The Maltese bishops’ message: something lost in translation?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 17, 2017

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, answering critics of the Maltese bishops’ guidelines on Amoris Laetitia, insists that they did not say that divorced and remarried Catholics could receive Communion if they feel “at peace with God.” He has a point. The Maltese guidelines stipulate that divorced/remarried Catholics should go through a serious process of discernment before reaching any such decision. It is the discernment process, he argues, that is the essence of the pastoral program introduced by the papal document.

That’s what the bishops of Malta said. But what did the world hear them say? Unfortunately, their guidelines were generally interpreted as an invitation for divorced/remarried Catholics to make their own decisions. Still more unfortunately, that interpretation of their document was entirely predictable.

Last week I argued that a lazy or feckless priest will be tempted, under the new dispensation suggested by Amoris Laetitia, to wave divorced/remarried Catholics through to the Communion line, without any real examination of conscience. That goes double for the divorced/remarried people themselves. Not many lay Catholics read the fine print of bishops’ documents. They read the headlines, and the headlines say that they should go to Communion if they feel at peace. More often than not, I fear, the “discernment process” will end there.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Jan. 19, 2017 3:54 PM ET USA

    The Maltese bishops' interpretation will most often tempt the divorced and remarried to discover an excuse to sin, rather than encourage them toward virtue. It's a bit like leaving a huge piece of chocolate cake out on the kitchen counter with a note to your dieting spouse, "Please do not eat this cake unless you've undergone a serious process of discernment."

  • Posted by: feedback - Jan. 19, 2017 12:20 AM ET USA

    This ambiguous and pompous phrase "serious process of discernment" that comes directly from the Kasper Proposal, seems a mere selling point intended to boost legitimacy of the idea of Communion for "remarried," to make the concept easier to swallow. However, practically, canonically or morally it means absolutely nothing; it implies no specified obligations for anyone involved. This, practically meaningless, phrase should be either properly defined or avoided altogether in Church documents.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jan. 18, 2017 3:16 PM ET USA

    I have never really grasped what the function of the "serious process of discernment" is. Does it lead one to admit that he/she has sinned? Does it confront the indissolubility of the sacramental bond? Does it lead to true repentance and amendment of life? If not, how does it lead to the Communion line?