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The freezing of embryos (2)

I refer to Mgr Anton Gauci’s letter Bishop Mario Grech Was Right (April 16).

The recent abortive intervention by the Bishop of Gozo on the subject of IVF treatment reminded me of last year’s divorce referendum result – an issue to which Mgr Gauci also refers – in which the real losers, sadly, were the Maltese Church. Through its bullying tactics, it actually diminished its own standing and trust with its people – a self-inflicted wound which the likes of Mgr Grech and Mgr Gauci are in danger of reopening. The Bishop of Gozo and Mgr Gauci appear to have learnt nothing and forgotten everything from last year’s experience.

The Church, as Mgr Gauci pointed out, has a role to play in expressing a view on moral issues. But it does not hold a monopoly on establishing the moral foundations in society. While its views are to be respected, it is a human institution, like any other, lobbying for its particular view of the world. But ultimate responsibility for the kind of society which a secular, liberal, parliamentary democracy like Malta should adopt lies in the hands of our representatives in Parliament, reflecting the sovereign will of the people. The need for a radical re-calibration of the balance between Church and state in Malta is long overdue.

Much harm has been done in the name of religion both in this country and elsewhere. It has been inflicted, in the main, by those, like Mgr Grech and Mgr Gauci, who think they know the will of God and that they have an obligation to impose it by all means possible on the unwilling.

But against such temptations, western societies, including Malta, have adopted the principle of separating civic and religious authority as enshrined in our parliamentary democracy. And for those who fear this separation, let us be clear: a society that treats religion as a matter of personal conscience is not the same thing as a Godless society.

Mgr Grech decided to launch a scathing attack on in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) describing it in utterly intemperate language as a”highly abortive” technique. Straying from his brief as a prelate into the world of politics, he urged politicians not to encourage the “culture of death” when IVF legislation is debated in Parliament.

He then unwisely took a side-swipe at politicians – also repeated by Mgr Gauci - who “take up the front seats in liturgical celebrations but are ethically absent (sic) when they take up their seats in Parliament,” prompting the immediate question about bishops, or monsignors, in their pulpits so obsessed with the exercise of power in a secular context, so blinded by their own self-righteousness as to lose sight of the charity, compassion and tolerance that are supposed to be the hallmarks of their faith.

By contrast with the fundamentalist stance adopted by Mgr Grech and Mgr Gauci, what a relief it was to read the intelligent and reasoned reply of Fr Emmanuel Agius, who explained the Church’s deep reservations, but went on to acknowledge that “although the Catholic Church found IVF treatment morally objectionable, it also believed legislation allowing reproductive technologies could be tolerated for the sake of public order and to avoid greater evil: the unregulated practice of assisted procreation.”

IVF treatment ensures the joy of parenthood to infertile couples to whom nature has been unfair. Sensibly regulated, it offers the miracle of life to previously infertile couples. It leads in many cases to a married man and woman having a child, forming a family, enriching a marriage – the very state that society encourages.

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