Bernard’s fatal moment, Scicluna’s transgression

In the past, the PN’s openness was a recipe for success, now Bernard Grech is sounding like it’s ok to push away younger voters for whom issues like sexual health and reproductive rights, as well as drug legalisation, are important issues

I am still trying to digest what exactly Benard Grech is aiming to achieve with his statement on abortion and the PN’s stance on cannabis legalisation.

Four days ago he said: “The abortion issue is a closed matter. This party was, is, will always be against abortion. It is a clear declaration I have made, that my predecessors have made, and it is our official position as laid down in the statute. Nobody, and I repeat nobody, as long as I am PN leader… will permit anyone to be in favour of abortion and stay in this party or as a representative of the party.”

There was no window, no allowance for someone to be supportive of the PN while still being pro-choice. And it was surprising, considering that he sought to embrace the likes of Chris Peregin, the owner of Lovin Malta, as the PN’s chief strategist. In May of this year Peregin said: “Unlike women in Malta, our politicians have a choice. They can either take this discussion to a viable conclusion, or they can abort it. Ironically, they are choosing to abort it. And by doing so, they are telling the rest of us, that we should probably not continue to afford them the privilege of being legislators.”

But beyond the fact that Peregin has ostensibly little if any influence on Grech’s political sensibilities (or has probably subordinated his beliefs to the PN’s exceptionalism, whatever that might be), Grech’s Talibaneque declaration on pro-choice activists or candidates is a reflection of how unwilling he is to rock the boat inside the PN.

It could also be that Grech cannot be someone he is not. He is after all, no ideologue from the right, an economics visionary, or a policy wonk with a political trajectory he wants to take the party on. Grech happened to be an affable and good communicator whose popularity was carved among the TV audiences of Xarabank. He was a darling of the TV panel, evidently liked enough by the masses to be considered a suitable pretender to the PN throne.

But today as PN leader, by opting to block anyone who is remotely in favour of abortion, Grech has managed to alienate a group of liberals who, albeit silent, have always found a home inside the Nationalist Party. In the past, the PN’s openness was a recipe for success. Now Grech is sounding like it’s ok to push away younger voters for whom issues like sexual health and reproductive rights, as well as drug legalisation, are important issues.

The other Grech cock-up is his party’s stand on cannabis legalisation. Certainly, it is unclear after weeks of procrastination. “The government wanted us to have a position on the matter but we wanted to listen. We don’t want to send a message that drug use is a normality,” he said yesterday. But then he said that the PN had already accepted that the criminalisation of cannabis users had to be eliminated and that the party had already agreed on it unanimously in Parliament. “We need to protect young people and shelter them from difficulties and excessive risks.”

But what exactly is the PN’s position? And does the party understand that many young, as well as older people who use cannabis recreationally – and the numbers are not too small – had already welcomed the reforms?

Grech not only poured cold water on these reforms but deleted any form of support for the PN from this significant segment, once again ignoring the sentiment of voters who want to be welcomed inside the PN. I cannot believe that the Opposition could be so pig-headed that it continues digging its own grave by making itself un-electable. It not only lacks vision but only shows an inexplicable desire for self-immolation.

Gozo land grab

Surely those who watched Archbishop Charles Scicluna live on MaltaToday’s Facebook page last week found it interesting but also very sad. Scicluna had to face the wrath of protestors who gathered to show their anger and disappointment in the archbishop, whose renunciation of the control the Church could have held on a 17th century foundation, has contributed to hastening the environmental disaster facing Qala in Gozo.

Land in Qala is being developed by a private company with the help of the mega-developer Joseph Portelli, who serves as a front for various local and foreign investors, because the Maltese church could have also failed to verify the claims by the Stagno Navarra family that they are rightful heirs to a 17th-century foundation created by a noblewoman.

The Stagno Navarra family, together with former magistrate Dennis Montebello and Gozitan lawyer Carmel Galea, paid €200,000 to the Maltese archdiocese to relinquish control of a foundation – the Abbazia di Sant Antonio delli Navarra, created in 1675 by Cosmana Cumbo Navarra – and replace the Abbazia’s rector, a priest, with a layman of their choice, the lawyer Patrick Valentino.

The Abbazia gathers within it a vast amount of land in Gozo that was for years controlled by a priest, appointed by the Archbishop as the foundation’s rector when the Navarra line ran out of first-born male descendants.

The controversy is about how the land will be ruined forever and how the Church under Scicluna seems to have all too easily accepted this state of affairs and relinquished control.

Scicluna, not his usual bubbly self, told MaltaToday as he was leaving court that: “The decision of church does not have an effect on what happens to the land, as that is the responsibility of the state and courts.”

Cheekily he claimed that he was not aware back in 2017 that the land would then be used for development purposes.

Well for starts, I do not believe the man, having on so many occasions before pontificated on how Malta is being ravaged by developers.

Everyone in the Curia at the time knew that the people who paid the paltry sum of €200,000 had no intention of showcasing Gozo’s pristine landscape, but of turning the land into a cement jungle and fill their bulging pockets with more gold. Former magistrate Montebello and lawyer Carmel Galea are notorious in that sense, having already attempted the land transfers back in the early 1990s with the late Richard Stagno Navarra.

The Archbishop could at least have broached a humble apology and asked for forgiveness for having made a fatal mistake. We would have absolved him... in the same way the Catholic Church absolves sinners for their transgressions in spite of all the suffering they could leave behind them.