The focus is back on the Maltese bishops this week after it was revealed that in a meeting with the priests of his archdiocese, Archbishop Charles Scicluna had said that he had no choice in issuing the deeply controversial Maltese bishops guidelines on Amoris Laetitia, because in his conscience he could not oppose the wishes of Pope Francis.
The National Catholic Register‘s Rome Correspondent, Edward Pentin, reports:
At a meeting with Malta’s priests on Feb. 14, Archbishop Scicluna appealed for understanding, saying he had no choice in co-signing the guidelines. According to sources present, he said in conscience he could not go against the wishes of the Pope. He admitted it was a mistake not to consult the nation’s clergy on the Criteria before they were released, alluding to the fact that they wanted to be the first Bishops’ Conference to do so.
However, he also expressed “shock” at the fact that the C9 felt they had to pledge their allegiance of full support for the Pope. He asserted that to be Catholic, one is with the Pope. He also criticized the fact that people are questioning the Pope’s mercy. Such criticism came to a head earlier this month when 200 posters critical of what they viewed as unmerciful actions of the Holy Father appeared across Rome.
This same accounting of events was given to me by a source in Malta last week. The person then said:
So the logical conclusion is that they were told to issue those Guidelines from the very top.
My source then pointed me to a tweet from papal biographer Austen Ivereigh, who reiterated that the Maltese guidelines are according to the pope’s “authoritative” interpretation of the exhortation:
While Scicluna signaled his distaste that Catholics were questioning the pope’s “mercy,” my source said to me, “It has become unbearable here. We are living under the tyranny of mercy.”
We reported last month that strongarm tactics were alleged to have been used by Bishop Grech of Gozo to enforce compliance with the new guidelines. Pentin’s report gives evidence that the hard edge of the Dictatorship of Mercy is, in fact, being applied across the whole of Malta:
The Archbishop of Malta has confirmed to the Register that he told the country’s seminarians earlier this month that if any of them do not agree with Pope Francis, “the seminary gate is open,” implying they are free to leave.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna’s remarks are the latest in what Church sources in Malta say is a heavy-handed crackdown on any ecclesiastic unwilling to subscribe to the Maltese bishops’ interpretation of the apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia — an interpretation the bishops say is identical to the Holy Father’s.
Since the Criteria were published Jan. 13, a number of clergy sources in Malta have contacted the Register alleging the bishops won’t tolerate any clergy having a different interpretation of Amoris Laetitia than the one presented in the Criteria among the clergy.
According to the sources, three priests are allegedly intimidating anyone who does not agree with the Criteria. The three had been opponents of the previous bishop, Archbishop Paul Cremona, but have now become the present bishops’ allies. One of them reputedly attacks any priest who shares critical stories on the Internet.
“This group of priests, with a few others, have been hogging the conversation for decades,” said a Maltese priest on condition of anonymity. “No one else seems to be allowed to contribute to the debate and they have done untold damage to bridge-building since they brook no opposition.”
He said they “fall on any dissent like a ton of bricks” and “no other priests are given any opportunity to contribute to the conversation” except for priests who are “like-minded.”
When he was appointed Archbishop of Malta in 2015, many of the island nation’s clergy were initially hopeful that Archbishop Scicluna would reset the theological and pastoral agenda, but now feel these priests have “hijacked” the local Church completely.
“There is a lot of discontent in the rank-and-file clergy, for they see that after holding so much promise, Scicluna’s episcopacy has become one of bullying and betrayal,” the priest said. [emphasis added]
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.