signatories, around half the total, are based in the United States. 13 are from Canada, 12 from Poland, 10 from Spain, nine from the UK, eight from Italy and six from both Germany and Norway. Some countries, such as Somalia, South Korea, Latvia and El Salvador, are represented by a single priest.

Fr Simon Heans, a priest at the Shrine of St Augustine in Ramsgate, told the Catholic Herald: “I signed because the document reiterates the basics of Catholic teaching about sin and grace.” He said its most important message was “the availability of grace through the sacraments to enable us to live in accord with immemorial Church teaching”.

Fr Heans said: “We have to ‘remain in the truth of Christ’ and these ten principles are an excellent statement of the truth. I am realistic and know that it will not change anyone’s mind. But we have to stand up and be counted.”

The statement has also been endorsed by Cardinal Raymond Burke, who said he hoped the priests’ appeal would “inspire their bishops to dispel the confusion of the present time in the Church and thus to begin to heal the division regarding the Catholic faith and its practice”.

This article has been amended. It originally said that the Appeal was launched last month.