Former Labour minister Lino Spiteri, interdicted during the sixties, tells Michaela Muscat how his marriage at the time was considered by the church to be a mixed marriage between a believer and a non-believer
“We were lucky that no incidents took place at our wedding even though there was a huge crowd outside the church,” former Labour minister Lino Spiteri recalls of his wedding ceremony held during the interdiction. The bride and groom had been anxious that their ‘special day’ would be marred by angry extremists who had made a habit out of showering the participants at Labour weddings with insults.
The 25-year-old Spiteri and his spouse-to-be had been warned the marriage rites would be performed in the church sacristy but to their surprise it was carried out in English – reinforcing the message that Spiteri was not considered a member of the Catholic Church, and that this was a ‘mixed marriage’.
The parish priest had informed the couple all would not be plain sailing when they had approached him to get married. However they were still astonished the priest used rites appropriate for mixed religion marriages.
Occupying a post in the MLP executive after having been politically active for around seven years, had singled Spiteri out for differential treatment. The extent of the church’s power was so strong that it was not possible to have a civil wedding at the time. They had no choice but to accept the conditions imposed by the curia. “We were a Maltese couple in a church in Rabat yet the mixed marriage ceremony took place in English,” says Spiteri.
Today however, the soft-spoken writer and former politician does not hold any grudges as he speaks about Malta’s unsavoury past.
Surprisingly dispassionate about the entire affair, Spiteri does not harbour hostility towards the church and the individuals involved, but he admits he was perplexed at the time.
“I didn’t feel anger or hostility in the past, so it would be futile to feel that way nowadays. I never say ‘look what they’ve done to me or my family’. As far as I was concerned I was not doing anything wrong or anything which would have angered God.”
A devout believer, his faith never faltered but he does make a distinction between the church and God and always felt he had God and not his mortal representatives to answer to. As he grows older, Spiteri feels that he can analyse the situation better: “I can understand what was going on in the archbishop’s mind more than I could at the time.”
In his eyes, it still does not absolve the Curia of her sins. As far as he was concerned, this saga was political and not religious, yet the repercussions were political and social, attempting to exclude people from a religious and social context.
Spiteri uses an analogy to describe the implications of the interdiction. “Most people were catholic, and Labourites were no less catholic – they participated in religious activities, feasts and organisations. Then all of a sudden a scythe tore our society apart.”
Disorientated intellectually and spiritually, he attempted to rationalise what was going on but socially, he did not suffer – his family soldiered on despite the moral pressure, and having been involved in politics from an early age, he nurtured friendships that didn’t balk under the strain of the times.
He happily reminisces that the wedding party was “normal” and all of the invitees attended, irrespective of their political beliefs. The interdiction did not cast its shadow on the festivities and important political heavyweights: Anton Buttigieg, Mabel Strickland and Nationalist party leader Gorg Borg Olivier were all present.
“I am sorry it happened,” he remarks in an afterthought. “It was obviously not a nice thing having to baptise your child and seeing the priest write down that the baby’s father was interdicted. I ask myself, did we have to go through all this? And the answer is no, I don’t think that we should have experienced what we experienced.”
But time cures all things – Spiteri says he understands why people, especially the younger generation, don’t feel strongly about the issue anymore: “The river flows, times change – so it is not relevant for people anymore.”