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BY James Debono

Majority of Maltese would legalise euthanasia • ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’: majority against cartoons of Jesus and Mohammed

The majority of Maltese people agree with euthanasia for patients suffering from terminal illness and disagree with the church’s teachings on contraception, but overwhelmingly disagree with the depiction of religious figures like Mohammed and Jesus Christ in satirical newspaper cartoons.

This emerges from a MaltaToday Easter survey held among 500 respondents, which assesses the state of Catholicism in Malta. A similar survey was carried out in 2010.

The survey reveals sharp differences between different age groups with regard to attendance at Mass. While 65% of those aged less than 35 years do not attend Mass on Sunday, 74% of those aged over 55 years do.

The survey also shows an overwhelming approval for the way Pope Francis is leading the global church but lukewarm approval for the way Archbishop Scicluna is leading the Maltese church.  

While only 12% judge Scicluna’s leadership negatively, 47% express a positive judgement. On the other hand an overwhelming 93% judge Pope Francis’s leadership positively.

Yet in contrast to Pope Francis’s highly politically charged pontificate, marked by sharp pronouncements against indifference towards migrants and neo liberalism, a majority of the Maltese would like the church to speak less about accepting migrants and tax evasion.

The survey also shows sizeable minorities agreeing with the legalisation of abortion in the case of rape, and among those who do not believe in hell.

Majority in favour of euthanasia

The most striking result of the survey is widespread agreement with euthanasia in those cases where the patient suffers from a terminal illness and is suffering from unbearable pain.

Among 18- to 34-year olds, 65% of them agree with the right to die in this specific circumstance. Moreover 54% of the university educated and 59% of those with a post secondary education agree with euthanasia. The only categories opposed to euthanasia are those with a primary level of education and respondents aged over 55 years.

 

As yet only the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Colombia and five US states allow some form of doctor-assisted dying. Switzerland is one of the few countries that allow assisted suicide by patients administering a lethal dose of medication themselves. 

In 2015 the Economist asked Ipsos MORI to survey people in 15 countries on whether doctors should be allowed to help patients to die, and if so, how and when. Russia and Poland are against, but the survey found strong support across America and Western Europe for allowing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients with terminal diseases. In 11 out of the 15 countries surveyed, most people favoured extending doctor-assisted dying to patients who are in great physical suffering but not close to death.

The survey reveals a considerable change in attitudes towards social issues when opinions of respondents are compared with those expressed in surveys conducted in 2008 and 2010.

Agreement with abortion in the case of rape has shot up from 20% to 31% when compared to 2008. Agreement with euthanasia for terminally ill patients suffering from unbearable pain has also risen from 41% to 53%. Disagreement with the church’s teachings on contraception has gone up from 69% to 77%.

The survey also shows that university-educated respondents are equally divided when asked whether abortion should be allowed in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape.   But all other educational groups opposed abortion in these specific circumstances.

Interestingly, respondents aged between 35 and 54 years were the most favourable to abortion rights in cases of rape. While only 30% of under-34-year olds and 28% of over-55-year olds favour the legalisation of abortion in this circumstance, support for abortion rises to 36% in the 35-54 years category.

The survey also shows an overwhelming rejection of the church’s ban on contraceptives. Only 3% of university-educated respondents (and 15% of all respondents) agree with the church’s stance on contraception.

Majority against cartoons of religious figures

While the survey suggests a liberalisation of social mores, it also shows that the vast majority think that newspapers should not be allowed to publish cartoons ‘making fun’ of religious figures. This suggests a majority of the Maltese agree with censorship when it comes to offending deep rooted religious sensitivities. 

The depiction of religious figures in cartoons was brought to a head after the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which distinguished itself with making satirical cartoons of religious figures like Mohammed and Christ, was singled out in a terrorist attack which saw 11 people murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in January 2015.

The survey also shows that the vast majority of the Maltese are not motivated by islamophobia in objecting to cartoons like those published in Charlie Hebdo, and that the Maltese make little difference between satirical cartoons of Mohammed or Christ. In fact while 95% think that newspapers should not allow cartoons depicting Christ, 90% think that newspapers should not be allowed to publish cartoons depicting Mohammed.

Support for the publication of cartoons making fun of both religious figures is higher among younger respondents. While 30% of 18- to 34-year olds agree that newspapers should be allowed to publish cartoons of Jesus Christ only 14% of 35- to 54-year olds and 4% of over-55-year olds agree. Educated respondents were also more likely to support the right of newspapers to publish cartoons of both Jesus Christ and Mohammed.

Respondents with a secondary or primary level of education were the most likely to distinguish between the two religious figures. While 5% of secondary-educated respondents agree with publishing cartoons of Jesus, 7.3% agreed with publishing cartoons of Mohammed. And while 95% of respondents with a primary education oppose publishing cartoons of Mohammed, 95% opposed publishing cartoons of Jesus. Respondents with a higher education opposed the publication of cartoons of both religious figures by the same margin.

65% of under-35-year olds do not attend Sunday mass

Although the Maltese overwhelmingly (89%) define themselves as Catholics, only just over half go to Sunday mass.

The survey indicates that 65% of under-35-year olds do not attend Sunday mass. But overall the survey indicates little change in attendance at mass when compared to the last church census carried out in 2006, which showed 53% attending mass. The MaltaToday survey has 51% saying that they had attended mass the previous Sunday. The rate of Sunday mass participation rises to 62% among over-55-year olds.

The survey indicates that Malta still has a higher rate of church attendance than other Catholic countries like Spain (21%), Ireland (46%) and Italy (31%) but lower than that of Poland (54%). This suggests that Catholic ritual remains an integral part of the life of a large section of the Maltese population.

The survey also finds that core Catholic beliefs, such as the belief in eternal damnation are waning. The survey also shows that only 40% of under-35-year olds and of university-educated respondents do not believe in hell. 

The survey also shows an overwhelming approval of the way Pope Francis is leading the global church and a more lukewarm approval for the way Archbishop Scicluna is leading the Maltese church.  

While only 12% judge Scicluna’s leadership negatively, 47% express a positive judgement. A large segment (31%) express a so-so judgement. Significantly 30% of under-35-year olds could not express a judgement on Scicluna while a majority of over-35-year olds expressed a positive judgement.

On the other hand 93% judge Pope Francis’s leadership positively. Only 0.4% judge the pope’s leadership negatively.

Maltese not keen on church speaking on tax evasion

Yet in contrast to Pope Francis’s highly politicised pontificate, marked by sharp pronouncements against indifference towards migrants and the ravages of global capitalism, a slight relative majority of 46% of the Maltese would like the Maltese church to speak less in favour of accepting migrants, while 44% want the church to speak more on this issue. 

A relative majority would also like the church to speak less against tax evasion. Only 37% would like the church to speak more on this issue, on which the church has been quite silent, though tax evasion is considered a sin by the universal church: In 1992 the Vatican issued a new universal catechism which identifies a range of new sins that are products of modern-day society. These include tax evasion, mistreatment of immigrants, financial speculation, abuse of the environment and genetic engineering.

In 2008 Pope Benedict XVI also lashed out against tax havens, calling for the effective closure of secretive tax havens as a ‘necessary first step’ to restore the global economy to health. 

In line with the present Pope’s strong environmental stance a small majority think that the church should speak more against ODZ development. The survey shows the public evenly divided on whether the church should speak more or less against embryo freezing, with a slight majority calling on the church to speak more on this issue.

Methodology

The survey was held between 29th February and 4th March. A total of 723 respondents were contacted by telephone. The survey was stopped when a quota sample of 500 completed interviews was reached. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4.4 percentage points.

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Budget 2014

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