The Catholic Bishops of Malta are reminding the faithful that they are responsible before God for their votes in an upcoming referendum that could legalize divorce.

“The Christian must always act with reference to our Lord Jesus Christ and his teachings,” they stated in a May 21 pastoral letter entitled “Opting in Favor of Permanent Marriage.” They explained that when voting, a Christian “must bear in mind that he shall be accountable to Jesus for his choice.”

The letter, authored by Maltese Archbishop Paul Cremona along with Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo and Auxiliary Bishop Annetto DePasquale, encourages citizens to support marriage and the family with their votes on May 28. On that day, voters in the small, largely Catholic island nation will decide whether or not a bill allowing divorce will be allowed to advance in Parliament.

In their letter, the bishops said it was a moment for Catholics “to make a choice in favor of our Lord Jesus Christ.” They stressed that voters “must look through his eyes,” and “choose Jesus as the path that leads to this truth.”

“Other paths will not lead us there,” they warned. “We hope that even with regard to the Divorce Referendum, which is actually a referendum on marriage, we will be guided by the words of Jesus.”

The words in question – in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke – forbid divorce and remarriage in any case where a man and a woman are legitimately married.

The Catholic Church regards this teaching as a matter of both faith and reason, comparable to its teaching on abortion or same-sex “marriage.” In cases of an illegitimate marriage, the Maltese legal system allows for the possibility of an annulment.

In their pastoral letter, the Maltese bishops laid out reasons for preserving this teaching about marriage within the framework of the law.

“Marriage and the family form the natural core which is essential for a person to live and grow within an atmosphere of genuine love, as well as for the building of a strong society,” they taught.

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“For this reason, Jesus Christ teaches us that marriage – which goes hand in hand with the dignity of mankind – should, by its very nature, be a permanent bond.”

The bishops acknowledged the pain of those whose marriages had broken down, but said that legalizing divorce would not solve the problem.

They observed that “the teachings of Jesus Christ, expressed through the moral law of the Church, leave no doubt that divorce is the wrong solution – a solution upon which a stable society cannot be built.”

Instead, “as a gesture of love towards those who are suffering, and towards future generations, we must together try and improve the conditions of marriage and the family.”

“By his vote, the citizen will either build or destroy,” they said, posing the question of divorce as a fork in the road for Malta's future.

“A choice in favour of permanent marriage is an act of faith in the family, built upon a bond of love which cannot be severed,” they wrote. “Whereas a choice in favour of divorce leads to the further destruction of marriage and the family and, as a consequence, the destruction of values and the quality of life.”

They urged all of the Catholic faithful to ponder the choice carefully, and not neglect to vote “due to lack of enthusiasm.” Every citizen, they said, would have to “shoulder the responsibility for the consequences of our decision.”

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