Monday, January 16, 2017

Malta sinks

'Weep not for me, but for yourselves
and for your children.'
In World War II, Malta was described as the 'unsinkable aircraft carrier'. Well, it has sunk now. The Bishops  of Malta (both of them) have stated that anyone in an irregular union who feels 'at peace with God' should not be excluded from Holy Communion or from Sacramental Absolution: at least, that's what they seem to say. Readers can judge for themselves.

If, as a result of the process of discernment, undertaken with “humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it” (AL 300), 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 at peace with God, he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (see AL, notes 336 and 351).


there are complex situations where the choice of living “as brothers and sisters” becomes humanly impossible and give rise to greater harm (see AL, note 329).

I wonder what would happen of a priest decided that an adulterer had not undertaken a process of discernment with the requisite humility? If he'd had humility, but not 'love for the Church'? Or maybe that his 'search for God's will' was not, as required, 'sincere'? Would Archbishop Scicluna congratulate such a priest for his pastoral sensitivity?

If such a scene appears implausible, then we must admit that what the bishops are saying is simply: give absolution and Holy Communion to anyone who asks. Will we have a new Rite of Confession which makes the Act of Contrition optional? Or maybe a new Act of Contrition that leaves out the Contrition? It might look like this:

'O my God, because thou art so good, I am not at all sorry that I have offended thee, and with the help of thy grace I will offend thee again and again.'

To which the priest will respond:

'Go in peace, even though God has not put away your sins.'

Because, remember, this is not about people ignorant of the law, or about people whose actions are no longer moral actions at all because of an intolerable pressure which has destroyed their agency - not at all! - these are well-informed Catholics capable of sincere 'discernment' who are in happy second civil marriages which are sustaining loving homes for the children of these unions.

The only thing worse than the content of this document is the fact that it was published in the Vatican's official newspaper, L' Osservatore Romano.

The people telling the Four Cardinals that their dubia have already been answered now have another document to point to. But of course this is not an act of the Papal Magisterium, and in any case what we need to hear is how we are supposed to square this with things like the Council of Trent's infallible teaching that it is not impossible to obey God's law when in a state of grace. Austen Ivereigh and the others need to tell us, and the wretched clergy of Malta, why respect for the Magisterium places an ambiguous footnote in an Apostolic Exhortation, as interpreted by a couple of bishops, over a solemn anathema of a General Council.

The Magisterium of nods and winks is becoming more emphatic, 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.

But to cheer us up, there is a very interesting and helpful interview with Cardinal Caffara to read, and canonist Edward Peters brilliantly summarises the fundamental confusions and incoherences of the Maltese statement. The Catholic Herald report on the Maltese document, by Dan Hitchens, says everything I would want it to say.

This crisis is truly separating the men from the boys in the Church. 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.

Once you start noticing how people sometimes accuse their opponents of the specific faults which they fear they have themselves, you start seeing it everywhere...

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  1. The onus now passes to the priests of Malta. They must resist their now-excommunicated bishops and refuse to follow them out of the Church and into heresy.

  2. Last summer I went to confession in Loreto. The priest said to me at the appropriate point "I do not know what you do in your country but you could make a act of contrition now". Evidently he thought it was optional!

  3. Something I'd like to know is what the plan is for priests who cannot in conscience knowingly desecrate Holy Communion or the sacrament of confession... or marriage, for that matter. What's the "pastoral plan" for them?

    Now that I think of it ,of course we are going very soon to simply abolish that whole procedure by which we determine whether a couple can marry at all. Second marriage? No problem! Marrying your sister? Who are we to judge?

    1. Exactly. Because, in the eyes of the Pope, conscience trumps all, we'll soon discover that we have no conscience. What the bishops of Malta did is nothing else but recognizing the deepest intention of "Amoris Laetitia", which is that in sexual matters now anything which is permitted in the secular world is also permitted in the Catholic Church. This document signals the end of traditional Christian morality.

    2. Precisely. Cardinal Caffara has raised this point based on pleas from priests he is acquainted with.

  4. Wasn't abp. Scicluna the Benedict's XVI hit-man to combat child abuse by clergy? Then one should expect him to be an expert in moral theology and canon law. How could he subscribe something like this?

  5. Conscience trumps church: isn't that protestantism in a nutshell?

    1. Actually it's also Gaudium et Spes in a nutshell.

  6. these are well-informed Catholics capable of sincere 'discernment' who are in happy second civil marriages which are sustaining loving homes for the children of these unions.

    As a broadly sympathetic reader, I found myself unexpectedly slamming on the mental brakes here.

    Do you believe it is possible to become happy by sinning? Conversely, if you accept that such people can be happy, do you believe the Church should be working to convince them of their duty to make themselves (and very likely their children too) less happy?

    Please be assured that I am not trying to score a debating point. I write out of deep conflictedness, sensing that there is real cognitive dissonance here.

  7. Mr Grumpy: I am not sure where your quote in italics comes from but if you look at paragraph 298 of Amoris Laetitia it would seem that that the newly divorced and remarried are going to be given a harder time than those who have been at it for some years!

    'One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. ... Another thing is a new union arising from a recent divorce, with all the suffering and confusion which this entails for children and entire families, or the case of someone who has consistently failed in his obligations to the family. It must remain clear that this is not the ideal which the Gospel proposes for marriage and the family.'

  8. Nicolas: the quote is from Dr Shaw's post.