The Church has endorsed a position paper on divorce drawn up by seven of its most prominent priests, which leaves Catholics free to vote for divorce as long as they have a “formed and informed conscience”.

Unlike the major political parties, which have struggled to come out with a unified position on divorce, the Church did so in less than a month through the initiative of the seven priests, who wanted to clarify their seemingly contradictory opinions.

The paper sets off on the premise that Catholics should strive for a Christian outlook on the family and work hard for their societies to have “stable and lasting marriages” bound by “love and fidelity”.

It also acknowledges that “divorce is wrong”, whether permitted by law or not.

But it does not go as far as to say that voting for divorce legislation is a sin, a thorny issue recently dividing the most vocal members of the Church, including some of the paper’s authors.

Catholics, the paper says, should seriously try to form their consciences according to the teaching of the Church and “discover what really leads to the common good”.

If this process is discarded and people instead decide to follow only their own whims, feelings or personal interests they may “possibly be sinning”, the paper says cautiously. But if, after serious consideration, Catholics still choose to vote for divorce, they have “the right and duty” to follow their conscience accordingly.

“(One) may still, in spite of having all the necessary knowledge and having done everything to find the whole truth, in conscience not see why to vote against legislation favouring divorce. This one too has the right and duty to follow what one’s conscience tells one,” the paper says.

And if Catholics are faced with a choice between two harmful situations for the common good, it is “legitimate” for them to choose “the lesser evil”, it adds, without specifying which the lesser evil would be.

“This declaration should calm all those who are worried that among us there might be differences regarding the teaching of the Church,” the paper concludes, leaving the decision up to people’s consciences.

When asked for the Church’s position on the paper, a spokesman for the Curia said: “The Archbishop endorses the statement released this morning by a group of priests that signed the mentioned statement. I believe that this answers your questions.”

The paper vindicates the position of Fr Peter Serracino Inglott and theologians like Fr Emmanuel Agius and Fr Charlò Camilleri, who objected to threats of sin made by some of the Church’s higher authorities.

In fact, it goes contrary to the statement made by Judicial Vicar Mgr Arthur Said Pullicino who told the judiciary in a homily that anyone who cooperated with the introduction of divorce, including judges and lawyers who participated in cases, would be “committing a grave sin”.

Besides Fr Serracino Inglott, Fr Camilleri and Fr Agius, the paper authors include Pro Vicar General Mgr Anton Gouder, Jesuit Fr Alfred Micallef, the director of the Cana Movement, Fr Joe Mizzi and media expert and columnist Fr Joe Borg.

What has been said so far?

Judicial Vicar Mgr Arthur Said Pullicino: “Whoever cooperates in any way in the introduction of divorce, even those who apply the law, would be breaking God’s law and so would be committing a grave sin.”

Theologian Fr Charlò Camilleri: “If research showed divorce was beneficial for the common good mentioned also in the Catechism, a Catholic politician can, according to his conscience, vote in favour of divorce.”

Pro Vicar Mgr Anton Gouder: “It has to be proven that divorce serves the common good but from research I have seen abroad I haven’t found a country where divorce served the common good.”

Theology Faculty Dean Fr Emmanuel Agius: “This is not the time for crusades. The Church has a right to participate in the debate and it is an important stakeholder. It should not impose but has a right to make its voice heard.”

Fr Peter Serracino Inglott: “Divorce should be permitted if it is scientifically proven that society is better off with it than without it.”

Archbishop Paul Cremona: “Convinced Catholics have to vote for a stable marriage and against divorce.”

Cana Movement director Fr Joe Mizzi: “Wherever divorce was introduced, the number of marriages went down while cohabitation and divorce increased. Divorce generates more suffering for both the couples and children.”

Cana founder Mgr Charles Vella: “While divorce from the Catholic viewpoint is considered a menace to the stability of marriage it does not mean it’s going to wreck marriages... the introduction of divorce doesn’t scare me.”

Gozo Bishop Mario Grech: “Where the family is united, pregnancy is likely to be accepted and celebrated but where the family is broken, such as in the case of divorced parents, there is a higher probability that life is refused and threatened.”

Fr Joe Borg: “I think it could be morally legitimate for Catholic politicians to decide in conscience to vote for a law introducing divorce if they judge that within a particular circumstance it’s a lesser evil.”

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