Christian Democrats exit left

The Nationalist Party is not the only big institutional loser of the 2017 elections. The other is Malta’s Catholic Church. A few days before the election the bishops issued a short pastoral letter that urged the faithful to vote in the interests of the common good and for candidates who displayed ethical integrity.

What were they expected to say, vote for whoever offers you the highest bribe? Yet there was widespread anger at what many Labour voters considered a ‘political’ message.

The bishops’ voting advice seems to have been valued about as much as their advice on condoms, and just as comprehensively ignored.

This is true for other issues: parents are opting out of religious instruction in schools at far greater rates that either the Church feared or State authorities envisaged. The Equal Marriage Law afforded the nation the sorry spectacle of the ethical dismemberment of the Nationalist Party and the near-paralysis of the Catholic Church. Yet most people shrugged and carried on with their shopping. Proposals undermining the ‘sanctity of human life’ golden standard are no longer taboo.

It is as if the bishops’ flock has finally decided to stand up on their hind legs, take off their woollen coats and amble off the field, leaving the shepherds and their dogs speechless.

Labour’s second successive electoral landslide was the bellwether for a fundamental paradigm shift by Maltese society. It normalised not only the secularisation of Maltese politics but also the privatisation of religious belief and its disengagement from policy-making. We are now, after 13 years of membership, truly at the heart of post-Christian Europe. How fitting that this tectonic shift occurred during Malta’s first EU presidency.

I don’t like it, and I think it will have lasting negative effects on our people and our nation, but I would be stupid to deny it. And I would be stupider to rationalise the changes purely in terms of petty political manoeuvring. This is what people voted for. Joseph Muscat is bringing to completion Dom Mintoff’s original secularisation agenda.

It is as if the bishops’ flock has finally decided to stand up on their hind legs, take off their woollen coats and amble off the field, leaving the shepherds and their dogs speechless

I will discuss the implications of this for my Church another time. My focus here is on the future of Catholic engagement in Maltese politics. The Nationalist Party is clearly no longer defined by its Christian Democratic principles. Its new direction is likely to be towards the same secular disengagement of Christian social principles from public policy as with Labour, if perhaps not at the same reckless rate.

In the meantime, a motley gaggle of rightist pundits is rushing in to claim the mantle of the Christian political voice in Malta, with stands that range from anti-gay to anti-burgers.

What could be the way forward? The Christian Democratic model of political engagement was forged in the adversarial climate of the 19th century Communist dielectic. It gave rise to the unification of Europe and saw Malta rise from the ashes of Mintoffianism. But it is obsolete. Maltese Catholics, including politicians, need to find new models of public engagement that are informed – not ossified – by their beliefs and principles in a multicultural, multi-polar world. They need to construct new alliances of good will and shared beliefs, rather than build new ramparts.

There should not be any one party that is identified with the Social Catholic voice in politics. Rather, this voice needs to become aware of its tremendous power as a lobby and a bridge. In becoming free of any particular party, the Social Catholic lobby in Malta will be able to truly promote its agenda.

So is it the end of the line for the engagement of Catholics in Maltese politics? Of course not. It is a new and humble beginning. And all the better for it.

Burger of Christ

In Malta’s brave new secular world, even transubstantiation is available for privatisation. New York’s Best (NYB) transformed the Last Supper’s bread and wine into burgers and pizza. That’s even better that turning water into wine.

I think NYB struck gold. The possibilities of cashing in on passé religious beliefs are endless. Imagine: “free absolution with every second burger”, or “free burger with every second absolution”. How about buying one of the many unused wayside chapels and turning it into a hip dawn takeaway for the post-Serkin crowd, with drive-through purchases collected from the tabernacle.

And why limit yourself to Christianity? A poster of the Prophet Muhammed selling pizza at the Holy Kaaba would really tickle Muslims in Malta. How about Moses coming down the mountain with an open NYB menu? Or a meditating Buddha with a wrap in one hand and a bagel in the other? What Benetton’s adverts did for gender and race, NYB can do for religion. And it’s all so pro-business.

But for God’s sake, not Joseph with a hotdog, or Simon with a salad, or Marlene with a milkshake. Vilifying politics, Malta’s true religion, for a cheap sales gimmick would be a joke too far.

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