Strickland's right Vatican card
I wish to thank Professor Henry Frendo for his attempt at a critique of my book Il-Konkordat and I also wish to comment on some points he made in his review (The Sunday Times, March 27).
I would like to add another word to the heading of Professor Frendo's review and make it read "Strickland's right Vatican card." I think that with his Notes for a Concordat with the Vatican, Lord Strickland was on the right track.
I am saying this because according to Article V of the Notes for a Concordat, Lord Strickland wanted the following: "The absolute prohibition of Ecclesiastics, secular as well as regular, to be candidates for either House of Parliament. An intimation to be given that the Vatican would welcome an alteration of the Constitution eliminating the representation of the clergy in the Senate."
"Members of the Clergy, both secular and regular, not to be fettered by Superior orders in voting at parliamentary elections."
Article VI of the Notes for a Concordat suggested by Lord Strickland reads: "The Bishops and Clergy, both secular and regular, to keep entirely aloof from partisan politics and to be forbidden from writing articles, signed and unsigned, in newspapers except on questions declared to be purely religious in character."
"The advisability is submitted of instructions being given to the local clergy to scrupulously abstain from taking sides on the Language Question on the lines of the instructions given by the late Pope Pius X on the Flemish Question and by the present Holiness (Pius XI) on the Catalan Question."
What happened in Italy and Germany
Strickland's requests in his Notes for a Concordat were in line with what happened in Italy and Germany, although for different reasons. About five years before signing the Lateran Treaty with Italy, Pope Pius XI, on February 1, 1924, forbade priests, both secular and regular, from belonging to political parties. He also ordered the complete separation of the Catholic Action, together with its charitable, social and youth organisations, from the Popular Party, whereupon, Don Luigi Sturzo resigned as secretary of that party in July 1924 and went into exile abroad.
In Germany the concordat was signed on July 20, 1933, only after eight days of negotiation. The Vatican negotiator was Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, who at that time was Apostolic Nuncio in Berlin. The Nazis guaranteed the right of the Church to run its Catholic schools. The Vatican could nominate university theological professorships. Most important of all for the Church, Article 31 of the concordat ensured "the uninhibited freedom of action for all Catholic religious, cultural and educational organisations, associations and federations." This embraced Catholic Action, "the apple of Pius XI's eye".
In return, the Church conceded that priests should no longer take part in politics which meant in effect the end of the Centre Party - the Zentrum.
I did hear the other side
Professor Frendo's three-worded Latin saying at the end of this review audi alteram partem astonished me a bit. I insist emphatically that I did hear the other side and Professor Frendo himself did confirm that I have striven to respect this maxim.
In my book there are various instances where I quoted excerpts not only from Stricklandian Edwin Vassallo's biography of Lord Strickland, but also from Nationalist Sir Arturo Mercieca's Le Mie Vicende, from Nationalist Dr Herbert Ganado's Rajt Malta Tinbidel and from Dal Mio Taccuino Universitario by Dr Edoardo Magri, another fervent Nationalist.
There are two points made by Professor Frendo about which I beg to differ, firstly about what he called "the intervention of one young bishop called Michele Gonzi" about Lord Strickland's apology to the Vatican. Mgr Gonzi was the carrier of the written apology. It was in this case rather through the intervention of Mgr Giuseppe De Piro who together with Lord Strickland drafted the wording of the apology. It was Bishop Gonzi who took the apology to Rome in a British Government airplane provided by Governor Campbell.
Secondly, I want to point out to Professor Frendo that the Nationalist claim for Dominion Status was not at this time on the agenda for talks between the British government and a Nationalist delegation in London. The British Government's excuse for suspending the Constitution in 1933 was the supplementary vote of £5,000 moved in Parliament by the Nationalist government for the teaching of Italian when the Royal Commission had already laid down in its report how the English, Maltese and Italian languages should be taught in Government schools.
In his book Rajt Malta Tinbidel, Dr Herbert Ganado said that the Malta Constitution was suspended because of the worsening situation in the Mediterranean. Dr Ganado said that the British Government wanted to do away with Malta's self-government in this island fortress.
Professor Frendo also writes that "Strickland, whom the author hails uncritically, was not the easiest fellow to do business with either." I know one or two other Maltese political leaders who were or are not the easiest fellows to do business with. My intention was not to evaluate Strickland's character but to write about what he achieved or tried to achieve.
Lord Strickland, as described by Professor Frendo, quoting Professor David Cannadine, "was too aggressive, too imtemperate, too belligerent, too quarrelsome."
These manners as described by David Cannadine are in my view irrelevant to my running argument in my book, namely that what Lord Strickland tried to achieve and what he did achieve was beneficial to the Maltese Islands both in the political and in the social fields.
'A Stricklandian turned Labourite'
Professor Frendo in his review of my book called me "A Stricklandian turned Labourite". I was born and brought up at Marsa in the late Twenties and early Thirties. These were the years when the politico-religious question between the ecclesiastical authorities and Lord Strickland raged ferociously.
Lord Strickland was the head of a government made up of ministers hailing from the Constitutional Party, supported by the Labour Party. Both parties joined together in a compact agreement, signed in 1926. A Labour Member of Parliament at that time was Dr Henry Sacco who lived in Marsa and was respected and loved by all its residents. Most of them were either Stricklandian or Labourite, according to which party Dr Sacco gave his support.
I spent my school years in the Thirties at the Seminary, first in Gozo and then in Malta, and in 1942 I joined the University Student Corps of the RMA. At the end of the war, in 1946, I joined the staff of Il-Berqa, published by Allied Malta Newspapers, which at that time was very critical of the Nationalist Party. I spent 14 years at Il-Berqa, enjoying my journalistic work very much. During this time I never tried to hide my Labour sympathies. I was never harassed and was highly respected by both management and fellow workers.
In 1960 I joined the GWU weekly It-Torca and was first editor of the daily l-Orizzont and helped the GWU group of newspapers, making use of the journalistic skills and knowledge I had acquired at Strickland House.
The question of partisanship
Professor Frendo wrote: "Hard as he tries, Cassar sometimes cannot avoid using unduly partisan discourse which clearly harks back to the 1970s and 1980s." The professor also calls me a partisan-propagandist.
All I can say about this, is that I am sure that what I have written in the book does not distort history. And I do not retract a single word of what I wrote in the 1970s and 1980s. Professor Frendo may have his opinions about the Labour Party as I have my opinions about the Nationalist Party, but this does not mean that I what wrote in my book is not the historical truth.
I have no intention of labelling Professor Frendo as partisan, but surely I can regard him as the unofficial historian of the Nationalist Party with his book Party Politics in a Fortress Colony (Midsea Books, 1979). Professor Frendo is also the biographer of President Emeritus Censu Tabone, who was also a prominent Nationalist government minister.
Professor Frendo is also writing the biography of Prime Minister George Borg Olivier, a very welcome historical work, but also a hard nut to crack. Professor Frendo also gave an address at the inauguration of Malta's Independence monument in Floriana on September 21, 1989, on the 25th anniversary of independence. This clearly shows where Professor Frendo's sympathies lie.
And finally may I ask why Professor Frendo altogether failed to mention the politico-religious question of the Sixties between the Labour Party and the Church authorities in his book Maltese Political Development 1798-1964 - a documentary history?