Contradictions Between Maltese Directive and CDF’s 1994 Letter on Divorced-Remarried

Striking differences between the two documents, as well as other papal teachings.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna (pictured) is the author of the "Maltese directive", along with Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna (pictured) is the author of the "Maltese directive", along with Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo. (photo: Catholic Church of Malta)

Critics of the controversial so-called “Maltese directive” on Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia, published Jan. 13, say that it very obviously contradicts previous papal teaching and instruction from the Vatican — not to mention, some add, Sacred Scripture and two millennia of Church teaching.

To see just how much this is true, it’s perhaps helpful to put the controversial passages of the directive by Malta's bishops beside these documents.

The most striking contrast is with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1994 Letter to bishops “Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful.”

Of particular note is how both diverge when it comes to the matter of individual conscience in allowing, or not allowing, remarried divorcees to receive Holy Communion (in bold).

Criteria For The Application Of Chapter VIII
Of Amoris Lætitia — Maltese Bishops

7.Throughout the discernment process, we need to weigh the moral responsibility in particular situations, with due consideration to the conditioning restraints and attenuating circumstances. Indeed, “factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision,” (AL 301) or even diminish imputability or responsibility for an action. These include ignorance, inadvertence, violence, fear, affective immaturity, the persistence of certain habits, the state of anxiety, inordinate attachments, and other psychological and social factors (see AL 302; CCC 1735, 2352). As a result of these conditioning restraints and attenuating circumstances, the Pope teaches that “it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace” (AL 301). “It is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end” (AL 305). This discernment acquires significant importance since, as the Pope teaches, in some cases this help can include the help of the sacraments (see AL, note 351).

8. “By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God” (AL 305). This calls for more prudent instruction in the law of gradualness, (see AL 295) in order to discern, the presence, the grace and the working of God in all situations, and help people approach closer to God, even when not “not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law” (AL 295).

9.Throughout the discernment process, we should also examine the possibility of conjugal continence. Despite the fact that this ideal is not at all easy, there may be couples who, with the help of grace, practice this virtue without putting at risk other aspects of their life together. On the other hand, there are complex situations where the choice of living “as brothers and sisters” becomes humanly impossible and give rise to greater harm (see AL, note 329).

10. 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 (see AL, notes 336 and 351). 



1994 CDF Letter to Bishops Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful.

6. Members of the faithful who live together as husband and wife with persons other than their legitimate spouses may not receive Holy Communion. Should they judge it possible to do so, pastors and confessors, given the gravity of the matter and the spiritual good of these persons(10)* as well as the common good of the Church, have the serious duty to admonish them that such a judgment of conscience openly contradicts the Church's teaching(11). Pastors in their teaching must also remind the faithful entrusted to their care of this doctrine.

This does not mean that the Church does not take to heart the situation of these faithful, who moreover are not excluded from ecclesial communion. She is concerned to accompany them pastorally and invite them to share in the life of the Church in the measure that is compatible with the dispositions of divine law, from which the Church has no power to dispense(12). On the other hand, it is necessary to instruct these faithful so that they do not think their participation in the life of the Church is reduced exclusively to the question of the reception of the Eucharist. The faithful are to be helped to deepen their understanding of the value of sharing in the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass, of spiritual communion(13), of prayer, of meditation on the Word of God, and of works of charity and justice(14).

7. The mistaken conviction of a divorced and remarried person that he may receive Holy Communion normally presupposes that personal conscience is considered in the final analysis to be able, on the basis of one's own convictions(15), to come to a decision about the existence or absence of a previous marriage and the value of the new union. However, such a position is inadmissible(16). Marriage, in fact, because it is both the image of the spousal relationship between Christ and his Church as well as the fundamental core and an important factor in the life of civil society, is essentially a public reality.

8. It is certainly true that a judgment about one's own dispositions for the reception of Holy Communion must be made by a properly formed moral conscience. But it is equally true that the consent that is the foundation of marriage is not simply a private decision since it creates a specifically ecclesial and social situation for the spouses, both individually and as a couple. Thus the judgment of conscience of one's own marital situation does not regard only the immediate relationship between man and God, as if one could prescind from the Church's mediation, that also includes canonical laws binding in conscience. Not to recognise this essential aspect would mean in fact to deny that marriage is a reality of the Church, that is to say, a sacrament.

9. In inviting pastors to distinguish carefully the various situations of the divorced and remarried, the Exhortation Familiaris Consortio recalls the case of those who are subjectively certain in conscience that their previous marriage, irreparably broken, had never been valid(17). It must be discerned with certainty by means of the external forum established by the Church whether there is objectively such a nullity of marriage. The discipline of the Church, while it confirms the exclusive competence of ecclesiastical tribunals with respect to the examination of the validity of the marriage of Catholics, also offers new ways to demonstrate the nullity of a previous marriage, in order to exclude as far as possible every divergence between the truth verifiable in the judicial process and the objective truth known by a correct conscience(18).

Also of interest is comparing these passages in the directive with Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, in particular n. 32:

32. Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent or which are explicitly atheist. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one's conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one's moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and "being at peace with oneself", so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment.

As is immediately evident, the crisis of truth is not unconnected with this development. Once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its primordial reality as an act of a person's intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others. Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature.

These different notions are at the origin of currents of thought which posit a radical opposition between moral law and conscience, and between nature and freedom.

Finally, there is also, of course, Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio n. 84 (which the CDF Letter cites), as well as Canons 915 and 916 — all of which the Maltese directive appear to breach or contradict.

* Notes in the CDF Letter:

(10) Cf. 1 Cor 11:27-29.

(11) Cf. Code of Canon Law, 978 §2.

(12) Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1640.

(13) Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Certain Questions concerning the Minister of the Eucharist, III/4: AAS 75 (1983) 1007; St Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection 35,1; St Alphonsus de' Liguori, Visite al SS. Sacramento e a Maria Santissima.

(14) Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, n. 84: AAS 74 (1982) 185.

(15) Cf. Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, n. 55: AAS 85 (1993) 1178.

(16) Cf. Code of Canon Law, 1085 § 2.

(17) Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, n. 84: AAS 74 (1982) 185.

(18) Cf. Code of Canon Law 1536 § 2 and 1679 and Code of the Canons of the Eastern Churches 1217 § 2 and 1365 concerning the probative force of the depositions of the parties in such processes.