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Will it be politics, infernal politics?

Usually politicians speak metaphorically of heaven and hell. Heaven is their spot in government while hell is the other party's tenure of office. Last Saturday during the mass meeting of the Partit Laburista at Ta' Qali, the Labour leader, for some strange reason, decided to move on from the metaphor to the real thing.

The introduction into the local political discourse of the fear (or lack of fear) of hell by Dr Joseph Muscat is as undesirable as it is wanton. It is as disrespectful of people's believes as it is demagogic. Isn't the political environment hot enough with the discussion about the minimum or living wage; higher or lower utility bills; blues against reds and so on and so forth? Do we need more heat generated by the high temperatures of the infernal regions?

Following the mass meeting of the Partit Laburista on One TV I was flabbergasted. You can watch it on You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=PQB-CRscVJY#! )

The sequence started ok. Dr Muscat in a very civil but assertive way made an electoral promise.

"Il-breakthrough il-gdid fil-qasam tal-libertajiet civili li se jaghmel Gvern gdid jekk jinghata l-fiducja huwa li jwaqqaf l-istituzzjoni ta' unjoin civili bejn koppji ta' l-istess sess."

("The new breakthrough in the field of civil liberties that will be introduced by the new government is the setting up of civil unions between couples of the same sex.)

The audience was very supportive. Clapping was universal. He exhorted the crowds.

"Hbieb tieghi, hbieb tieghi, tibzghux, tibzghux."

(My friends, my friends, do not be afraid. Do not be afraid)

Then all hell (pun intended) broke loose. His non-verbal was louder than the ever increasing vocal energy he used to communicate his declaration.

"Dan huwa l-Moviment li ma bezghax li jmur l-infern biex jghid dawk l-affarijiet li jemmen fihom."

(This is the Movement that was not afraid of hell and said the things that it believed should be said."

At this point his voice reached a crescendo so much so that one could notice a quiver in his voice. Anger was all over his face. The crowds approved with their clapping.

Dr Muscat continued his harangue, angry as ever. (And I ask why all this anger?)

"U kif missierijietna ma bezghux li jmorru l-infern and they stood up to be counted, we will stand up to be counted ghad-drittijiet tal-koppji omosesswali u tal-familji godda f'pajjizna."

(And in the same way that our fathers were not afraid to go to hell but stood up to be counted so we will stand up and be counted in favour of the right of homosexual couples and the new families.)

The scene was an unnecessary throwback to the worst instances of the Sixties. This is 2012. More than forty years have passed since that fateful and unfortunate (in this respect) decade. The mistakes done (including many by the Church) opened wounds in our society which still linger on.

I think that the Church learned a lot from that those mistakes. History proves it.

During the dark Eighties the Church was under tremendous pressure because of the attack on its schools and the confiscation of its property. However the Church under the guidance of Archbishop Mercieca defended its turf and the future of the schools with great dignity. Archbishop Mercieca went twice to court to defend the basic human rights of the Catholic community. It was his right and his duty to do so.

I was in a meeting when someone suggested that the Archbishop should write a pastoral letter and have it read in Churches to explain why he had gone to court. Archbishop Mercieca declined to do so. He did not wish the liturgy to be eschewed because of this controversy. He wanted to keep the tension to the minimum possible even if he was attacked that he was not doing enough to defend the church. He only did the minimum that he felt in conscience bound to do.

The proposal to introduce civil partnership for gay couples will undoubtedly be controversial. Many will be against. Many will see it as just a first step to gay marriages. The debate will be heated.

But does anyone think that our present bishops would threaten anyone with hell fire if he or she would be in favour? The bishops will undoubtedly do what in conscience they would feel bound to do but they wound not do anything as inflammatory as the speech of Dr Muscat. The bishops would be betraying the Church and the democratic process if they remain silent. But their participation in the national debate would certainly be most civil.

One hopes that the attitude of Dr Muscat last Saturday is the exception that will not be repeated. It would be a great pity if we pass from politics, bloody politics to politics, infernal politics.

(Owing to a technical problem, comments submitted earlier today - Wednesday - were lost)

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