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The Montebello debacle

Fr Mark Montebello

Fr Mark Montebello

Sunday started with a concentrated barrage against the Archbishop. It-Torċa fired the first volley, though truth be told It-Torċa’s editorial did not mention the Archbishop. Then the social networks went on fire:

“Scicluna is the Grand Inquisitor. Torquemada looks like an innocent boy scout compared to him.”

“Scicluna to the pillory. He is the enemy of free speech. He censored Fr Mark Montebello. Scicluna told him just shut up or I will kick you out of the priesthood.”

Truth be told, I was embroiled in the fray with many luminaries gracing the social media with all sorts of ‘pleasantries’ about me. I felt honoured that the Honourable former Mayor of Qormi gave me her attention and a ‘hearty’ mention. The dentist of Mistra, I am told, put in his golden words as well. I will be eternally grateful.

Back the Archbishop …..

Several newspapers and websites jumped on the bandwagon. Did they check with the Curia to get its side of the story? Did they for a moment suspect that the story was not correct?

The story was simply not true.

U ejja, come on, why should they? Don’t be a dejjaq.’

Several media outlets just parroted what they though It- Torċa wrote or went one better. Lovinmalta.com, for example, placed a photo of the Archbishop side by side that of Fr Montebello with the word censored across to drum the message in.

There was only one little snag; a miniscule one at that. The story was simply not true.

U ejja come on’ should any self-respecting journalists let truth spoil a good clickbait story? News value is today more about clicks than truth, many believe.

The Curia broke silence early afternoon:

The Archbishop had not taken any action against Fr Montebello. He did not instigate anyone to take any action. He was not informed of any action taken against the Dominican friar.

The Curia had informed l-Orizzont of all this a week before It- Torċa broke the story. The other media outlets simply did not care. It took lovinmalta.com about four hours to agree to somewhat correct their untrue report.

Did the Curia’s stating of the facts make a difference? Not really, at least not with those who think that tarring the Archbishop and the church is fair game.

The story continued Monday morning when the Archbishop approached the Provincial of the Dominican Order to inform him that he is more than willing to facilitate a resolution where Fr Mark Montebello may continue with his writing in full respect for his commitment as a religious priest and in full loyalty to Church teaching.

The Curia informed the public of all this Monday evening.

The Archbishop could do no more as he has to respect the autonomy of the Religious Order which means that a religious priest is answerable to his superior, who is the Provincial of the Order.

This notwithstanding Mgr Scicluna decided to take a stand for freedom of expression:  ‘Every priest is bound to respect his priestly commitment and to faithfully represent and follow Church teachings. Within these parameters, every priest, whether religious or diocesan, has the freedom to engage in mature and healthy debate on current issues.’

I will not shy away from giving my opinion about Fr Montebello’s Wednesday, April 25, 2018, article in The Times of Malta titled ‘What strategy is there?

Did it deserve disciplinary action? My answer is definitively not.

The article is vintage Montebello. It is full of non sequiturs, generalisations, and caricatures of the Church’s position or strategy on the subject in question. But it would be a very sad day for the Church if a priest is disciplined for writing that kind of stuff, even if it is considered to be tripe. 

Besides being objectively not correct such an action is strategically nonsensical as it just furnishes the media circus with more hot air.

 

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