Letters: 31st August 2014

Café Premier – a clarification

My attention has been drawn to Saviour Balzan’s opinion published on 24 August 2014 (‘An ice bucket for our democracy’).
I will not comment either on the subject of the article nor on my input in the matter; that is the prerogative of the administration, when and if they decide to do so.

Nevertheless, I assure Mr Balzan that I have explained and given a complete version of the facts as I know them, and I did reply to all the questions put to me by the Police in their investigation. I also assure him that I will willingly do that same in any other investigation that is held.

I feel bound however to reply to remarks and inexactitudes made in respect of my personal life. It is completely false to say that I left the service as a result of Dr Jason Azzopardi’s alleged “lack of faith”. I took that decision based on medical advice much before the 2008 elections, as can be vouched for by various people, including the Permanent Secretary and the Principal Permanent Secretary at the time.
Much against medical advice, I stayed on until just after the advent of the incoming Parliamentary Secretary out of respect to the administration of the time and to ensure a smooth handing over.

There was nothing semi-honourable on honourable in the decision that was thrust upon me. Dr Jason Azzopardi never expressed to me any lack of faith in my working and, in fact, I did continue to serve the administration in a very minor capacity, as is the case with the present administration.

Having come to terms with the level of personal wellbeing, I did however decide not to pass all my remaining days being a homebound armchair critic awaiting our Lord’s call, but to contribute as best as I could from my long experience with different administrations.

John Sciberras, San Gwann

The Church leadership crisis – more harm than good done?

Numerous opinions have been expressed by some members of the clergy and laymen on the current situation of the Church and in particular the leadership qualities of Archbishop Cremona. I tend to feel that some of them are a bit brash to say the least, others subtle, while a lot has been said by laymen in favour of the Church and its leader.  I feel perturbed on how this will impact the spiritual wellbeing of the faithful.
Some questions that beckon an answer are: Is this the tip of the iceberg? Are there more who are in disagreement? How should I as a lay member of the Church react to this situation?  How do I interpret the words ‘Leadership crisis’ within the Church context and how does this affect my spiritual wellbeing?

I would humbly express my feelings and reactions as a member of the Catholic Church who regularly attends mass and am hopefully striving to lead a life as required by the teachings of Jesus Christ.

As I grow older I have become more careful in expressing opinions and being judgemental on anything for that matter, and would surely be on my guard when it comes to subjects relating to the Church. You see, opinions should not always be black or white in fact they also come in shades of grey. I am careful for the basic reason that in addition to preserving the formation of my conscience I would not want to be responsible in any way for misinforming somebody else’s.  

During childhood catechism lessons I was taught that one should strive at attaining a well formed conscience by essentially adopting an upright and truthful attitude to the true good will of our creator. Since we are at times subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin, it is indispensable for a human being to have a conscience which has been formed by a true understanding of the teachings of the church.
The rule of thumb in adopting an informed conscience is in asking oneself whether one would want something done to others, done to one’s self.

If the answer is no, then you should not do it. And if I were the Archbishop would I want one or more of the clergy expressing their conflicts of conscience in such a manner? Would I be hurt by such comments? Would I worry about the future of the Catholic Church in Malta? Would I consider resigning from my anointed responsibility? This is something which I cannot answer because there is a long haul between having empathy with the Archbishop and being in his shoes. 

I consider the members of the clergy as teachers and at that an instrument and guidance in forming one’s conscience. Therefore in expressing their opinions I am sure they keep in mind that what they say will impart and impact an influence on the conscience of their listeners.  Will it misinform more than forming one’s conscience?

I have never had the privilege of meeting him but Archbishop Cremona comes to me as being a man of great humility, love and spirituality. I do follow him as closely as possible whenever he preaches, writes or features in discussions. I can still feel his preaching through his silence. For me he always came across as the shepherd looking after the lost sheep. I see him as being careful in his thoughts and expressing them in ways that do not conflict with the universal teaching of the Church and at the same time leaving the door always open for dialogue and consensus. He oozes compassion and love for the children of God.

Another pre-occupation that I have is how easily it has become for Catholic priests to express publicly their objections or conflicts of conscience at the way the local Church is being run, or as some of them have explained the Church leadership crisis.   
If Archbishop Cremona has become such an easy target for some clergymen how would one expect a laymen to interpret this? Is this not a sign of disrespect towards the Head of the Maltese church?

It is stated that people holding positions of authority and trust are amenable to adopting different leadership styles. Not all persons in leadership positions display the same personality traits but are still successful. In fact this is acceptable in business environments and much depends on the dynamics of the whole team.  But Jesus was not a manager; neither was he running a successful business. He preached to the living, the love of God the father, providing a spiritual leadership that culminated with his untimely death on the cross. Jesus had a following not because of the position he held in society but because he was seen by his followers as being someone who was larger than themselves.

Doesn’t this scenario also apply to the Church on leadership matters, which after all should not be construed as a business entity but a spiritual one?  Could it be that the expected leadership qualities of some of the clergy are at a tangent with those displayed by Archbishop Cremona? If so should these conflicts be displayed in such a flagrant manner?

Does this situation indicate that there is a serious communication problem within the Church hierarchy? I would be interested to know how communication within the clerical community is being handled. Could it be that the feelings of these priests have not been communicated directly or not heeded to by Archbishop Cremona? If there is a communication problem then how difficult would it be for these same people to teach us faithful the words of Christ?

I have long come to believe that a person who does not communicate well does not teach well.

I perceive a spiritual leader as much distinct from a temporal one. I see him as one who can fill a room with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness, even while speaking on hard things. Recent writings may have prompted a lot of discussion, however it may have also done spiritual damage to the Church.

Carmel Vassallo, Fgura

Dubious 'relics'

When I see photos of “relics” such as “The arm bone of St Paul”, “The arm bone of St George”, and “The blood of St Lawrence”, I think of the 1,700 years and more since the death of these saints.

It makes me wonder how such fragile bone fragments and centuries-old blood could have survived the ravages of time and the depredations of barbarian invasions, while other more durable structures have vanished without a trace from the face of the earth.

The authenticity of the above relics is very much in doubt since they are not backed up by any document that can be traced all the way back to the time of the death of the saints to whom they are ascribed. The wide prevalence of belief about these relics is no proof of their authenticity. As Will Durant writes in ‘The Lessons of History’: “The Church stooped to fraud, as with pious legends, bogus relics, and dubious miracles.”

“What would Jerome say,” wrote Erasmus, “could he see the Virgin’s milk exhibited for money; the miraculous oils; the portions of the true cross, enough, if collected, to freight a large ship? Here we have the hood of St Francis, there our Lady’s petticoat, or St Anne’s comb.”

The liquefaction of the blood of saints, like “the annual liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro in Naples, is a phenomenon that can easily (and has been) repeated by any competent conjurer... It is surprising how petty some of these ‘supernatural miracles’ now seem” (Christopher Hitchens, God is not great).

John Guillaumier, St Julians