Malta’s bishops have said that remarried people should receive Communion if they think they are at peace with God.
In a new document,
Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia, the
bishops say that if “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 [sic] at peace with God,
he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of
Reconciliation and the Eucharist”.
St John Paul II and Benedict XVI reaffirmed the Church’s perennial
teaching that divorced and remarried Catholics cannot receive Communion,
except possibly when they endeavour to live “as brother and sister”.
However, the Maltese bishops say that avoiding sex with a new partner may be “impossible”.
The new document, which has been published
by the Vatican newspaper, underlines divisions among the world’s
bishops over the Church’s traditional teaching.
Since Amoris Laetitia
was published in April, the bishops of Poland and Costa Rica, several
North American bishops, and others, have reiterated the traditional
teaching, while others have diverged from it.
In November, the diocese of San Diego said that remarried Catholics
may “conclude that God is calling them to return to full participation
in the life of the Church and the Eucharist.”
Earlier this week Cardinal Raymond Burke said that, if the San Diego interpretation were to become universal, “then the Church’s teaching on marriage is finished.”
The Maltese bishops claim that Amoris Laetitia encourages a new
practice because of footnote 351. This, in reference to the integration
of people in “irregular situations”, states: “In certain cases, this can
include the help of the sacraments.”
Although Pope Francis has said he cannot remember this footnote, it
has provoked much debate. Some have argued that it merely reaffirms John
Paul’s teaching in Familiaris Consortio: “Reconciliation in the
sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only
be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the
Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a
way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of
“This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for
example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the
obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in
complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to
However, the Maltese bishops say that couples should instead “examine
the possibility of conjugal continence”. The bishops refer to “complex
situations where the choice of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ becomes
The Council of Trent states that it is always possible to keep the
moral law: It teaches: “God does not command impossibilities, but by
commanding admonishes thee to do what thou canst and to pray for what
thou canst not, and aids thee that thou mayest be able.”
It also states:
“If anyone says that the commandments of God are, even for one that is
justified and constituted in grace, are impossible to observe, let him
The Maltese document is signed by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of
Malta, a former doctoral student of Cardinal Burke, and Bishop Mario
Grech of Gozo.
Four cardinals, including Cardinal Burke, have asked Pope Francis to
clarify that Amoris Laetitia does not encourage divergence from the
Church’s traditional teaching.
One, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, has
said: “Whoever thinks that persistent adultery and the reception of Holy
Communion are compatible is a heretic and promotes schism.”