If I may, Your Grace…
I often find myself defending Archbishop Charles Scicluna for the wrong reasons, though this time I might be right.
Over a year ago, in another part of the Maltese press, I published an article titled “Two Charlies and a secular quandary”, where I came out criticising the changes in the Civil Code over blasphemy. Somehow, I found myself defending the Archbishop for his stance, only to then reveal that I was only on His Grace’s side by dint of a double bind — in that while I agreed that the Civil Code’s approach to blasphemy was anachronistic, I also agreed with the Archbishop’s argument that this piecemeal change would leave us in a greater quandary.
In the last few days, I found myself in a similar quandary, as I spotted another double bind in His Grace’s open stance against precarious salaries, which put him on a collision course with Minister Evarist Bartolo and the General Workers Union.
Expressing myself on social media I first argued that beyond any disagreement between the Archbishop and Minister Bartolo, one should be very concerned over the fact that a salary of €700 a month is being considered as a normal benchmark for Maltese workers. As expected, I got textbook partisan reactions.
When the Archbishop revved up his opposition and argued that “while the poor take pittance, the pampaluni earn millions”, I gave him three cheers. As expected, the response was as before, except that the independents were more or less split between being ambivalent over His Grace’s response (because of his privileged position), while others declared that often they don’t agree with His Grace, but on this one he can’t be failed.
My take is that His Grace is more than right to say so and to say it in the open. However not many friends, who are normally guarded and sceptical over the Maltese Church agree with me. I was told that His Grace is being selective; that he should look at his own affairs. Others expressed historical anxieties about a Maltese Bishop speaking his mind on political matters given the events of the 1960s.
In Malta, what's good for Pope Bergoglio is not good for Archbishop Scicluna. Is this a personal matter? I ask. Or is there more to the story?
My view is that there needs to be a context to this discussion, and anything that is said or evaluated must keep this in mind. After all, I would be the first to declare my support for the Catholic and Anglican Bishops who consistently speak against suffering and poverty in Britain.
Archbishop Scicluna was elected as Malta’s Primate during a Labour legislation. We have not yet experienced his leadership under a Nationalist government. What would he say if there was a Nationalist government?
My feeling is that he would declare himself with the same passion. He will be conservative about matters like sexuality, gender and marriage, and he will be progressive about environmental and social matters.
I also think that the Archbishop is trying to turn a very slow tanker around and maybe he is being too optimistic. We should never forget that Malta’s Independence was not a felicitous event. It came on the back of a couple of harshly contested referenda where the Church interfered, and barely 3 years after the Interdiction of Labour’s Executive Committee. We know that this left people scarred and we also know that the second generation was not immune.
I suspect that the Archbishop would strongly like to see this episode in history closed. More so he would like to claim a normal situation where, like his colleagues in Britain, he could speak freely without being accused of partisanship.
Alas, this is still not the case with Malta. The people who were hurt in the 1960s were mostly Catholic and they stayed Catholic even when they couldn't help feeling that they were somehow second class members of the Church. Many individuals of my age know that their parents were deeply hurt by the Church’s behaviour in the 1960s because, above all, they remained deeply committed to Catholicism. These Catholics stayed loyal to Christ even when the Bishops condemned them.
When I speak of a “double-bind”, I almost feel like telling the Archbishop that I am with him when he speaks loudly against injustice, whoever may be in Government. However, I also feel like adding: “If I may, Your Grace needs to reassure many that the past is truly gone because many are still sceptical.”
I would add that the respect towards any hierarchy—be it religious or secular—that speaks for the poor must always be gained by the same hierarchy. It is never given.
Theologically, it is the Church’s cross to bear. But this cross is also historic in that it embodies the sins committed, often in the name of Christ himself. Pope Francis gained this respect in Argentina by speaking out for the poor, and by bearing his load of criticism from those Authorities who deemed him as simply interfering. He stood tall because he meant it, and I know that Archbishop Scicluna also means it and he is honest in his pronouncements.
More than ever, this needs to be discussed and on this one I would thank the Archbishop for taking on the debate fairly and squarely.