FLORIANA, Malta (ChurchMilitant.com) - Priests in Malta are alleging they're undergoing intimidation for clinging to magisterial teaching and canon law regarding marriage, while like-minded seminarians are being shown the door by their archbishop.
Malta's Abp. Charles Scicluna is verifying that he's told his seminarians this month that if they disagree with his interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, which extends the sacraments to sexually active adulterers, then "the seminary gate is open" — meaning they can leave.
His confirmation comes amidst allegations by "a number of clergy in Malta" that there's a "heavy-handed crackdown on any ecclesiastic unwilling to subscribe to the Maltese bishops' interpretation." Just last month this interpretation mandated that 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."
Malta has only two bishops — Abp. Scicluna of the archdiocese of Malta and Bp. Mario Grech of the diocese of Gozo. On January 8, they jointly published guidelines titled "Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia" ("Criteria"). The guidelines stipulate that divorced persons who remain sexually active must ultimately be given the sacraments — a position at odds with longstanding Church teaching and practice.
Since then numerous priests from Malta have confirmed that "the bishops won't tolerate any clergy having a different interpretation of Amoris Laetitia than the one presented in the Criteria."
They further attest that "three priests are allegedly intimidating anyone who does not agree with the Criteria." These three clerics are said to be allies of the two bishops.
One Maltese priest speaking on condition of anonymity said these abusive clerics "fall on any dissent like a ton of bricks," and "no other priests are given any opportunity to contribute to the conversation" except for like-minded priests — meaning those who support the two bishops in violating Church teaching and canon law regarding marriage.
Cardinal Gerhard Müller — head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) — made known in an interview last week that particular bishops are not free to put their own spin on Amoris Laetitia: "I do not think it is particularly beneficial for each individual bishop to comment on papal documents to explain how he subjectively understands the document."
He further dismissed the notion that various interpretations could in reality contradict magisterial teaching. "It cannot be that the universally binding doctrine of the Church, formulated by the Pope, is given different and even contradictory regional interpretations," he clarified. "The basis of the Church is the unity of faith."
The Vatican's doctrinal watchdog also denied that bishops have the authority to change Church teaching or extend mercy to sinners void of contrition. "No one can alter the sacraments as a means of grace according to their own choice," he said, "for example, so that the sacrament of Confession can be given without the intention to sin no more."
Last month a priest from Malta confirmed to Church Militant that Bp. Grech was observed threatening a priest via phone while on a plane flight. The priest was refusing to read in his parish the bishops' guidelines, which order priests to extend the sacraments to those who choose to be sexually active outside of marriage. Bishop Grech reportedly was seen warning the priest that he'd be disciplined if he didn't read the guidelines to his congregation.
The informant priest remarked, "If he got suspended for not reading it [the guidelines], imagine if you don't implement it!"