Myopia rules OK!

In its enthusiasm to observe God’s law (as it sees it) the local Church forgets all about compassion and loving one’s neighbour.

The controversy sparked within the local Church in the wake of the Bishop's pastoral letter on IVF is not one on whether the Church's teachings on that particular issue is correct from a moral standpoint but has been provoked by the way the message was couched and its timing.

Writing with more than a pinch of salt in his blog, Andrew Azzopardi said that if he was unduly suspicious he would have thought that Gozo Bishop Mario Grech had hijacked the Maltese Curia. The politics within the Maltese Curia may not be the issue here although the lack of compassion and the aggressive, 'know-it-all' attitude of the Pastoral letter could be the result of an interesting jockeying for positions among those who rule the roost in the Curia. Bishops can be alpha males as well!

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus related the story of a traveller who is beaten, robbed, and left for dead along the road. First a Priest and then a Levite come by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan comes by and he helps the injured man despite the fact that Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other. Jesus did not condemn the Priest and the Levite for leading a life that observed the Jewish moral code to the letter of the law but for showing lack of compassion.

Sometimes, it seems that in its enthusiasm to observe God's law (as it sees it) the local Church forgets all about compassion and loving one's neighbour. The Bishops could have asserted the Church's right to take a moral stand on IVF without being insensitive about infertile couples who have resorted, or are thinking of resorting, to IVF techniques in order to have children.

I know of intelligent church going childless couples who felt insulted not by the Church's teachings on IVF but by the insensitive tone of the pastoral letter. Personally, I think I know what childless couples feel more than any Bishop. For over a decade I experienced a childless without children; before my son was conceived - by natural methods, I might add. My heart is therefore all with those who felt insulted and not with those who showed an incredible lack of compassion. As leading Maltese theologian and advisor to Archbishop Paul Cremona, Fr Rene' Camilleri, put it: 'This is not the way to transmit the Church's doctrine.'

We have already seen the wrong attitude adopted by the Church during the divorce referendum campaign. Nobody in his right senses expects the Church to deny its tenets, but asserting them without sensitivity can only be an unnecessary public relations disaster for the Church. As Andrew Azzopardi put it, 'Believing that what I say is correct, does not give me the right to ride roughshod over whoever is in the way.'

In an article of mine in this newspaper exactly a year ago entitled Time for Reflection, I argued that the way the Church tackled the divorce issue and its ineptitude in handling the clerical abuse scandal were just symptoms: 'The real malaise is the way it (the Church) looks at its role in Maltese society and at this society itself in the year 2011 - an attitude that can only be described as completely out of synch with the current Maltese social milieu.' I had concluded that for the Church this is certainly time for reflection, the time for it to start rethinking the way it operates and tries to fulfil its mission in today's society.'

Alas this is not happening and the myopic way the Church is expressing itself is only paving the way for it to become more irrelevant in today's society. Over the years, there have been many who felt that the Church's hold on Maltese society was stiflingly overbearing and that the country needed to be liberated from what they considered to be an affliction. They have only partly succeeded - but now the Church is unwittingly doing its utmost to make itself absolutely irrelevant.

This situation reminds me of the famous sarcastic criticism of Pope Urban VII: 'Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini'!

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The Bank of Valletta (BoV) Property Fund saga seems destined to keep on dragging for far more than was necessary. This is also an incredible case of myopic thinking.

The Consumer Complaints Manager of the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) investigated complaints made by 15 persons alleging misselling of perpetual securities by BoV, found in their favour and recommended to BoV the reintegration of its clients in their previous financial position, something that BoV is refusing to do.  MFSA even 'explained' to BoV that reintegrating these persons in their previous financial position means the reimbursement of the cost of purchase plus interest lost.

Apparently, the Bank's legal advisor believes that the recommendations made by the Consumer Complaints Manager of the MFSA are "merely opinions and have no bearing on the Bank's own view of the merits of the complaints made against it as the MFSA cannot, at law, take any executive decisions in favour or against the Bank".

The Bank's legal advisor may be perfectly correct from a strictly myopic legal point of view. What beats me is the fact that the Bank is intent on sticking to this position without realising that following this advice to the letter is tantamount to treating innocent investors in the shabbiest of ways.

Irrespective of the legality of this argument, BoV's adoption of an aggressive, 'know-it-all' attitude reflects a callous lack of compassion and is an avoidable and unnecessary public relations disaster for BoV.

The common citizen is expected to believe that the regulator is there to give opinions that the regulated are free to ignore! We are even expected to believe that the procedure whereby MFSA investigates the complaints of the common citizen is just a lip serving game that has no legal standing. This means that MFSA's regulatory function is not worth the paper that it is written on. Perhaps we should start telling this to foreigners who are interested to move their financial services businesses to Malta. I am sure that this will lead to an increase in our country's financial services sector while the EU would be happy so long as we have the 'correct' law even though, in practice, it translates into nothingness!

I cannot understand how a public authority entrusted with the consumer protection of the little citizen (and more so of the socially and economically disadvantaged elderly), could fail to take any steps to enforce its own rulings on complaints by utilising its statutory powers and start legal proceedings against BoV whose legal advisor will not accept anything but a court order to accept that the recommended compensation is due.

Even worse, the MFSA not only ignores the legitimate expectations of the public but also makes no attempt to justify its action or lack of action, apparently oblivious to the legitimate expectations that as a public authority it has a duty to be accountable for what it does and for what it fails to do.

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