A priest’s troubled conscience

From the Times of Malta, 29th January, 2017

This clergy member is struggling to reconcile his faith with orders from up on high


When the bishops released guidelines suggesting that divorced Catholics who enter another relationship may not be denied Communion, many rejoiced. But others were confused. Kurt Sansone meets a parish priest who feels the guidelines are wrong and contradict Church doctrine.

“Confused” is the first word uttered by Fr Joe as he tries to describe his feelings on the bishops’ guidelines dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics.

Joe is not his real name. He is a relatively young parish priest and – concerned over being labelled anti-Pope – asks to remain anonymous when we meet at his home.

imageSipping his espresso from a mug, he speaks of the “hurt” caused by the polarising debate on the guidelines, which has branded priests like him as adversaries of Pope Francis.

Fr Joe believes the bishops’ guidelines have gone beyond what the Pope’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), said about Catholics deemed to be in an irregular family set-up by the Church.

READ: Priests confused by bishops’ new guidelines

“There are other priests like me who feel confused by what the bishops published but the few who have voiced their concerns were branded traditionalists and depicted as being against the Pope,” he tells me.

The reference is to Gozo Bishop Mario Grech and theologian René Camilleri, who in comments to Church radio RTK and the Times of Malta respectively, suggested that those opposing the guidelines were effectively criticising the Pope.

Fr Joe stops to think as he clutches the mug in front of him. Like all parish priests, he is at the frontline, and since the release of the guidelines has had parishioners asking about their implications.

“A friend of mine who cohabits called me about the guidelines to tell me he could now receive absolution during confession and receive Communion be­cause the Pope and the bishops said so,” he says.

Fr Joe laments the way the guidelines were released to the public without being discussed with priests. But his disagreement is more fundamental: it is of a doctrinal nature.

He says nowhere in the Pope’s exhortation is there a clear instruction that divorced Catholics who have remarried civilly or are cohabi­ting may receive Communion.
Church doctrine until now has always prevented people in these situations from receiving Communion or even acting as godparents at baptisms.

And yet Amoris Laetitia has led to different interpretations be­cause of what some believe is its vague wording. Doubts about the exhortation were expressed by four cardinals last September in a letter to the Pope.

The pontiff has so far ignored the cardinals’ dubia, as they are referred to in Latin. However, Church observers have interpreted the publication of the Maltese bishops’ guidelines in the Vatican’s official organ L’Osservatore Romano as an endorsement by the Pope.

The guidelines state that a divorced Catholic in a new relationship “cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist” if, following a process of reflection, they believe they are “at peace with God”.

“What the guidelines are proposing is a paradigm shift because it puts the onus on the individual’s conscience when this was not the case until now”

Fr Joe says Amoris Laetitia has created doubts. “I know this may sound harsh but the exhortation leads to nothing; it does not provide new teachings on how to deal with these sensitive cases. In his encyclicals Familiaris Consortio and Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II had acknowledged the difficulties Catholics in these situations faced but proposed to them living a chaste life with their new partner.”

Fr Joe says the fact that the Pope has not yet addressed the doubts raised by the four cardinals is a clear sign that things are not clear.

“If the Pope has not answered the doubts expressed by four cardinals how can we go out and say these people cannot be denied communion?”

He again stops to reflect. He says priests share the pain that Catholics in complicated situations endure.

Priests must accompany these people and help them find their road through a process of formation, he adds. “I cry with these people, I try and accompany them in their pain and their joy but I cannot give false hope.”

If Church doctrine has not changed, it would be morally wrong to tell these people they can receive the Eucharist, he says.

Again, he pauses for reflection as I point out the emphasis in the guidelines on the need for a discernment process. It is not a free-for-all, with the bishops cautioning against the extremes of rigidity and laissez-faire.

“I know, but what the guidelines are proposing is a paradigm shift because it puts the onus on the individual’s conscience when this was not the case until now,” he says.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna (left) and Gozo Bishop Mario Grech published their guidelines earlier this month following Pope Francis’s post-Synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia issued last year.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna (left) and Gozo Bishop Mario Grech published their guidelines earlier this month following Pope Francis’s post-Synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia issued last year.

I ask him whether he advocates closing the door to the sacraments for divorced Catholics who remarry.

Fr Joe insists the Church does not close doors but invites people in these situations to refrain from sexual intimacy with their partners.

“We should invite people to live better their lives, not lower the standard to accommodate their wishes… how can we present people with something that is untrue by lowering the moral standard only for them to find out they were in the wrong when they enter eternal life?”

This may sound out-of-this-world for non-believers, but for Catholics, Fr Joe says, the ultimate aim is to be in Heaven.

The question that has to be asked is whether the guidelines help the faithful be closer to God or not, he insists.

“At the level of doctrine I cannot tell people to do something that I believe is morally wrong. I will not condemn them but I cannot take such a decision on my conscience when I know it is wrong,” he says.

His words are heavy and display a sense of unease. He acknowledges his confusion about the matter caused by Amoris Laetitia and the bishops’ guidelines in particular.

What if the Pope were to clarify the doubts and explicitly say that divorced Catholics can receive Communion?

“I will be relieved,” is his immediate answer. “If the Pope, as the successor of Peter, says so I will bow my head and follow suit.* But he has not and I find it hard that the Pope could reach that conclusion because Church doctrine does not reflect what people have interpreted from the exhortation.”

* [CP&S Comment: We do not agree with Father Joe’s conclusion here. If the Pope were to do such a thing, contradict Church teaching, he would automatically reveal himself to be an anti-pope.]

On this issue the Maltese Church has been a trailblazer internationally, and the different approach advocated by the bishops is one rooted in mercy. The bishops have also faced a backlash from international conservative groups.

Fr Joe’s thoughts convey the other side of the story, one which I am uneasy with, given its conservative grounding, even if he may not agree with my pigeonholing.**


** [CP&S Comment: “Conservative grounding”? Another liberal journalist! As if to “conserve” that which is right and true, that comes to us from The Word of God Himself, was somehow not a duty for all Catholics!!]

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9 Responses to A priest’s troubled conscience

  1. A “confused” priest? No, he seems to be a priest who is struggling to reconcile what he know is right with the errors that Bergoglio is deceitfully promoting.

    In the annals of evil, this pontificate will rank with the pontificates of the Borgias and other popes:

    Pope Benedict IX: the Pope who sold the papacy. …
    Pope John XII: raped female pilgrims and invoked pagan gods. …
    Pope Leo X: sold indulgences, killed cardinals. …
    Pope Alexander VI: nepotism, orgies and the rise of the Borgia family. …
    Pope Innocent IV: introduced torture on the Inquisition.

    These popes committed evil acts; Bergoglio commits doctrinal evils.

  2. kathleen says:

    Yes, there is definitely a bit of a liberal push from the journalist in this report, though it appears he does try to fathom the legitimate concerns of the so-called Father Joe.

    But we know only too well the terrible dilemma suffered by many good priests all over the world on this burning issue, who have been put into similar situations by their weak and conforming bishops to this reigning progressive (and hence, heterodox) agenda, so rife in the hierarchy of our day! It is even harder for faithful bishops and cardinals fighting this evil in the Church, due to the enormous and public consequences following their refusal to go along with the betrayal of Christ’s teaching.
    Once upon a time, no matter how fierce Satanical opposition to the Truth might have been in the Church, we always had Christ’s Vicar on Earth to look up to and uphold it. The horrific reality of our times under Pope Francis is…. we no longer have that faithful Rock of Peter to cling on to!

    We are like sheep without a shepherd!

  3. kathleen says:

    On this issue the Maltese Church has been a trailblazer internationally, and the different approach advocated by the bishops is one rooted in mercy.

    VERY misleading!
    This journalist (like so many others) has no idea what real “mercy” is, but uses the word as a get-out-of-jail-free card to condone every sin or human whim! Our Blessed Lord loves sinners and goes out to seek them, but NOT to tolerate* men’s crooked lifestyles, but to open our eyes to the evil, to then repent from the heart, and to bring men back onto the right and only path that leads to eternal life! That is true love and mercy.

    * “tolerance”: another word twisted by the progressives to justify all types of evil acts

    It is anything but merciful to allow men to continue living in mortal sin without correction! How many souls have these weak and wicked Church leaders (who have swallowed wholeheartedly the wiles of Modernism) sent on the path to Hell by failing to teach Christ’s loving message of true mercy? Without repentance there can be no MERCY

  4. David O'Neill says:

    Mercy & forgiveness can’ surely’ only be offered if there is sorrow & ‘a firm purpose of amendment’. A few years ago I was refused Absolution in St Peter’s in Rome because I could not PROMISE not to commit those sins again & yet now we are saying that those in irregular relationships can receive Communion so long as they are “reconciled to God”. How can they be so reconciled when they continue in their adulterous state? Kathleen makes a very succinct point when she says that such a situation is tantamount to the Church allowing those people to continue in a state of mortal sin &, even worse, to suggest that they continue receiving Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin.

  5. J.P. says:

    Kathleen @ 09:58. You assert ‘It is anything but merciful to allow men to continue living in mortal sin without correction ! ‘ I don’t believe you or I or anyone else on this blog have a function in ‘allowing’ such men to do any such thing. The correction that you speak of can only come about by the grace of God through sacramental absolution given by a priest, not by you or me who are not now and never will be priests. Why not leave it to them ?
    By the way, you speak of men living in mortal sin. What about women too ?

  6. toadspittle says:

    “tolerance”: another word twisted by the progressives to justify all types of evil acts..
    Tolerance doesn’t “justify” anything. If I tolerate gays, or even Lutherans, doesn’t mean I’m justifying them.

  7. The Raven says:

    This has to be the most irritating form of argument known to man: John Kehoe, we know very well that you are well enough educated to read and understand plain words written in English; your pretended incomprehension serves only as camouflage for the straw-man argument that you are propping up here.

    The discussion on this thread concerns the teaching of the Church and the discipline of the sacraments. As you already know, the conversation is not about whether any particular individual should or should not be granted absolution.

  8. The Raven says:

    You missed the part of the sentence saying “twisted”, Toad! No-one is talking about actual tolerance, they are talking about something else which gets labelled as “tolerance”.

  9. toadspittle says:

    “..they are talking about something else which gets labelled as “tolerance”.”
    “Indifference,” possibly, Raven? I suspect that is more the problem for Western Catholicism these days – rather than “Hatred.” Nobody I know can be bothered to hate Catholics any more. Which is a good thing.

    Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
    That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
    But on earth indifference is the least
    We have to dread from man or beast.

    How should we like it were stars to burn
    With a passion for us we could not return?
    If equal affection cannot be,
    Let the more loving one be me.

    Admirer as I think I am
    Of stars that do not give a damn,
    I cannot, now I see them, say
    I missed one terribly all day.

    Were all stars to disappear or die,
    I should learn to look at an empty sky
    And feel its total dark sublime,
    Though this might take me a little time.

    (Audeen. “The More Loving One.”)

    ..that comes to us from The Word of God Himself,
    ….How do you know that?

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