The Archbishop’s gambit

Irrespective of one’s personal beliefs, there is no doubt that Archbishop Scicluna is one of a kind – the right kind, of course

Irrespective of one’s personal beliefs, there is no doubt that Archbishop Scicluna is one of a kind – the right kind, of course
Irrespective of one’s personal beliefs, there is no doubt that Archbishop Scicluna is one of a kind – the right kind, of course

Archbishop Charles Scicluna played the cleverest of gambits last week when he celebrated All Souls’ day by visiting – unannounced – Maria Addolorata Cemetery to bless the graves of those who are buried in the unconsecrated part of the cemetery and of the unidentified migrants who drowned at sea and ended up being buried in Malta, as well as pray for their souls.

This was a strong message indeed.

The message was in reply to those who still think that behind the Archbishop’s actions and words there are still the sentiments about the Labour Party of his predecessor Mgr Michael Gonzi and to those who are spewing hate speech against African migrants crossing the Mediterranean in their search for a better life.

When he was first installed Archbishop, Charles Scicluna used to tweet his thoughts on what was going around in Malta. He quickly found out that saying he disagreed with something or other was associated with the Maltese Curia’s anti-Labour stance of the late 1950s and early 1960s – something that was stuck in the psyche of those who have not shaken off the emotional shackles of the religio-political dispute that were still retained in the collective memory of veteran Labour supporters.

Even saying he did not like the electricity lights in Castille – a purely personal opinion – was considered as more anti-Labour propaganda emanating from the Curia.

Mgr Scicluna is a fast learner. His tweeting soon stopped as there was no way he could avoid misinterpretation every time he tapped some thought on his mobile phone, albeit he would have done so innocently.

In truth, the idea of having an unconsecrated part of the cemetery for those who have publicly shown that they died while in the bad books of the Church was a medieval concept – to the extent that those buried there included unbaptised innocent babies.

The Church’s opprobrium was even more despicable than it is today, as in the 1960s the so-called unconsecrated part of the cemetery was separated from the rest by a high wall and it could only be accessed from the cemetery’s side entrance. In fact this shameful wall was physically removed when the late Dr Alexander Cachia Zammit was the minister responsible for health in a PN administration of the late sixties. From then on, there was no apparent difference between one part of the cemetery and another – except for the psychological divide in the minds of the faithful.

Breaking this mould is not easy and half a century had to pass before Scicluna’s bold step – a step aimed at the staunchest of veteran labour supporters that still perceived the Maltese Church as being at odds with their party – even though Archbishop Mercieca had publicly apologised for the ill-conceived actions of the Maltese Church so many years ago.

The Archbishop’s other message regarded the attitude of many Maltese towards African migrants who end up on our shores, with many ending up dying at sea with their bodies never being recovered.

Malta is the resting place of those whose lifeless bodies were picked by our Armed Forces in Maltese territorial waters or in the large search and rescue area for which Malta is responsible.

Blessing these graves and praying for the dead migrants’ souls – irrespective of the religion to which they adhered – sent the message that these human beings are nothing less than other human beings such as the ‘kind’ citizens of Malta.

The Archbishop was not only sticking to a routine religious rite but also sending the message that as Christians, we cannot discriminate between human beings, and that ethnic differences are not on.

Irrespective of one’s personal beliefs, there is no doubt that Archbishop Scicluna is one of a kind – the right kind, of course.

Planning the way to go

As has already been said, the government trying to say that the Qala permit mess was just the Planning Authority’s responsibility is rich.
I was the responsible minister when the original Palnning Authority was set up many moons ago. It was an attempt to distance politicians from the issuing of building permits after the experience of the Lorry Sant days.

The idea was to make a clear distinction between planning policies and the issue of building permits. Planning policies was the territory where the administration of the day – the politicians – had the final say. Actual building permits were the responsibilty of the Planning Authority and politicans were not expected to indulge in pushing or obstructing the processing of development applications carried out independently by the Planning Authority.

For this to succeed, a culture change was necessary, as the idea went against the grain of the Maltese culture of tit-for-tat. As any politician will tell you, there are some people who cannot understand how and why the government of the day cannot interfere in decisions taken by the Courts – let alone the Planning Authority.

Ironically, at the time the Planning Authority was set up, Labour Opposition MPs claimed in Parliament that it was all a ruse so that the government could hide behind a screen to avoid being seen taking some unpopular decisions to the benefit of its friends.

‘Trading off’ is part of our culture. As someone was explaining in a recent radio interview, even praying is part of the Maltese culture of trading off. I knew one of my wife’s relations who used to promise St Anthony a contribution to ‘his’ box for the needy if she found something that she had lost. She would at first promise him sixpence, raising the ante every fifteen minutes or so. Sometimes she had to ‘promise’ half a crown (two shillings and six pence) before the saint did bother to help her find it.

I have to admit that the attempt to change this culture in the case of the issue of building permits has failed miserably. The link between voting – or even contributing to the party’s electoral expenses – and getting a development permit is as strong as ever.

However, the setting up of the Planning Authority did manage to get out the process from its hiding behind the curtains of some ministerial office. The process of issuing development permits is now fully exposed in the public domain and one can see it happening, and even object to it – something that was unheard of before.

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