Referendum - Eddie Fenech Adami surprised and disappointed
Claudia Calleja and David Schembri got reactions from some of the protagonists in the divorce debate.
Fr Rene Camilleri
The theologian was not expecting the outcome to be a Yes majority and believes the result is a positive sign that society is “adult” and aware of reality.
He does not believe divorce will spell disaster for the Maltese family, as the Church had alluded to during the campaign, and feels the referendum result speaks more about the Church’s role in society.
“The Church lives in a pluralistic society in terms of values and beliefs and has to come to terms with this reality... The campaign was an eye-opener as we have to acknowledge Malta is really changing... people are feeling free to believe independently of the Church.
“The Church now needs to be silent for a while and realise there are realities it is not seeing,” Fr Camilleri said, adding the Church had to re-dimension its presence and role in society. Although Malta was not at a stage where the Church was being ignored, there existed an aggressive militancy against it and it had to evaluate this.
Fr Camilleri believes that throughout the campaign the Church made a big tactical mistake when some of its members led believers to feel that voting Yes was a sin.
“The Church did not give enough attention to what the Church itself teaches about separation between Church and state... that the Church acknowledges the right of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. In this debate these were not highlighted as much as they should have been,” he said.
Eddie Fenech Adami
The former president and Prime Minister admitted he was disappointed by the result but added that it had to be respected.
“Frankly, I’m surprised. I thought the majority would vote against divorce and, of course, this will have very, very serious consequences for Malta’s future.
“I think it will bring about social change and, to my mind, Maltese history — including economic history — has depended on how the family in Malta kept a very strong profile. Nothing will happen overnight, but with time I think the effects will be negative,” Dr Fenech Adami said.
Eventually, he said, divorce would “definitely destabilise the family unit” as had happened in other countries.
He believes the Church could have done much more than it did and been more vocal throughout the campaign.
Asked what he thought about perceptions that the Church had unfairly used sin to scare voters into voting “no”, he said the referendum was never a matter of sin but one had to vote according to one’s conscience.
The referendum results show that the Church needs to reassess its position and its relationship with its people, said the economist and Labour MEP.
“The Church needs a new type of relationship where it holds on to its principles but in a secular world,” he said adding that, irrespective of the result, the referendum served as a useful exercise to give a clear picture of what society wanted.
He too believes the stability of society will not be threatened by divorce. “I don’t think it (divorce) will change one iota. It just lets people express their freedom in a democratic country. The results show that we are civilised and tolerant,” he said adding he had not expected the result.
He believes that had more people voted, the Yes percentage would have been stronger.
“The people who stayed at home and did not cast their vote were not evenly spread across the 13 districts... they were significantly higher in the PL stronghold districts. The indications are that many PL supporters stayed at home because they were afraid to vote in favour of divorce. This reinforces further the Yes result obtained,” he said.
Peter Serracino Inglott
Priest, former University rector and political adviser, Fr Peter Serracino Inglott was expecting a Yes victory but he was mostly struck by the large number of abstentions.
“I do not share the democratic triumphalism that I have heard expressed – the main thing which strikes me is the abstention, which relatively to previous experiences is really big,” the philosopher said.
He believes the abstention is largely a symptom of disgruntlement with the government and the “unwillingness to follow the lead given by the party leaders”.
Another thing that struck him was the Yes vote in Nationalist areas, which he saw as a shift from the centre-left position the Nationalist Party has adopted in favour of a more liberal stand.
“In the campaign the level of rational discussion was abysmally low and I myself, in personal conversations, left feeling that many of the Nationalists who were voting ‘no’ were doing so because of disapproval of the way in which Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and his small number of allies conducted themselves within the party,” Fr Serracino Inglott said.
“It would have been positive if people had decided to follow their conscience after studying the issue deeply,” he said, adding it was a pity there was not enough information to base serious discussion on.
The result, he said, showed the Church’s influence on people was further weakened and might raise more awareness that believers were increasingly becoming a minority.
Writer and university professor Oliver Friggieri was expecting the referendum to pass but not by such a large margin.
“It showed Malta is split in two and that what happened in other countries had to happen in Malta as well,” Prof. Friggieri said.
He believes that ultimately “it’s in the Church’s interest that divorce is in, because it now knows where it stands. It’s new for Malta, but it’s not new for other countries. It was unavoidable; a common thing everywhere.”
He hopes the law that eventually goes through will be a combination of both sides of the debate, both of whom had shown a certain competence in matters of the family. It was in everyone’s interest to have a good law in Parliament, he said.
He sees the abstention votes as a very serious number, but one which was nonetheless “very complex”.
“Malta is a place where whatever the law is, one can live as they want, but on the whole it might have been a vote of people who were afraid of taking up the responsibility,” Prof. Friggieri commented.
“The Church is a loser, but it is bigger than this; the Church, made up of humans, is not supposed to judge, but to love and teach.”
Even though he thinks the Church lost out, he believes the biggest loser is the Nationalist Party as it now has to reconcile its official stand against divorce with the will of the people.
The results were “a huge slap in the face” for the Church and a sign that Maltese people want their civil rights, said Mr Scicluna, the author of a 2009 think-tank report that recommended the introduction of divorce.
“There should be no triumphalism about all this. In the face of all the power and the coercion of the Church and the political resources of the PN, the Maltese have struck a clear blow for justice, fairness and their civil rights.
“Maltese democracy has finally come of age. Malta has grown up and the dark ages of the Church-state relations of the 1960s have finally been put behind us,” said Mr Scicluna.
The real loser in all this was the Maltese Church which, through its bullying of the faithful, diminished its own standing and trust with its people. The Nationalist Party, which hid behind the Church, also demeaned itself. “It’s shown itself to be weak and out of touch because what the people wanted was a legal remedy and that’s now what we’ve got.”
He believes the Church still has a place in society as it is “a wonderful human institution”, but went wrong when it interfered in politics.
He does not think divorce will affect society negatively. “If anything all those poor destabilised families will now form a proper legal family instead of cohabiting... The Maltese family is a strong unit. Our culture is what it is. Divorce is simply a legal remedy for those people who want to avail themselves of it.”