Enjoying the show

I have never had time for pretenders who pose as independent journalists, but are nothing more than ambitious political animals who relish in the art of hypocrisy

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
14 August 2017, 7:32am
Charles Fenech: When priests get embroiled in sex, that’s the kind of news that sells in Catholic Malta
Charles Fenech: When priests get embroiled in sex, that’s the kind of news that sells in Catholic Malta
Fr Charles Fenech, formerly of Kerygma and Radju Marija, fell from grace this week. Unsurprisingly lawyers defending him will appeal the suspended prison sentence in relation to a sexual offence. In a week dominated by no news, such a topic easily becomes hot news. When priests get embroiled in sex, that’s the kind of news that sells. It has an audience in Catholic Malta, in a climate where it is fashionable to hit out at the clergy when the sword of morality falls on their heads.

Guilty or not, the general feeling has been one of resentment towards the clergy. But I have to say that contrary to the general sentiment, I can only feel sad at the whole situation. This particular contretemps was all about one person’s version against the other, of one adult versus another, about two people who argued that they were both depressed, and about a judiciary which is more concerned about what the public is saying.

The other day, talking to friends my age, we reminisced about episodes in our teenage life where we lived unhappy events with some members of the clergy. Unlike today’s youth, we were brought up with an overdose of the Catholic Church and its so called principles, and in spite of the revulsion we still have a hidden reverence for it. Sex then was painted as some evil, satanic experience. The whole Catholic doctrine was unleashed to combat the hormones of thousands of teenage boys and girls who grew up with a guilty conscience about something they should never have had.

Years later, you hear of stories about notorious members of the clergy who were involved in relationships with women or men and have had affairs. Or about cases related to cruel sexual encounters and abuse of young children.

In former times, the Church would devise ways of reducing the impact of such scandals by keeping the news under wraps or simply transferring the transgressor to some remote posting in Gozo.

It sort of worked out until the media reinvented itself and society changed. That is when the demise of the Church slowly set in and people became more open and questioning about their feelings for the Church.

It was as if keeping or not keeping a lid on sex was the only measure that made a person immoral or moral or a good or bad Catholic. Loyalty, honesty, good governance and respecting others, I guess, were less important.  

For years we were led to believe that members of the clergy could live without sex.  As if men and women in the clergy were stripped of their libido by just giving up everything for Christ.  

It is simply not true. Most individuals have urges and feelings like any of us and should normally need to engage in some form of sexual behaviour.  

Of course sexual encounters are not exactly decorous moments for many people. Most of us keep the micro-details to ourselves and that I guess is how it should be.

So when, true or false, we are presented in Court with the image of a woman giving head to a Dominican priest in a car in Buskett, the public squeal in disgust. That a Catholic priest should have resorted to such physical relief is simply grist for the mill for the prejudice of Catholics.

But is it so disgusting? Consider how celibacy and abstinence are not practised by the pastors in the Anglican, Lutheran and so many other Christian denominations, as well as in the Muslim and Jewish religions. In the case of non-Catholic denominations, married bishops, imams and rabbis are the order of the day. Gay pastors too, of course, though not all necessarily open about it. The problem is intrinsically with a Church that has grave and serious misgivings about moving with the times and shirking off celibacy for its priests. 

Needless to say, many people could not give a hoot whether the Church changes or not. I do not blame them. But a little bee inside me is telling me that it would be nice if the Church did change and changed its attitude towards sex and opened up to this brave new world. It may be a futile thought, considering that the Church has failed in so many of its missions.

***

I just love it. Seeing Pierre Portelli, who is supposed to be running The Malta Independent while he does soap on national TV under an autocratic socialist regime, and then gives consultancy to the Adrian Delia campaign, which is currently busy issuing statements condemning this and that.

As we all know, Portelli wishes to become secretary-general of the Nationalist Party. It would be a great move, considering that the present secretary-general, Rosette Thake, did sweet FA in her job.

But then, the beautiful irony of the PN and its stooges’ infighting was seeing Delia (and Portelli) having to face a faecal onslaught by Portelli’s own columnist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, for having published a recent €7.2 million constitution of debt in Delia’s name. I guess it’s called tasting what others before have had to gulp down with abandon, and to which Portelli of course never objected when allowing a newspaper to be used as a political slingshot.

‘Delia’ reacted, with a statement taking umbrage at Caruana Galizia’s assertions and hysteria, bidding to shoot them down as if they were unjust statements, and as if nothing like them had ever been made before, though then they went unnoticed because the target was not Delia.

Well, they could well be unjust. But why this hullabaloo? Why now?

Caruana Galizia, hosted by Pierre Portelli’s Independent, made the most astonishing statements about others which the Independent’s editors never bothered to even confirm their veracity, let alone  tone down.

There is no love lost between Portelli and me, but I have never had time for pretenders who pose as independent journalists, but are nothing more than ambitious political animals who relish in the art of hypocrisy, who were brought up in political parties with a silver spoon placed in their mouths by some political ringmaster.

Portelli genuflected before Caruana Galizia on the Egrant allegations, and all those who took up the story relished every moment the way it was played out, with the newspaper propping up a campaign that turned it into the PN’s unapologetic mouthpiece during the 2017 election. With the PN’s ship having run aground since 2009, especially through the party’s dependence on poison-pen blogging to target critics and their families, not once did Portelli consider whether the Independent was only making things worse for a real Opposition party to regain its rightful political space.

The newspaper simply hollowed out the normal practice of journalism to instead take the leads of its columnist from her blog, and run front-page stories from this depository of odium. It was either that or the lazy PRs. Not once was this abuse of the journalistic trade brought in check.

And now she has turned her guns on Adrian Delia, Portelli’s swinging door to his dream of being secretary-general of the PN.

My honest feeling is that her only motivation is that Delia had defended Charles Attard ‘iz-Zambi’ in 1994, who pleaded guilty and was imprisoned for the attempted murder of Richard Cachia Caruana, her friend, even though it seems he later recanted while in prison.

Of course there’s nothing controversial about Caruana Galizia publishing a publicly-available constitution of debt. Only Delia seems to think such a publication is “unacceptable”. 

Just like the Romans sat down in the Coliseum to watch a bunch of barbarians fight for their lives, so do I today take my seat with the rest of the citizenry to witness this orgy of infighting. It truly is quite a show.

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Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...