Cardinal Prospero Grech in an informal meeting with the press at the Archbishop's Curia. (Photo by Photocity, Valletta)
Cardinal Prospero Grech, Malta's highest ranked prelate, does not share the widespread view of Malta as an increasingly pluralised country.
The octogenarian Cardinal has lived in Italy since 1946, and this is his first visit to Malta since his ordination last year.
In an informal meeting with the press at the Archbishop's Curia today, he outlined the Church's overall mission to re-evangelise Europe ahead of the forthcoming 'Year of the Faith'
Echoing Pope Benedict (a personal acquaintance, whom he referred to as 'Ratzinger' throughout), Prospero Grech identified "the dictatorship of relativism" as the greatest problem facing the Church in modern times.
"I agree with Ratzinger that there is a lack of a scale of values against which to measure good and bad, and to distinguish between right and wrong."
He partly attributed this lack to a diluting of traditional European culture through what he referred to as the increasing pluralism of society.
"Today we talk of a pluralised society: at least in countries like the UK, France, Italy, and so on, where Christians have become more or less scattered. However I doubt we can really talk about Malta as a pluralist society. When I tell my colleagues about how Sunday Mass attendance here has 'dropped' to 70%, they start laughing..."
Nonetheless, the same process that led to a dismantling of the traditional Christian social model in Europe is visibly at work here also.
Defending the Maltese Church from criticism over its active role in the divorce debate, Cardinal Grech reminded the media that "referendums don't count" as far as the Church is concerned.
"The Bishops were only following the Church's teachings, and the Church only follows the Gospel."
He however acknowledged that some individuals within the Church may have been too outspoken. "More elasticity would have caused less damage, certainly. But even flexibility has its limits."
The bottom line, he insisted, is the Church stood by what it believed to be the truth. "The Church is against divorce. If it changed this position according to fashion or popular demand, it would no longer be a Church."
Divorce also stood out in Cardinal Grech's assessment of the secularisation of Europe. One of the ill-effects of divorce, he said, was that the resulting instability caused more people to choose cohabitation rather than marriage. Children brought up in this environment are not always given the necessary grounding in religious education.
"If young people are moving away from the Church, it is partly because they do not fully understand the Church's teachings. Take a child raised by a mother or a father who doesn't believe, or both, and who opt out of religious instruction. How will that child be exposed to catechism?"
Cardinal Grech drew a distinction between this category, who drift away from the Church through ignorance, and others who do know and understand the Church's position on issues, and leave the church because they disagree with it.
And yet, when a small group of Maltese nationals expressed disagreement with the Catholic Church and tried to formally end their association with it, they found all the doors practically slammed shut in their faces - to the extent that they even initiated legal proceedings.
Faced with this example, Cardinal Grech (who freely confessed he was unfamiliar with local goings-on) acknowledged that similar efforts had been made in Italy under the battle-cry "sbattezzamento" (de-baptism).
"But it is only a trickle, and they are mainly hot-headed people who want to make a point," he said. "And even so, their baptism will still remain valid; so much so, that if any of those people choose to return to the Church, perhaps because God inspired them to, they will not need to be baptised again. But normally, people who want to leave the Church just do so quietly on their own, and without any fuss."