Muscat exclusion from ceremony 'down to protocol'
Labour leader's children received official invite
The Opposition leader's absence from the Pope's welcoming and departure ceremonies was no oversight but merely down to protocol regulations, according to the organisers.
Ambassadors to Malta were given prominence over Labour leader Joseph Muscat in the receiving line when Pope Benedict XVI landed in Malta for a 27-hour visit last week, prompting criticism that a top political figure was pushed down the pecking order.
The official protocol list actually puts foreign representatives below the Opposition leader but organising committee chairman Charles Bonello said a Pope's visit was tailored in a specific way to ensure that only top government and foreign countries' representatives were in the welcoming line.
Eyebrows were raised when Dr Muscat was not even given an invitation to sit among the many guests present on the airport apron, a list which included media officials who were not on duty.
"We thought it would have been degrading to place the opposition leader among the other guests. Instead he was invited to the Palace," Mr Bonello said, pointing out that the opposition leader was also not invited to the welcoming ceremonies marking papal visits in 1990 and 2001.
"It is pertinent to note that the Leader of the Opposition did not make any requests related to the arrival and departure ceremonies," he added.
The Office of the Prime Minister said the Labour Party had made "various requests" in connection with the Pope's visit, but refrained from giving details.
The Labour Party confirmed it had asked whether Dr Muscat would be able to join the President and the Prime Minister in accompanying the Pope when he waved at children from the Palace balcony.
The party also requested that the opposition leader's car be accompanied by a police escort on the way to official engagements in order to avoid traffic difficulties.
"Both requests were turned down on the basis of protocol and subsequently leaked," the PL said.
Both the Office of the Prime Minister and the Labour Party confirmed that, contrary to some claims, Dr Muscat's young twins had received an official invitation to meet the Pope.
The Labour Party said: "Dr and Mrs Muscat took their children with them for the short meeting with the Pope following an unsolicited, official and written invitation to do so by the organisers.
"Similar invitations were issued to the President and the Prime Minister.
"The Muscat twins were issued the necessary accreditation by the organising committee.
"As the leader of the Opposition and his wife approached the Pope, they were asked by the Vatican protocol officials to hold their children in their arms so as not to have the Holy Father bend."
The official protocol list
2. Prime Minister
4. Chief Justice/Speaker
6. Parliamentary Secretaries
7. Leader of the Opposition
8. Former Presidents/Former Prime Ministers/Companions of National Order of Merit
9. Widows of former Presidents/Prime Ministers
10. Diplomatic Corps