ROME— A Maltese bishop, one of two who recently released guidelines for implementation of Pope Francis’s document Amoris Laetitia, has denied reports that he’s threatened to suspend any priest who refuses to give Communion to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
The Catholic diocese of Gozo went on its Facebook page Friday in an effort to halt the dissemination of false reports from both English and German websites claiming Bishop Mario Grech had made that threat.
Earlier this month, the two bishops of Malta released pastoral guidelines for Amoris Laetitia. Those guidelines were broadly favorable to the cautious opening to Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried contained in the papal text, as opposed to other bishops in different parts of the world who have taken a more restrictive approach.
“What is being stated by certain sections of the (international) media with reference to Bishop Mario Grech, namely that he ‘threatens priests will be suspended a divinis for refusing Communion to divorced/remarried’, is absolutely false,” said a statement published on the diocesan Facebook.
The short statement was published in Maltese, English and Italian. A suspension a divinis means the priest is not allowed to perform any sacraments, such as celebrating Mass, hearing confessions and granting absolution.
The Maltese “Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of ‘Amoris Laetitia’” were signed on January 8 by Grech and Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta. Released on Jan. 13 on the diocesan website, the guidelines were also published in full by the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
After the wide reaction — both positive and negative — the guidelines generated, Scicluna told The Times of Malta that he was “saddened by the reaction from certain quarters and invite(s) priests who may have concerns to come forward and discuss them directly with us [the bishops] because we want to be a service to our people.”
The guidelines are largely composed of quotes from Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation on the family, which was published early on in 2016 at the closure of an almost three-year consultation on the family, which included two synods of bishops held in Rome in October 2014 and 2015.
However, critics argue that some passages that aren’t direct quotations of Amoris Laetitia take Francis’s call to be welcoming towards Catholics who’ve entered a second union further than the pope himself may have intended it to go.
Chapter eight of Amoris Laetitia speaks about a personal path of accompaniment, with priests addressing each situation in a discerned, case-by-case manner. That path, Francis wrote in footnote 351, “can include the help of the sacraments.”
“If, as a result of the process of discernment,” the Maltese bishops wrote, “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 is at peace with God, he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.”
Meaning, if a person, in good conscience, believes that he or she is entitled to Communion, priests in Malta can’t exclude them from accessing the sacrament.
Edward Peters, a noted American canon lawyer, said that the Malta guidelines “have done grave violence to the unbroken and unanimous ecclesiastical tradition barring such Catholics from reception of holy Communion,” though Peters also said they’re not necessarily at odds with what he called the “ambiguous” language of Amoris Laetitia.