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Bishops’ guidelines on divorced Catholics stir ire of conservatives, but support elsewhere

Guidelines issued for priests to understand Amoris Laetitia

Updated 7.38pm with statement (bottom) by LGBTIQ support group

The bishops have stirred the ire of conservatives within the Church for their guidelines dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics, but they have won praise from a LGBTIQ support group.

The guidelines were released last Friday to enable priests to understand Pope Francis’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which provides an opening for Catholics in family relationships deemed irregular by the Church.

But according to American Canon law expert Edward Peters, holder of the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, the bishops concocted a “Maltese disaster”.

Sharing the view of the four conservative cardinals who have taken the Pope to task over the confusion they claim Amoris Laetitia causes, Dr Peters said the Maltese bishops went beyond what the it permitted and accused them of inviting Catholics to commit “a number of gravely evil acts”.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna refuted the criticism, insisting Bishop Mario Grech and himself had decided not to engage with individual bloggers on the matter.

“I invite people to refer to the document, because the guidelines quote extensively from Amoris Laetitia and make constant reference to a discernment process that has to take place,” he said yesterday, noting the document urged priests to avoid the extremes of rigidity and laissez-faire.

“I am saddened by the reaction from certain quarters and invite 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,” Mgr Scicluna said.

I am saddened by the reaction from certain quarters and invite priests who have concerns to come forward and discuss them directly with us

In two posts on his blog, Dr Peters said the Maltese guidelines highlighted the lack of clarity in some passages of Amoris Laetitia, particularly chapter eight, dealing with irregular family arrangements. “Precisely because key passages of Amoris are also flexible enough to allow bishops to do as the Maltese have done… all this, without doing violence to the actual text of Amoris, one cannot but agree with Cardinal Caffarra and others that this hitherto unimaginable sacramental disunity is rooted directly in Amoris Laetitia.”

Cardinals Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller, Carlo Caffarra and Joachim Meisner wrote to Pope Francis last September seeking clarification on aspects of the exhortation. Their doubts, known by their Latin name, dubia, were ignored by the Pope.

The snub from the Pope has been interpreted by many in the Church as a sign that he wants the debate with the cardinals closed. No one can force the Pope’s hand on the matter.

Amoris Laetitia was released in April last year by Pope Francis after two synods on the family in 2014 and 2015, which brought together bishops and church leaders from around the world to the Vatican.

The exhortation emphasised the individual’s conscience as formed through a process of reflection in deciding whether divorced Catholics who remarry in civil ceremonies and others who cohabit could receive Holy Communion. The Pope’s stand was welcomed by liberals in the Church, since it offered divorced Catholics hope. But it also raised the ire of conservatives, who wanted pastoral clarity through a blanket ban.

The new Maltese guidelines, which deal specifically with chapter eight, spell out the exhortation’s emphasis on mercy and the fact that every case is meant to be treated on its own merits.

The guidelines say that divorced and remarried Cath-olics can receive Holy Communion and act as godparents if they feel at peace with God after a process of reflection.

Archbishop Scicluna said that the main concern from the bishops had arisen from the effort not to add anything to Pope Francis’s exhortation, which is why the guidelines quoted extensively from Amoris Laetitia.

“What we did was put the arguments in order so that they could be followed logically, making it easier for priests to understand what the papal exhortation was asking of them,” he said.

A pastoral letter from the bishops outlining the guidelines was read out in parishes over the weekend.

LGBTIQ support group warmly welcomes bishops' statement

In a statement this evening, Drachma, a support group for LGBTIQ persons and for parents with LGBTIQ children, thanked the Maltese Bishops for the guidelines.

“In issuing these guidelines, the Maltese Bishops have shown admirable pastoral care. While building on the results of the Synod on the Family and on the teachings of Pope Francis, in continuity with the teachings of preceding popes, the language used by the Maltese Bishops as well as the way in which such complex situations are addressed feel fresh and new, and they truly show that the Church is a Mother who teaches and loves all her children, whoever and wherever they may be,” the group said.

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