Bishops of Malta issue norms for ministry to divorced, civilly remarried

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Under certain circumstances and after
long prayer and a profound examination of conscience, some divorced and civilly
remarried Catholics may return to the sacraments, said the bishops of Malta.

With “an informed and enlightened conscience,” a
separated or divorced person living in a new relationship who is able “to
acknowledge and believe that he or she is at peace with God,” the bishops
said, “cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of
reconciliation and the Eucharist.”

The Maltese “Criteria for the Application of Chapter
VIII of ‘Amoris Laetitia,'” Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the
family, was published Jan. 13 after being sent to all of the country’s priests by
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo.

The bishops urged their priests to recognize how
“couples and families who find themselves in complex situations,
especially those involving separated or divorced persons who have entered a new
union” may have “‘lost’ their first marriage,” but not their
hope in Jesus.

“Some of these earnestly desire to live in harmony with
God and with the church, so much so, that they are asking us what they can do
in order to be able to celebrate the sacraments of reconciliation and the
Eucharist,” the bishops wrote.

The first step, they said, always must be to affirm church
teaching that marriage is indissoluble. Then, the bishops said, the couple’s
specific situation should be examined to determine if their first union was a
valid marriage. If not, they should be encourage to seek an annulment.

Without an annulment, the bishops said, couples living in a
new relationship should be encouraged to abstain from sexual relations since
the church does not consider their new union a marriage. Sometimes, however,
the couple will find practicing the virtue of “conjugal continence”

Archbishop Scicluna and Bishop Grech urged priests to devote
time to such couples, guiding them in a reflection on their first union, their
contributions to its failure, the impact on their children and a host of other

“This discernment acquires significant importance
since, as the pope teaches, in some cases this help” from the church in
growing in holiness “can include the help of the sacraments,” the
Malta document said.

“While exercising our ministry, we must be careful to
avoid falling into extremes: into extreme rigor on the one hand and laxity on
the other,” the bishops wrote to their priests.

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