From the Curia to a brothel and back to Shanghai

Both the government and the opposition have promised to remove criminal libel, but garnishee orders for the media remain firmly in place. This is an unacceptable situation

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, economy minister Chris Cardona and Sai Mizzi Liang
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, economy minister Chris Cardona and Sai Mizzi Liang

What a week it was. Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Gozo Bishop Mario Grech wreaked havoc within the old guard of their Church over guidlines which provide divorced Catholics who remarry and those who cohabit an opening to the sacraments.

NET TV’s Mario Frendo went undercover in a German brothel which – according to Daphne Caruana Galizia – Economy Minister Chris Cardona and his aide visited. Both the minister and his aide deny the accusations and have since instituted proceedings against Caruana Galizia, including precautionary warrants on her assets. And despite being told that her contract won’t be renewed, we learn that Sai Mizzi Liang continues to occupy her position, salaried at €13,000 monthly, as Malta’s special envoy to Asia. 

The Maltese bishops’ guidelines dealing with Catholics in complicated relationships rocked the conservative elements within the local Catholic Church. The guidelines state that people in complicated family situations, who believe that they are at peace with God following a process of reflection, may not be denied communion and absolution.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Bishop Mario Grech are now reportedly holding meetings with parish priests who are uncomfortable with what the bishops said. It is the bishops’ duty to dialogue with their priests, but it is the priests’ duty to embrace people in complicated relationships.

Rendering the Catholic Church into an exclusive club is not an option. But the shock waves caused by these guidelines within the local Church, have nothing to do with the guidelines themselves. They are merely the trigger for a dispute within Scicluna’s church. The conservative guard see Scicluna as a real threat to their world. He’s outspoken, and ambivalent to old rules and status quo.

They are dismayed by what they see as the liberalism of Archbishop Scicluna, and in Gozo, of Bishop Mario Grech. Of course, Scicluna would downplay assertions of unrest within his Church. But unrest it is, and a healthy and much needed one too. Under his leadership, the Church is going through a much needed discernment process. He’s making sure that his Church is in tune with society, whilst being in line with Church doctrine. Scicluna is a change agent. I’m sure that he has more radical changes in mind.

Under threat

Minister Chris Cardona’s decision to issue precautionary warrants on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assets goes beyond the blogger herself and stories about alleged visits by the Economy Minister to a brothel in Germany, which the minister denies. Filing precautionary warrants against journalists and bloggers shows bad implications for the freedom of the press.

Of course, journalists and their colleagues in the media are expected to report facts. But there are libel laws which a politician or anyone else for that matter, can resort to. As long as the system allows for precautionary warrants to be filed together with libel suits against journalists, journalism remains under threat. MaltaToday and the Times of Malta have already been at the receiving end of this terrible stick. Admittedly, few, if any, cried foul back then. This is shameful. The current system is ripe for abuse by politicians, businessmen and individuals who try to silence journalists who expose them.

Both the government and the opposition have promised to remove criminal libel, but garnishee orders for the media remain firmly in place. This is an unacceptable situation which, admittedly, was not addressed by the Nationalist Party in government, or by the current administration – which explains why Cardona was allowed to issue four precautionary warrants against Caruana Galizia.

Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil has now promised that a future Nationalist government would remove “all gags” on free expression such as criminal libel and garnishee. I’m writing this article on Thursday morning. Hopefully, by the time of publishing this piece it would have become obsolete, Cardona would have removed the precautionary warrants and the Prime Minister declares that his government shall implement Busuttil’s suggestion in the coming weeks. 

Mizzi the untouchable

Despite having a secret company in a tax haven, which, on its own merits, warranted his immediate resignation, and despite stating that his wife’s contract – as government envoy in Shanghai – won’t be renewed, but it is, Minister Konrad Mizzi remains unstoppable. This Johnny-come-lately of Maltese politics, who was catapulted to the very top by Joseph Muscat himself, is an untouchable.

Mizzi is one of the greatest and most shameful failings of the Muscat administration: the Prime Minister acted to protect his minister despite being embroiled in the gravest of political scandals. Muscat’s unconditional support for his disgraced minister defies common sense. This explains why Mizzi has an edge over his Prime Minister.

Trump the Islamophobe

At long last, citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries banned from the US by President Donald Trump can resume boarding US-bound flights, after a Seattle judge blocked the executive order. Trump’s decision to ban people from travelling to the US stinks of Islamophobia. The man is mired in prejudice, is shamefully populist and is on a crazy drive to make the world a more dangerous place. His rhetoric plays into the hands of terrorists. At least, there are checks and balances in place which hinder his race to the bottom.

No shame

The Lands Authority is to be composed of nine people chaired by judge Lino Farrugia Sacco who was twice recommended for impeachment after the Commission for the Administration of Justice found him guilty of gross misconduct while president of the Malta Olympic Committee. The parliamentary secretary for planning, Deborah Schembri defended the choice. She told MaltaToday, “I won’t get into the [Malta Olympic Committee] case because it doesn’t interest me. His positive attributes outweigh anything he might have done that could have led to impeachment.” The mind boggles. I would like to think that Dr Schembri had no choice but to appoint the retired judge to the board, unless she’s on a mission to destroy her political career when it has only just started. Which I doubt.

Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV

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