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What strategy is there? - Mark Montebello O.P.

Once more, the Catholic Church in Malta and Gozo is giving the damning impression that it is the same retrograde institution of old. Rightly or wrongly, the amendments to the Protection of Embryos Act ruffled its feathers, and the clarion call “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,” has been blurted out.

My interest here is not to defend any of the amendments. Nor is it to weigh the criticism drawn up by the Church or by its cohorts. My point is merely to discuss strategy. To be more precise, to consider how the Church seems to be strategically depositing itself in its opposition to the proposed amendments.

In living memory we already have ample experience of this. What comes to mind is the divorce referendum campaign and the issue of same-sex marriage. Some will go as far back as to the integration and independence referenda.

Each and every time, repeatedly, the campaign strategy of the Church ended up giving the impression that it stood against minority rights. This time around, we are already witnessing the soaring of hysterics, the simplistic arguments, the scare tactics, the crusading, the apocalyptic scenarios and the banal catchphrases.

With all of this hullabaloo, the Church is again appearing to be retrograde, irrational, intolerant, intransigent and insensitive

And this is only the beginning. All suggest that the strategy, if a strategy there is, is already getting out of hand.

With all of this hullabaloo, the Catholic Church is again appearing to be retrograde, irrational, intolerant, intransigent and insensitive.

Undoubtedly, some will point out that many of these actions are mere individual initiatives; they do not form part of the main strategy.

This only proves the point of how slapdash the whole strategic exercise is. Any infantry is allowed to shoot in any direction with whatever calibre, even artillery, at all times without tact or repudiation.

To any sensible person, strategy needs to consider the outcome before anything else. The output needs to be tactful in both what it does directly and what it unleashes indirectly. If one counts on success at all, one cannot miss the forest for the trees.

In the case we consider here, the general impression of what the Church stands for – that is, to my mind, an institution which is on the side of “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” – must be held in the highest regard.

On the contrary, in the cases already mentioned, and more to boot, the strategy which the Church worked with left the sourest of impressions of her.

She might have scored some points, but lost the battle of minds and hearts dismally. In the long run, she emerged as an enemy of society, an enemy of progress and an enemy of reform.

This seems to be happening all over again right now. And the result will continue to be the same: reinforcing the impression of the Church as an institution to shun.

Not because of the arguments she uses on these bioethical issues or on any other. Not because of whether the arguments make sense or not. Not because of some presumed political bias.

But mainly because of the ruinous strategy of the campaign.

I personally think that this is quite sad. Not that the Church doesn’t get its way, as it did for centuries on end, or that its arguably sensible voice is not heeded, but because the Church can possibly do better than this. Also, more importantly, because a Church perceived as insensitive, intransigent, intolerant, irrational or retrograde is not the Church of Jesus, and thus cannot be the “joy and hope”, the “mother and teacher” of anyone.

Sad, furthermore, because it seems that in these islands we are forever doomed to have a clericalised Church which does not seem to comprehend the need of reforming its ecclesiological and anthropological outlook. Thereby procuring its own extinction.

“Clericalism prevents laypeople from growing,” Pope Francis once said, and he might have added that it destroys the Church in the process.

Perhaps this time it is still not too late for her to pull up her socks.

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