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Humiliating and shameful

I have come about to write this article after much thought and prayer and not without spiritual and psychological anguish, even at this very instant that I write.

Over the last few months leading to the referendum, as an official minister of the Catholic Church I have been involuntarily made part of things which, in conscience, I do not, can not and will not endorse. Various people have considered my forced uncharacteristic silence to be a sign of approval, and told me as such. This cannot be farther from the truth.

I do not write this article out of piety or to be melodramatic. Nor do I write it to state on which side of the wall I stand. I write it solely due to a deep sense of shame. For during the last few months I have been humiliated over and over again by the injudicious behaviour of the local Catholic Church in general and of some Catholics in particular. Their faults are also mine.

By officially declaring it would not take part in the campaign debates, the Catholic Church placed itself in a position of being able to inflict damage on its adversaries without the possibility of rebuttal. In a political and pragmatic sense, this is worse than what happened in the 1960s. Alas, despite this stand, stealthily the Church wrought immense pressure on many people’s consciences. A few examples will suffice.

Children were frequently used for emotional impact. Religious celebrations, including weddings, were routinely exploited for political propagandist purposes. The alleged Virgin Mary of Borġ in-Nadur was made to campaign with anathemas and threats of her own (with flyers saying as much placed at church entrances). All sorts of printed material were sent to households through parish structures to influence the electorate. People were consistently told that divorce would open the door to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriages and would, moreover, increase poverty.

Some were scared into believing that the referendum is part of a sinister ploy to ultimately destroy the Church in Malta and Gozo. Pseudo-religious e-mails were sent with words and pictures verging on hate-messages. Many simple and vulnerable Catholics were repeatedly told (in door-to-door visits, in private conversations or in confession) that voting yes or not voting at all would be a grave offence to God. Pressure groups were set up presenting those in favour of the yes vote as antichrists or false Christians. People were denied Holy Communion or absolution of sins for declaring their yes vote. Unusual prayer meetings and live-ins by religious groups were organised to insist on the no vote.

The head of the pro-divorce main lobby group was banned from practising at the ecclesiastical tribunals. Members of religious lay groups were told by their spiritual directors that they would have to leave if they voted yes or not at all. Posters similar to those of the 1960s were put up at church doors. Partisan politicians were left to make religious arguments without impunity.

I am deeply humiliated and ashamed by all of this. This is not the Catholic Church I believe in and love.

My fellow citizens, I am truly mortified by such disrespect and insolence shown to your intelligence and rights as human beings. If you consider me part of this, as I truly am, then I genuinely think and feel it is my moral duty to implore your forgiveness. For this I will be most grateful.

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