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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

The Archbishop speaks freely, as he should

Bedingfield’s comment was more than simply stupid, considering that when he served at the Vatican, Scicluna was the chief Church prosecutor in sexual abuse cases.

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
19 January 2016, 7:56am
Assuming that Scicluna is of the same ilk as former Archbishops Michael Gonzi and Joseph Mercieca is the basic problem with people who were biased against them because of the religio-political clashes of the past.
Assuming that Scicluna is of the same ilk as former Archbishops Michael Gonzi and Joseph Mercieca is the basic problem with people who were biased against them because of the religio-political clashes of the past.
Reacting to a comment by Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who said that the Prime Minister should not have put on an act during the New Year’s Day message, Glenn Bedingfield, could not resist making a puerile riposte on his facebook page.

Bedingfield, a former Labour MEP and a consultant to the Prime Minister, was replying to Scicluna’s comment saying that the Prime Minsiter did not need any acting, adding: “The next time he visits people in their kitchen, I hope it will be for real.”

This line provoked Bedingfield to reply: “At least the Prime Minister did not go into a children’s bedroom”.

Beddingfield’s reply led to a ruckus in the press with the accusation that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat failed to condemn his aide. The PN even issued a statement saying that it expected action from the PM.

Mr Bedingfield’s comment was more than simply stupid, considering that when he served at the Vatican, Scicluna was the chief Church prosecutor in sexual abuse cases.

This silly incident is again a throwback to days gone by. Bedingfield felt offended at the Archbishop’s candid remark because of the underlying assumption that the Labour Party is permanently at loggerheads with the Head of the Catholic Church in Malta.

The point is not the crudity and the puerile nature of Bedingfield’s remark but the fact that Bedingfield – like many Labour veterans – sees the Archbishop as an antagonist in a power struggle and who is tolerated at most. Assuming that Scicluna is of the same ilk as former Archbishops Michael Gonzi and Joseph Mercieca is the basic problem with people who were biased against them because of the religio-political clashes of the past.

Scicluna does not pretend that he is leading a church that has a hold on the people of Malta. He is realistic and readily acknowledges that he is just the spiritual leader of that part of the Maltese population that still practises the Catholic religion. 

He is no Archbishop Gonzi pushing the state to prohibit the use of bikinis or issuing a letter every summer condemning mixed bathing. He is no Archbishop Mercieca keeping mum about the government’s inroads into what used to be Church territory and then doing the undermining in the most covert way.

The Church in Malta had for centuries filled a vacuum in Maltese society. The Grandmasters who ruled Malta for so long could hardly be bothered with the local population. It was the Church that provided what little education was available to the natives; that provided them with orphanages and other institutes; and that listed births, marriages and deaths in parish records while there was no public registry run by the state. Under the British the Church was in an unholy alliance with the Imperialist power, with the Church imposing its standards of morality on the population so long as the British military presence is not jeopardised in any way. So, for example, condoms were not available for the natives but only available for the British servicemen in Malta. 

The involvement of Maltese political parties in the running of the country meant that a Maltese government would slowly but surely take over those responsibilities that belonged to the state but were previously run by the Church in the absence of a government working in the interests of the Maltese people. We owe our state schools and educational facilities as well as our state hospitals and medical facilities to Maltese governments. We owe our public registry to the few years of the French occupation.

Slowly but surely, the role of the Maltese Church has changed over the centuries. Now, most of its work is purely in the spiritual sphere and many other areas – where it used to fill a vacuum by being the only provider of services for the benefit of the Maltese – have been taken over by the Maltese state. Independence and our EU membership have incredibly changed the way the Maltese state is run. Today the Church has no function in the running of the state and cannot impose its ‘morality’ on every citizen. And so it should be.

Archbishop Scicluna recognises this state of affairs and has no pretensions to buck the trend by attempting to reinstate the Maltese Curia’s temporal power to match that of his predecessors.

But this means that he is even more free to speak and comment about everything.

And this is what he is doing, to the chagrin of those still living in the past.

Franco’s revenge

In a unanimous decision handed down a few days ago, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been ‘a violation of Article 6.3 in conjunction with Article 6.1 (right to a fair trial and right to legal assistance of one’s own choosing) of the European Convention on Human Rights’, when a Maltese man, Mario Borg, had not been assisted by a lawyer during his questioning, in the absence of any provisions of Maltese law allowing for such assistance.

The judgement accused the Constitutional Court of Malta of choosing to contradict the letter and the spirit of the Grand Chamber’s judgement in a previous landmark case, by introducing a broadly formulated caveat to its applicability: the vulnerability of the defendant. 

One of the lawyers who appeared for Borg was none other than Franco Debono. 

This was an issue about which Franco was at loggerheads with the Gonzi administration that – on the advice of the Police – dragged its feet and for a long time failed to amend the law (and to put it into effect) so as to introduce the right of arrested persons to be assisted by a lawyer during questioning.

To his credit, Franco Debono used to stress that Malta had to change its stance about this issue and warned about the consequences that could result from staying put. 

I always told Debono that while he should keep up the pressure, he should not cross the line by voting against his party in Parliament, which he unfortunately did.

This does not mean that on this issue he was not 100% correct.

This case could open the floodgates – in Malta as well as in other European states – and could lead to criminals walking out scot free rather than having to go to prison.

How’s that for the hubris of the Gonzi administration?

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist admini...
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