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Catholic Malta Falls to "the Francis effect"

by Christopher A. Ferrara
January 16, 2017

Each week I resolve to devote this column to something other than the Bergoglian pontificate, but each week a new development makes that impossible. For Pope Francis is in the process of making history – and not in a good way.

Witness the recent publication of “guidelines” for “the application of Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia” — note well: Chapter 8 — by the bishops of once Catholic Malta. Based entirely on Amoris Laetitia (AL), the Maltese bishops now declare that the floodgates are open to Holy Communion for literally any divorced and “remarried” person who persuades himself that he is “at peace with God” despite continuing to engage in sexual relations outside of marriage. Quoth the Maltese bishops, citing the Bergoglian novelty of “discernment” and AL, Chapter 8, ¶ 300:

“If, as a result of the process of discernment, undertaken with ‘humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it’ (AL 300), 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 at peace with God, he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist…

I have been warning here and elsewhere for months that ¶ 303 of AL is an invitation to disaster because it reduces exceptionless negative precepts of the natural law, including “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” to a mere ideal as opposed to a universally binding command. To recall that fateful paragraph (which it is almost impossible to believe a Pope has promulgated as his teaching):

“Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.”

As any fair reading of AL will confirm, the Maltese bishops have simply done exactly what Francis would like them to do: tell all the people that where sexual morality is concerned they need only do what they consider their best even if they are not obeying the Sixth Commandment, and that God will accept their continuing violation of His law — which is now, incredibly enough, presented as an “ideal” or a kind of benchmark for personal growth and development.

Leaving no doubt of the matter, the Pope’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has published the Maltese bishops guidelines as a blatant signal to the world’s bishops to follow suit, thus achieving the result that Francis has clearly wanted all along.

So alarming has the situation become that vigorous opposition to the Bergoglian agenda is now firmly established in the mainstream Catholic commentariat. Some examples:

•  Carl Olsen, writing in Catholic World Report, levels a frank indictment: “The current papacy of sentimentality has produced confusion and conflict…. Yes, a crisis of truth. Again and again, it is clear to me that this pontificate is working to undermine and dismantle key aspects of the teaching of Saint John Paul II…. And, again, it must be emphasized that what John Paul II taught on these matters is in complete accord with two thousand years of Tradition and practice…. The Pope’s Exhortation may not always be clear, but his intentions and goals are increasingly so.”

•  The renowned Vaticanist Sandro Magister, in a blog entry entitled “Malta’s Sailboat Joins the Papal Fleet,” observes that Francis has not replied to the “dubia” presented to him by the four cardinals because “he wanted this plurality of interpretations and applications, all of them appealing to a composition of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ that is deliberately ambiguous, and thus open to more than one interpretation.  Now, which interpretation the pope prefers is absolutely certain. It is the one that admits communion for the divorced and remarried who live more uxorio [as if they were married].”

•  “Father Z” (Father John Zuhlsdorf), quoting canonist Ed Peters, headlines his blog post on the development thus: “Maltese Bishops Go To The ‘Amoris laetitia’ Zoo: Disaster… inexcusable nonsense… green-lighting sacrilege.” 

•  The respected canonist Ed Peters calls the Maltese document “a disaster” and protests that the bishops who promulgated it have “fallen completely for the canonically and ecclesiologically false view that an individual’s assessment of his or her own readiness to receive holy Communion (see c. 916) controls a minister’s decision to administer the sacrament (see c. 915). In Malta now, anyone who approaches for the sacraments should be recognized as being ‘at peace with God.’”

•  Peters further warns that “The Maltese bishops, by extending their document to the sacrament of Reconciliation, have basically instructed their priests not to withhold absolution from divorced-and-remarried Catholics who refuse to repent of their ‘public and permanent adultery’ (CCC 2384) even to the point of abstaining from sexual (nb: sexual not ‘conjugal’) relations. Incredibly, such a directive raises the specter of green-lighting sacrilegious confessions and the commission of solicitation in confession [i.e. advising people to continue violating the Sixth Commandment].”

•  In a column the next day, Peters writes that now Francis must answer the dubia because “[t]he bishops of Malta, by declaring that divorced-and-remarried Catholics who are living as if they were married ‘cannot be precluded from participating in … the Eucharist’ have done grave violence to the unbroken and unanimous ecclesiastical tradition barring such Catholics from reception of holy Communion without — and let me stress this, without — doing violence to the actual text of Francis’ Amoris laetitia. That, folks, is the central problem.”

There is no escaping the truth about our situation: With the publication of Amoris Laetitia, and in particular Chapter 8, ¶¶ 300-305, Francis has unleashed a catastrophic flood tide of officially tolerated sexual immorality in the Church, in the midst of which only a few high and dry islands of episcopal resistance will be able to remain standing against the tide.

In a just-published interview, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, one of the four cardinals who authored the dubia, declares that “only a blind man could deny there’s great confusion, uncertainty and insecurity in the Church” and that “It’s caused by some paragraphs in Amoris Laetitia.” As Peters observes concerning Caffarra’s explosive assessment: “When highly placed Italian prelates declare that ‘only a blind man cannot see’ that confusion is the ecclesiastical order of the day, and that such confusion has as its fundamental source Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia, matters have reached crisis level.” 

Yet there remain blind men aplenty who continue to deny that this crisis — which has no parallel in an ecclesial history filled with crises — originates with Francis. For example, watch as this commentator spends more than nine minutes on the air attempting to present a contorted defense of Francis’ blatant attempt to overthrow the teaching of John Paul II and all of Tradition that it is “intrinsically impossible” for people living in adultery to be admitted to Holy Communion, no matter what they subjectively believe about their spiritual state, or how difficult they think it is to follow the Commandments, or what their pastor purportedly “discerns” about their subjective culpability in the “internal forum.”

With this latest advance of the Bergoglian juggernaut, we are confronted with nothing less than an apocalyptic threat to the integrity of the Faith and the very unity of the Church. The only recourse we have, it would seem, is divine intervention.  From the Fatima perspective, that will come with the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. As Bishop Athanasius Schneider has just said concerning the Consecration in view of the crisis provoked by AL:

“We have to take it as serious when God sends us His Immaculate Mother to warn us. If we hear the admonitions of Our Heavenly Mother, Her Divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ will make miracles, as He did at the wedding in Cana. A solemn act of consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on behalf of the Pope in moral union with all bishops will undoubtedly cause the pouring out of abundant graces for the Church and for all mankind, as it [was] foretold [by] Our Lady in Fatima. It is tragic that prophetic appeals are heard oftentimes too late. Let us pray and ask the Holy Father to do what Our Lady asked in Fatima.”