It was written by a reporter, not a columnist, so you can’t discern how she feels about a directive to Maltese priests to give absolution and communion to people in objectively sinful situations, so long as those people feel at peace with God.
But I am a columnist, so I will say that when I read the news, I spent the night consulting priest-friends over Facebook, weeping and praying.
This is terrible news. It rips the guts out of Catholic teachings regarding reception of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the sin of solicitation, the sanctity of marriage, the gravity of sexual sins and — oh yeah — the universality of the Church. Already bishops around the world have announced interpretations of Amoris Laetitia that contradict each other. The two Maltese bishops represent the most shockingly obvious departure from Catholic truth. My principal comfort is that I don’t reside in Malta.
However, the Maltese too have souls to save and although I spent Friday night crying over the decentralization of the Church, today I worry that people with irregular sex lives are in greater danger of hell now that bishops have fallen down on the job of saving their souls.
The confessional is not a place where we go to be confirmed in our sins, just as the Holy Eucharist is not a badge of I’m-okay-you’re-okay inclusivity. Pope Francis has called the Church a field hospital, and the confessional may certainly be likened to a 24-hour clinic.
Although some people enter the confessional to clean the detritus of accumulated venial sins from their souls, others stumble in very badly wounded. They have become slaves to their most beguiling sins and they need help to escape. Why? Because there are serious and eternal consequences if they don’t, that’s why.
We read many very good articles in The Catholic Register about the corporal works of mercy, but rather fewer about the more supernatural dimensions of our faith. Perhaps this is not surprising. It is much more uplifting to read about our co-religionists assisting refugees than it is to contemplate death, judgment and the possibility of eternal hell.
However, we are approaching the 100th anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima, so hell-talk is inevitable. If Sr. Lucia Santos is to be believed, Heaven and hell were almost all the child seers of Fatima thought about.
I first heard the Fatima story when I was preparing for Confirmation. Father Bill told it to us schoolchildren at a First Friday Mass. I was so horrified that Our Lady had said the Fatima children’s friend Amelia was going to be in purgatory until “the end of time,” that I took “Amelia” as my confirmation name, hoping this might relieve her suffering.
That was near the end of the Cold War when even pop songs pondered nuclear armageddon. In the ‘80s, it was very easy to believe prophecies that, unless we did as the Lady of Fatima asked, Russia would “spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions against the Church…. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated.”
And as this was so terrible, we were awed by the famous, presumably worse, “third secret” of Fatima, which had not yet been revealed. The devotional practices of Catholics in Ontario’s pro-life movement, of which I was a teenage part, were very much influenced by Fatima. Some friends’ parents subscribed to The Fatima Crusader.
As the threat of nuclear war diminished, so did thoughts of Fatima. It wasn’t much mentioned at university or by parish priests. Certainly I never heard the apparitions discussed in theology school.
Perhaps this is why I was so shocked when I found Fr. John de Marchi’s The True Story of Fatima online and learned that seven-year-old Jacinta and nine-year old Francisco underwent physical penances for the sake of sinners in danger of hell. Such little, little children!
“More souls go to hell because of the sins of the flesh than for any reason,” said Our Lady of Fatima, as reported by Lucia, which leaves me with a terrible mental dilemma.
Either this is true and the who-am-I-to-judge mercy-ism of the Maltese bishops will lead souls to eternal damnation, or it is false, and the Marian piety of the past 100 years has been based on lies.
(Cummings McLean is a Canadian writer and author of Ceremony of Innocence.)