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À la carte Catholics

MaltaToday’s survey finds out that the Maltese want to defend the crucifix in public buildings but favour the introduction of divorce, do not believe in papal infallibility, and disagree with the ban on condoms. Evidently, the signs of the times…

james
James Debono
4 April 2010, 9:00am
Archbishop Paul Cremona
Archbishop Paul Cremona
Although over 90% of the Maltese believe in God and follow the Roman Catholic religion, a majority is departing from the Catholic Church’s teachings on contraception, divorce, papal infallibility and the afterlife.

And while the absolute majority of Maltese (93%) agree with the exhibition of religious symbols like the crucifix in public buildings, in clear contrast with a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, the Maltese express more secular views on a number of issues: significantly, for the first time in a MaltaToday survey, an absolute majority (53%) favours the introduction of divorce.

This could be an indication that while religious symbols like the crucifix are still considered an integral part of Maltese identity (as suggested by the fact 90% of under 35-year-olds oppose any ban on religious symbols in public buildings) the Maltese are making a clearer distinction between Church and State than ever before.

The survey shows the number of Maltese opposing divorce falling from 50% in October 2008 to 44%. This majority in favour of divorce is even more pronounced among 18 to 34-year-olds, among whom 62% favour the introduction of divorce.

Those favouring divorce are split between 29.7% who give a unqualified yes to divorce, and 23.7% who believe that divorce should only be introduced in “certain cases”.

Significantly, the survey shows that on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Malta, 57% of the Maltese and 77% of under-35s do not think that the Pope in infallible in matters of faith, thus contradicting a Church dogma enshrined in the first Vatican Council in 1870. The dogma states that by action of the Holy Spirit, the Pope is preserved from even the possibility of error when he solemnly declares or promulgates to the universal Church a dogmatic teaching on faith or morals.
And while 11% feel closer to the Church since the election of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger as Pope, 20% feel more distant from the church. The percentage rises to 28% among those aged under 35.

The gap between the Church and the masses widens when it comes to Catholic views on sexuality. The ban on condoms was only last year reaffirmed by the Pope, who suggested that the use of condoms may even aggravate the AIDS crisis in Africa. But only 22% of the Maltese and 12% of under-35s agree with the Church’s ban on artificial contraception.

As regards sex before marriage, there is a clear split between different age groups. While 50.4% of all respondents think that sex before or outside marriage is always wrong, 66% of under-35s disagree with this outright ban.

But in line with Church doctrine, a large majority of the Maltese (58%) still oppose the ordination of female priests. The ban on women priests is also supported by 53% of under-35s.

Even when it comes to believing in the afterlife, the Maltese are showing a greater tendency to depart from church dogmas. Most notably, only 48% believe in the existence of Purgatory, which in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporary punishment for those who are not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the penance for their earthly transgressions. The faith of the Church concerning Purgatory was first clearly expressed in the Decree of Union drawn up by the Council of Florence in 1031, but was firmly challenged by Lutheran reformists in the 16th century.

Although the majority of Maltese still believe in Hell, 35% of under-35s do not believe in this state of eternal damnation. Among the latter category, 16% do not believe in an afterlife at all.

On the other hand 10% of the Maltese still believe in Limbo – reserved for unbaptised babies too young to have committed personal sins, but not having been freed from Original Sin. Having said that, belief in Limbo is very much in decline, with only 2% of under-35s responding positively to this question.

Growing scepticism on the existence of Limbo could be a reflection of a widely publicised news story that the church had “closed” limbo. In reality, however, the document issued in 2007 by the International Theological Commission, endorsed by Pope Benedict XVI, simply states that there are theological grounds for hope that those infants who die without being baptised will still be saved and enjoy the beatific vision of heaven.

Methodological Note

The survey was held between Tuesday, 16 March and Tuesday, 23 March. 437 respondents were chosen from the online and printed versions of the directory. 300 respondents accepted to participate. The survey has a margin of error of +/-5.7%.

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...