Christians and Catholics
Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard is a repository of salient and insightful thoughts about life which never ceases to fascinate and delight. Maybe because it is set in Sicily, a place so close to home, by a man whose family fortunes had, through no fault of his own, reduced to a pile of baroque-hewn rubble in Palermo’s Kalza district.
Lampedusa will forever remain an enigma; a man who died without ever knowing that his novel would become a classic till this very day. What prompted me to think about The Leopard was that Bishop Charles Scicluna, our new man from Rome, has now been made a member of the exclusive Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, which, within the Vatican, is one of the most influential administrative and directional organs of the Church, a direct descendant of the Holy Office which, for those who don’t know, is a euphemism for the once dreaded Inquisition.
To get back to Lampedusa, at one point the Prince of Salina is being mildly rebuked by his confessor, Fr Pirrone, a tame Jesuit, for betraying Holy Mother Church by voting ‘yes’ in the plebiscite that merely changed the King of Sicily from autocratic Bourbon to constitutional Savoyard. Lampedusa, through his spokesman, Prince Fabrizio, roundly declares that he is no traitor because the Church will survive, even, if necessary, by dumping the nobility – then the pillars of the ecclesiastical establishment – to do so; a prophesy fulfilled not long after Lampedusa’s death by John XXIII and Paul VI.
I had been wondering why Scicluna was sent to Malta at this stage. It seems very clear to me that he is a man with a mission, a man who perforce will be the real power in our Curia.
His task is colossal, he must restore the faith or fail in the attempt. He is also the man who is going to restore the prestige and respect of Catholicism in Malta after the divorce fiasco.
To do this, he will have to effect a surgical divorce of his own, that of Church from State. He will have to shake off the politicians who either hide under ecclesiastical petticoats or hang on to the Church’s coat-tails for political purposes.
It is these politicians who are largely responsible for the ignominious defeat of the Nationalist Party and Church-backed ‘No’ campaign against divorce last year, a campaign hallmarked by mixed and confused messages by both entities which, in the end, brought both crashing down.
I do believe that Scicluna will, from now on, ensure that the Church gives clear, humane and comprehensible messages about topics like IVF and same-sex civil unions and we will never have a repeat of that hurtful diatribe we were subjected to listen to about IVF, which only just stopped short of accusing couples who had adopted the IVF method of being murderers.
I’m sure there will not be a repeat of the Pro-Vicar’s strange declaration that voting for divorce would have to be subject to going to confession afterwards or the Judicial Vicar who, during Mass that opened the Forensic Year, told the judiciary that if they are good Catholics they must boycott divorce-related cases!
The fact that Catholicism remains anachronistically entrenched in our Constitution does not help matters at all.
We were faced with a situation wherein our deeply Catholic Prime Minister, after being faced with ‘the unkindest cut of all’ by a renegade and disgraced MP from his own party, dithered and vacillated throughout the months leading up to the referendum, which, in my opinion, was an abrogation of responsibility and a shameful waste of taxpayers’ money, only to be defeated, after which he dithered and vacillated again.
I can, in all truth, just imagine the crisis of conscience that Lawrence Gonzi went through, especially when one considers his background.
However, the upshot of it all was that the defeat brought both his party and, even more significantly, the Church to an unprecedented low. If Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando wanted to get his own back on the Prime Minister and the PN he could not have devised a more hurtful and damaging way.
Is the appointment of Scicluna as Auxiliary Bishop an exercise in damage limitation? Did that conference organised by The Times a couple of months ago posing the question of whether the Church was 200 years behind the times have any impact on the Vatican’s decision to send a brilliant prelate to Malta with its full backing to sort us out?
There is no doubt at all that the experience Scicluna has had in one of the top Vatican arms is crucial to his appointment and that the trust invested in him by the Pontiff is based on the assurance that he, Scicluna, has a tidy, insightful, analytical and extremely intellectual brain.
Will this new bishop be able to save the Maltese Church and will he be able to detach it from politics?
Just to give you an example of how confused people still are about Church and State I was astounded to realise that a surprising number of gay people actually thought that gay marriage would have meant getting married in Church, something which the MGRM and I have had to patiently explain ad nauseam.
At the end of the day, I fervently believe that one is a Christian because one sincerely believes in the tenets of Christianity and not because it is imposed upon me by the State.
I have long described myself as a convinced Christian but a reluctant Catholic. It remains to be seen if the advent of Bishop Scicluna will change this in any way.