Gozo Bishop Mario Grech seems to suggest that those planning to vote yes in the referendum should abstain from receiving the Eucharist.

On January 6, 2001, at the concluding Mass of the Jubilee, John Paul II personally offered the Eucharist to Francesco Rutelli, a practising Catholic and pro-abortion lobbyist in Italy.

During two Eucharistic liturgies Pope Benedict XVI led in April 2008 in Washington DC and New York City there was no effort to prevent three prominent pro-choice politicians from sharing in the Eucharistic service. A National Catholic Reporter article posted on April 20, 2008, stated that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator John Kerry received the Eucharist at Nationals Stadium and Rudy Giuliani did the same at St Patrick’s Cathedral.

On occasions such as the above, both Popes wisely navigated a morally complex minefield by following the Catholic moral tradition of applying the principle of the lesser of two evils. Bishop Grech could have opted to be more discerning, more discrete and certainly more sensitive.

Bishop Grech unwisely opted for confrontation. Little does he seem to realise that his reported statement could rightly be interpreted as an infringement of the Electoral Polling Ordinance which makes it clear in article 55 that every person who makes use of, or threatens to inflict any temporal or spiritual injury, damage, harm, or loss could be found guilty of undue influence in an election. It is my understanding that the Ordinance also applies to the Referendum Act.

Bishop Grech has caused untold harm and hurt on those who still love the Church and yet, out of love for the same Church, opt to express their right to dissent from the bishop’s teaching. The Catholic faithful would already have had the opportunity to read, reflect on and assimilate the Lenten Episcopal letter on marriage and divorce, and the common position on divorce by a group of high-profile priests, insisting that any decision on such matters should be taken according to the individual’s own conscience. Hence, there was absolutely no need for the Gozo Religious Enforcer and Inquisitor to speak out again especially on the “eve” of the divorce referendum.

There is no infallibly defined position on divorce. Hence, there is room for debate and dissent by theologians and the practising laity alike.

The Vatican Council wisely said: “Let the layman not imagine his pastors are always experts, that to every problem which arises, however complicated, they can readily give him a concrete solution, or even that such is their mission (The Church in the Modern World, n.43).

It is not at all surprising that the laity do not take it as obvious, or as Christ’s teaching, that celibate bishops and priests are necessarily more reliable experts on marital issues than the laity, “anointed as (the laity) are by the holy One” (Constitution on the Church, n.12). It would help Bishop Grech to reflect prayerfully and, more importantly, with an open mind, on what Father James T. Bretzke, S.J. says in an article entitled The Lesser Evil: “In a Dilbert cartoon, ‘Mike the Vegan’ takes pride in claiming that he uses ‘no animal products whatsover’. Dilbert reminds him, though, that his clothing was made on sewing machines that use electricity produced from fossil-fuels. The last panel shows Mike walking down the street in his birthday suit, ruminating on the need to start making exceptions!” Exceptions must be made, because we live in an imperfect world.

Utopia is a conceptual world without evil, but the literal meaning of the Greek name, “No place” reveals how real it is. Here, on this side of God’s kingdom-yet-to-come, we live with evil, sometimes tolerating evil, compromising with evil and, in rare cases, even doing the “lesser of two evils”. (America, March 26, 2007).

Father Bretzke is professor and co-chair of the department of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco and author of a book entitled A Morally Complex World: Engaging Contemporary Moral Theology.

Jesus was hard on those pharisees and scribes who put excessive burdens on their followers who “shut up the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to” (Matthew: 23:13).

Let not Bishop Grech drive you away from the Eucharist.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us