Rescue Malta’s Church from itself
It was interesting to read Charles Buttigieg’s article (Should Church Not Change?, August 31) arguing, in the Pope’s words, that this was the time once again “to move resolutely away from the Church’s worldliness”.
My concern, however, is much more mundane. It lies in the position of the Maltese Church as an important human institution contributing to the Maltese way of life.
One does not have to subscribe to all or any of the Church’s doctrines to appreciate that it plays an important role in Malta’s traditions and daily life.
It makes a vital contribution through its work in the parishes, in old people’s homes, with those suffering from disabilities, the schools and many other charitable institutions it supports, where Malta’s welfare state is still largely absent.
As decisions on IVF, cohabitation and civil partnerships loom, how well placed is the Maltese Church to handle such delicate issues and, importantly, to carry its ever diminishing flock with it? How might it organise itself to do better?
The Maltese Church is still an ultra-traditional, monolithic institution that, regrettably, is being overtaken by a fast-changing society.
When it steps into the public square and expresses its views on sensitive social issues – as it has absolutely every right to do – it almost invariably ends up shooting itself in the foot.
This is what has happened over both divorce and IVF.
I am only a disinterested observer. But if I were advising the Maltese Church on how it might make itself more relevant, and, therefore, more respected, I would focus on three key issues: leadership, organisation and communication.
The Archbishop strikes one as an intrinsically good man who has been weak in dealing with rigidly conservative and out-of-touch elements among his advisers.
He has been particularly undermined by having a fundamentalist bishop in Gozo shouting from the sidelines, blinded by his own self-righteousness.
While realising that the Gozo diocese is a historical hangover outside the Archbishop’s remit, one has to question why Gozo, an island of about 30,000 souls, which is not even the same size as the combined parishes of Birkirkara and Mosta in Malta, has to have its own bishop. Perhaps the Apostolic Nuncio to Malta would kindly take this up with Rome.
In the aftermath of the divorce debacle, Archbishop Paul Cremona should have carried out a clear-out of those around him in the Curia who had so misadvised him and so embarrassed the Church’s standing.
He should have replaced them with younger, more intelligent clerics who are more in touch with the flock. There is an urgent need for new brooms in the Curia, untainted by recent events.
No leader can operate if he is constantly hobbled by poor advice. Unless the Archbishop is prepared to exercise the leadership to ensure he has the right advisers around him, not the old guard who have so blatantly failed him, the continuing decline of the Maltese Church will become unstoppable.
At the same time, once rid of those monsignors who have hijacked his Curia, he needs to lead the renewal and regeneration of his Church with a more outward-looking and youthful appeal.
This is a Church that is seen as living in the past. It is largely made up of ageing parishioners.
The young are deserting it in their droves. Only dynamic and brave leadership and a more open and transparent approach can rescue it now.
Hand in hand with better leadership, energised by a new breed of young advisers in the Curia, comes the need for better organisation. The Maltese Church gives the impression of being ponderous, over-centralised and backward-looking.
This, I suspect, is because its structure and way of operating is outdated. It needs streamlining.
There are too many elderly monsignors promoted well above their level of competence, especially in Gozo.
Given the dearth of leadership, the promotion system in the Church leaves one utterly bewildered. The selection process for promotion and priests’ in-house training need a radical overhaul to ensure only the most worthy receive the recognition they deserve.
The third crucial issue is good communication. The Maltese Church must learn how to express itself effectively in a secular, pluralistic world. It comes across as authoritarian and soulless.
It must adopt a more intelligent, more rational, less dogmatic tone of voice.
Its inability to articulate its doctrines – which are necessarily what they are – in language that is comprehensible to the faithful, and does not hurt and offend those whose consciences tells them otherwise, has been the hallmark of the last two or three years.
Modern Maltese society no longer consists of the unquestioning, malleable (and gullible) faithful of the 1950s or 1960s.
Today, society will make up its own mind on moral issues. The Church must aim to persuade its flock by rational force of argument, not by doctrinal diktat.
The Maltese Church is at a pivotal stage. Unless it regenerates its leadership, streamlines and modernises its organisation and smartens up its communication skills, it will become an institutional irrelevance – part of the pageant of festas, fireworks and colourful processions designed to entertain of tourists but with little deep, devotional significance.