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MALTA (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a move sure to confuse the faithful, the archbishop of Malta offered statements that appeared ambiguous with regard to the use of contraception.
"One must remember that the Church always placed the argument in the context of marriage," Abp. Charles Scicluna reportedly said Friday on Xtra on Maltese television channel TVM, "and it holds on to the tenet of sex belonging within the marriage."
"What we are saying is that if you have to use a contraceptive," he continued, "make sure it is not one that kills life."
In response to the media's reports on his comments, the archdiocese of Malta issued a clarifying statement Saturday, which heavily quoted from Amoris Laetitia to justify the primacy of conscience in parents' decisions "to limit the number of their children":
The clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council still holds: "[The couple] will make decisions by common counsel and effort. Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society and of the Church herself." (Amoris Laetitia, § 222a).
Furthermore, Archbishop Scicluna has rightly emphasized the moral gravity of those artificial means of contraceptives which prevent the continuation of the pregnancy by causing abortion.
The statement, however, fails to address whether Scicluna teaches and believes that all use of contraception, abortifacient or not, is intrinsically evil.
A follow-up response from Kevin Papagiorcopulo, spokesman for the archdiocese, in answer to Church Militant's question reads: "In reply to your question, the Archbishop believes and teaches that the use of artificial birth control in marriage, whether abortifacient or not, is always wrong."
The archbishop's comments on TV come in the wake of debate over the morning-after pill, legalized on the island nation last year after months of contentious debate. The controversy revolves around whether it's abortifacient or merely contraceptive, with pro-life activists arguing the morning-after pill results in killing the unborn. Abortion remains illegal in Malta.
Some pharmacists are refusing on grounds of conscience to dispense the morning-after pill, and at least one private Catholic hospital is doing the same. Pro-life group Gift of Life is supporting the conscience rights of Catholics who object to stocking or dispensing the pill, even developinging an app to list the pharmacies that refuse to offer the pill.
"Pharmacists have a right to object, but we are informed that some may be reluctant to do so as they fear they might lose their job," said Paul Vincenti, spokesman for Gift of Life, in November. "This should not be the case, and that is why we want to develop the app, so we provide all the necessary information."
Since then, Life Network Malta has filed a judicial protest against the Medicines Authority, arguing its decision to legalize the morning-after pill violates Malta's criminal code, which bans abortion, as well as the Embryo Protection act. According to the group, the government is "ignoring the vulnerability of embryos, which are voiceless."
Scicluna said during his recent TV interview, "We must also make a clear distinction between abortive products and contraceptive pills."
He refrained from exercising judgment, however. "But it is not my role to identify which brand of pill is good and which isn't, because the role of the archbishop is not to replace science."
This isn't the first time Scicluna has offered an ambiguous position on contraception. Last June, although he condemned any abortifacient aspect of the morning after pill, he refused to condemn the pill outright.
"I think that our role is to invite people to make decisions for the common good," he commented in a June 2016 interview. "We do not want to impose our world view on people. I think that the role of science needs to remain the role of science."
"If you tell me that no, the morning after pill is actually preventing conception, this is not abortive," he continued. "There is no need for intervention to destroy a fertilized egg since in this case it would be preventing fertilisation in the first place. If it happened before fertilization then debate changes entirely."
The Catholic Church's dogmatic teaching affirms that use of artificial birth control to prevent conception is always intrinsically evil, and never allowed in any circumstances. The perennial teaching was reaffirmed in Bd. Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae:
Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.
Scicluna threatened seminarians earlier this year who refused to implement the Maltese bishops' vision of Amoris Laetitia, the papal exhortation at times interpreted to allow Holy Communion to the divorced and remarried. According to the archbishop, if seminarians disagreed with this interpretation, "the seminary gate is open."
Scicluna, along with Gozo bishop Mario Grech, released guidelines claiming that the divorced and civilly remarried may, if conscience permits, in some cases access the sacraments. Based on this reasoning, the pro-LGBT, dissident group New Ways Ministry has argued that the same logic extends to active homosexuals.
"Maltese bishops Charles Scicluna and Mario Grech primarily addressed the situation of Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried," Robert Shine commented. "Yet the principles they laid out are transferable to LGBT Catholics and their loved ones, too."
[Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the response of the Malta archdiocese.]