Malta Bishop Threatens to Suspend Priests Who Refuse Communion to Civilly Remarried

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 19, 2017   

Cdl. Burke: Priests "must refuse and face the consequences"

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Update, Jan. 20, 2017: A message posted on the Gozo diocese's Facebook page declares the following:

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.

The original report in Messa in Latino stated:

We have been told by reliable sources, whose identity we know but for obvious reasons we cannot divulge, that in recent days Bp. Mario Grech returned from Rome and threatened priests of his diocese of Malta that he would "prohibit [their ability to offer] Mass if you do not support the directives of Amoris Laetitia authored with Bishop Sciucluna."

So: the threat of suspension a divinis (forbidden to publicly celebrate the sacraments) for Maltese priests who will not give Communion to the divorced and remarried.

Church Militant reached out to the diocese of Gozo to clarify these reports, specifically, whether he hinted at the possibility of any type of discipline for priests who failed to implement the guidelines for Amoris Laetitia. The diocese simply sent us the press release. After Church Militant pressed for more details, the diocese responded, "There is nothing to add."

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GOZO, Malta (ChurchMilitant.com) - Malta's priests will be the first clerics to ever face suspension for refusing Holy Communion to divorced Catholics who have remarried outside the Church.

Bishop Mario Grech of the diocese of Gozo, Malta, is reportedly saying he will strip all priests of their priestly faculties who do not follow his new guidelines, claiming he is following the directives of the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia. He reportedly has taken this severe position on returning this week from his visit to Rome. According to Messa in Latino, Bp. Grech threatened his priests with suspension a divinis if they refuse to comply.

The guidelines Bp. Grech co-published on January 8 with Abp. Charles Scicluna of Malta's archdiocese read, "If ... a separated or divorced person who is living in a new relationship manages ... to acknowledge and believe that he or she is at peace with God, he or she can not be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist."


The focus of Malta's guidelines are on the consciences of the civilly remarried who come forward at Mass to receive the Eucharist. No mention is made of the priest's conscience who is attempting to follow Church law as contained in the Code of Canon Law.

Canon 915 mandates that those who are "obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion." This judgment is based on the couple's objective situation, called the external forum, and is completely independent of their subjective feeling of guilt, which is part of what's called the internal forum.

An experienced canonist, Dr. Ed Peters, recently emphasized that priests are commanded by Holy Mother Church to follow this canon and not admit to Holy Communion couples who publicly live in a state of objective mortal sin:

In administering Holy Communion to a member of the faithful, Roman Catholic ministers are bound not by guidelines supposedly fashioned from a single, ambiguous and highly controverted papal document but instead by the plain and dispositive text of another papal document, called the Code of Canon Law (especially Canon 915 thereof), and by the common and constant interpretation accorded such norms over the centuries.

In an interview last May, Cdl. Raymond Burke, patron of the Knights of Malta, called it a "grave injustice" for bishops to order their priests to do this very thing which in conscience they couldn't do.

"If someone tells the priest that he has to do these things, he simply must refuse and face the consequences," he said.

 

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Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.

Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th. is a staff writer for ChurchMilitant.com.

Follow Bradley on Twitter: @BradleyLEli