Malta shouldn’t be led by the Church – Moviment Iva

'We are a secular state. We shouldn’t be led by the Church. We are not like Iran' - Moviment Iva chairperson Deborah Schembri.

Speaking during a debate held in Paola on Sunday morning, Schembri was answering questions by The Times' journalist Mark Micallef.

Asked for her comment on the lobbying being done by the Church and its priests in the divorce debate, Schembri conceded that the church had every right to speak out on the issue.

“But we are a secular state. We shouldn’t be led by the church. We are not like Iran,” Schembri said. "Malta is a democratic country that runs on the principle that Christians have every right to look after their own spirituality, and we shouldn’t stop anyone wishing to divorce on religious grounds.”

She said that the introduction of divorce “does not mean that Catholics will be forced to use it" and that anyone wishing to follow the edicts of the Church in considering a marriage indissoluble "is free to do so".

“Nobody is forcing you to remarry, but everyone should have the equal right to make that choice,” she said.

The debate also touched upon the progress of the campaign, the contentious billboards that have been going up around the island belonging to both the pro and anti divorce lobbies, and the issue of a no-fault divorce.

She also pointed out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church which “specifically states that introducing divorce into the country to address issues of maintenance, inheritance, or children care, is not a sin.”

She also said that Catholic Tribunals abroad also request that couples obtain divorce before filing for an annulment. “Why is the Church going to the ends of the earth to prove that divorce is a sin when it is recognised by the Church abroad?” she asked.

She cited statements by Fr Rene Camilleri who said that it not only Christian values that are ethically and morally correct, but atheist values can also be so.

She conceded Micallef’s  point that the Church has however consistently fought the introduction of divorce at every turn, such as when Italy was debating whether to introduce divorce.

She however pointed out that there are religious arguments that can be made in favour of the introduction of divorce, as there are individuals who are Catholic and devout while recognising the need for the introduction of divorce.

“But we are not trying to introduce the idea of a divorce that affects Church marriage, but one that affects civil marriage. The distinction is important,” she said. “In truth, the church won’t be affected at all by this divorce legislation.”

During the debate, Schembri answered questions by Mark Micallef about the campaign messages that the pro-divorce lobby is aiming at the public. She defended billboards such as those depicting instances of domestic violence, rebutting Micallef’s suggestions that “emotional arguments are easy to make.”

“Divorce is not a solution to marital breakdown. We are not saying that. We are emphasising the need for a second chance at happiness,” Schembri said. “The only way for marital breakdown is for the two spouses to reunite.”

Failing that, she said, the only way forward is to either end all ties, or else opt to remarry and have another chance at a happy family. She however questioned the idea that separated couples have no option but to cohabit if they wish to do the latter.

“If one opts to do it freely, it is fine. But to be forced to do so because no other option exists that is not right. Marriage is preferable and has more rights. The law shouldn’t stop people from assuming the responsibilities they wish to,” she said.

Asked about the pro-divorce lobby’s billboard that refers to children of separated couples as ‘bastard’ children (bghula), she admitted that this is a negative stereotype, but said that the billboard seeks to address the stigma, not reinforce it.

“Those who are not supporting divorce are supporting that situation as depicted on the billboard,” she said. “ Describing these children as children that are simply ‘outside marriage’ would be just sugar coating it.”

“What we want is for someone to look at that billboard and recognise this ‘forgotten’ reality,” Schembri said. “We say things that they are to change the situation and try to remove the label once and for all.”

She also emphasised that the option of remarriage will be open only to those who want to remarry. “The reality (of couples of might not wish to marry or remarry) will remain of course. People will not change their mind. But for those who want to leave that situation, the law is currently telling them that they cannot. This is unjust.”

She said that while she cannot force people to opt of out a situation, “one should however always provide them with the means to do so.” Referring to arguments that families that break down are but a small percentage of the country’s total marriages, she posited a healthcare analogy.

“That percentage of us who fall ill or become sick are a smaller percentage than those of us who are healthy. Does it mean that government should save itself the cost of opening and running a hospital where the minority can be cared for?”

She also expressed concern at the role the church is adopting the in ongoing debate. Referring to the email campaign that depicted her picture alongside text that suggested that she stands to financially profit from the introduction of divorce, Schembri said that priests involved in its circulation.

“This is a campaign of fear that seeks to intimidate others. If the argument against divorce was good enough, they wouldn’t resort to this scaremongering,” she said, dismissing the pressure that the pro-divorce lobby was coming under by way of calls and SMSes warning of the questionable morality of what they are doing.

Schembri dismissed the anti-divorce camp’s leading concern that the introduction of divorce would undermine the Maltese concept of the family. “Those who go into marriage and keep to its vow of indissolubility will not divorce simply because a law allows them to,” she said. “Those wishing to dedicate themselves to marriage as it should be, the idea of love and indissolubility, they can.”

We are not saying “either you have a happy marriage, or divorce. The matter is of having a choice should a marriage breakdown,” she said. “The option is there for marriages that already broke down, not for happy marriages that are stable.”

Micallef raised the point that the idea of devaluating marriage could change the approach of people headed into marriage and might allow them to approach marriage in a more liberal way, while also changking the value of a ‘no-way-out marriage’ for those already married.

Schembri pointed out that a ‘way out’ already exists – “separation.” She also contested the idea that divorce would somehow ‘devaluate’ marriage. “Those who are married and happy are married, those who are unhappy are also married, and those who are also separated are also married. What value does this marriage have?”

She questioned whether marriage would be valued according to simply a certificate, adding that the pro-divorce lobby is actually saying that marriage should be recognised and valued as a commitment, “not simply a certificate.”

“We agree that the best thing is to have a happy and united family,” she said. “But the question mark remains: if we do all we can do to ensure united marriage, would there still be marriages that break apart?  The answer is yes, sadly, and we cannot ignore this.”

She said society should take this into account and cater for these families and spouses who might wish to remarry, not simply for those who do not. “Nobody will force anyone to remarry, those who do not want to remarry are free not to.”

Referring to statements made by former magistrate Philip Sciberras that the Church is opposing divorce to protect financial interests, Schembri said that “when something of his stature and experience says something, his position is not based on nothing. I don’t think he said what he said frivolously” She however refused to comment further to avoid “appearing to attack the church.”

She however dismissed points raised by Micallef that the Church actually loses money off the Ecclesiastic Tribunal (which presides over annulment proceedings). “It is not up to me to discuss the many ways the church makes profit. What appears and what does not appear is a very different story.”

“The Church has every right to say what it thinks. What annoys me is when it goes beyond a certain point,” she said. “I value what Sciberras said. I am sure he did not say it frivolously.”

She also hit out at the Government for not ensuring that those abroad who wish to vote are still not informed as to the flight arrangements – whether the cheap-flights scheme would be available, on what eligibility, and under what conditions.

 “People need to be informed in good time, and not at the last second. Maltese citizens all have the right to vote, and this delay is leading to uncertainty at a time when people should be preparing to vote.” 

The debate was characterised by individuals who also raised points of interest, or simply spoke of their own experience (both legal and marital) with regards to divorce and separation.

The catholic church have no right to speak for Jesus, Jesus did not establish a catholic church.If the catholic church think that it is the true church so does the protestants, the Jehovah witnesses, the Coptic.One thing is for sure none of these other religions committed extremely vicious and violent acts as the catholic church did.
It is true, the Church in Malta is like the Taliban.The church should never have got involved in this matter. It puts people further away from it
Of course Malta is not a secular state, and whose fault is it, if not the PN and its collusion with the Church against Strickland in the 30s, against Mintoff when there was the Integration in 1956 ( we would have been in the EU earlier by 20 years) and again the usurption of the two elections ; one in 1962, and the other in 1966 when it was won through the corrupt practices-soemthing the Church apologiszed for but not the PN ! So the predicament for this state of confusion lies with the PN and its closet friends: pseudo-liberals and sham intellectuals!
I am sorry to disappoint you - tarxieniz1; I doubt it very much that Jesus wanted the church to continue his teachings. How could he possibly have done so? As far as i recall he was dead long time before the church was founded.
Maureen Attard
I am Catholic and a believer. I believe what Jesus Christ said and left the church to continue his teachings. The church has the right to teach her pabtised and believers. All of us has the right to say and believe in our beliefs like you Dr Schembri. So the church has all the rights to talk. Connie say what you want about the middle east and Islam, but the teachings of Jesus are still the and remain the same for all who believe in HIM.
You are right Schembri ,Malta is like the middle east. The catholic church is like islam.
@ james.grech The only intension of the local church is simply POWER and nothing else! We argue about the Arabs and their religion because we say that their religion is the country's laws and the same thing is happening here in Malta, only if we allow it to happen any longer, that is! By this referendum we must show that the country belongs to us and not to the Catholic Church.
J Galea
“But we are a secular state. We shouldn’t be led by the church. We are not like Iran,” Schembri said. "Malta is a democratic country that runs on the principle that Christians have every right to look after their own spirituality, and we shouldn’t stop anyone wishing to divorce on religious grounds.” More muddled thinking on secular state and democracy. 1) Malta is not a secular state just because we may wish it to be so. In fact, many factors point to Malta not being a secular state, starting from its Constitution. 2) Democracies aren't necessarily secular. 3) We may not be "like Iran", but we're certainly not "like France" or "like Spain" either. So we have to attempt to define where that leaves us on the secularism scale.
During Christ's 3 years of teachings, thousands flocked to hear his words about salvation. More then 2K years after the church in Malta is loosing numbers by preaching damnation. Something is definitely wrong here. If one takes these threats seriously then one must also consider that ALL those millions of people who voted YES for divorce in all the other countries, before us, are damned for life..right? And they are not being administered sacraments and are being hurled away from the Church all the time..right? The Maltese church (which is a different kind of church, it seems) has to either come clean about the real reasons behind this crusade or else change this brainwashing attitude and grow up. It is failing Christ miserably!
Joseph Sant
Well said Dr Schembri. There is the Church as an institution and then there are individual priests. The Church as an institution is holy but some priests are paedophiles. Getting an annulment in Malta is very like getting a telephone in the 80s - the government did not profit by it but the corrupt individuals who took your money to fast track your application did! Or like when you wanted to enrol your child in a church school before the lottery system. You would be told sorry, we have no place. But then you made a big donation to the school and miraculously the necessary place invented itself. Yes, this is a question of money and more than money it's a question of power - temporal power over the lives of men and women to whom God gave the gift of free will but which the church wants to deny them. In all probability the referendum will not go through but at the end of the day it will be a pyrrhic victory for the church. At the end of the day the church will be the biggest loser. PS. For the first time in over 60 years my spouse did not go to church today.
MALTA'S NEED TO KNOW BEFORE THYE REFERENDUM. DEBORAH SCHEMBRI PLEASE NOTE:- Today we shall embark upon the time-honoured Quest for the Holy Grail. Some have called it the Ultimate Quest, but the Christian Church has condemned it as a heresy. A Christian heresy is described as 'an opinion which is contrary to the orthodox dogma of the Christian bishops' and, in this regard, those other quests which comprise much of today's scientific and medical research are equally heretical. The word 'heresy' is, in essence, nothing more than a derogatory label - a tag used by a fearful Church establishment that has long sought to maintain control of society through fear of the unknown. A heresy can therefore define those aspects of philosophy and research which quest into the realms of the unknown and which, from time to time, provide answers and solutions that are quite contrary to Church doctrine. In Christian terms, most of the world's population is heretical, because the Christian Church (which defines its own heresies) represents little more than a quarter of that population. As for the remaining three-quarters - the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others - they are all, by definition, heretics and infidel. Only 365 years ago, the Italian scientist Galileo announced that the Earth was in motion around the sun (a discovery by the Polish astronomer, Copernicus) and for this the Church proclaimed him a heretic. As a result, Galileo was hauled before the Catholic Inquisition and kept under house arrest for ten years until he died. Soon afterwards, Isaac Newton pursued the concept of orbital force, but he too was condemned and it was not until recently, in 1992, that the Church finally admitted that the Earth was in solar orbit. Indeed, it was not until the summer of 1996 that the notion of Hell was abolished by the General Synod of the Anglican Church, and it was this very notion which had caused such problems for Galileo, Newton and others. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, maintains the notion of Hell - and so, in the eyes of Rome, the Anglican Protestants have now become heretics in this regard. Historically, as far as the Christian Church was concerned, the Earth was flat and at the centre of the Universe. Heaven was above the Earth and Hell was below. Consequently, the Earth had to be motionless and could not possibly be in orbital motion unless Heaven and Hell moved as well - which, it was maintained, they did not. 1996 was also the year when Pope John Paul formally acknowledged Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution - proclaiming it to be 'quite compatible' with the Christian faith. But, hitherto, all scientists and scholars who upheld the principles of evolution were classified as heretics. Additionally, the Vatican has now established a Miracles Council, consisting of scientists, medical men and theologians. Their brief is straightforward: to investigate ancient and modern miracles so as to determine what does and what does not fall into the category. If a plausible and acceptable reasoning can be found for a said miracle, then it is taken off the miracles list. If not, then it stays on the list until such time as a logical explanation is put forward by the Council. And so, one by one, yesterday's heresies (for which so many have been persecuted and executed) are being accepted by the Church's more rational members. But there is, nevertheless, a significant element that prefers to retain the old dogma - creating a modern schism in the very structure of the Church itself. As the years progress, it is evident that scientific and medical discovery must overturn much of the medieval religious dogma that has persisted to modern times. And, in this regard, some previously cited heresies are already being taken on board by a Church that has little option to do otherwise. But there are also other forms of heresy: heresies with an essentially spiritual base - the heresies which may be called pagan or occult and those which form the very roots of religions other than Christianity. Then there are the historical heresies: those which do not immediately fall within the realms of science, medicine or philosophy, but whose testing and questing fall mainly to historians, linguists and theologians. It is in this particular category that we find the Quest for the Holy Grail and, in pursuing the Quest, it becomes increasingly apparent why the Church pronounced Grail lore to be a heresy when society at large perceives the Grail to be a thoroughly Christian relic. Quests are, by their very nature, intriguing and historical research is enlightening, but the findings from neither are of any use whatever unless there are present-day applications which, like science and medicine, can sow the seeds of a better future. History is no more than recorded experience - generally the experience of its winners - and it is common sense to learn from the experience of yesterday. Indeed, it is that very experience which holds the moral, cultural, political and social keys of tomorrow - and it is in this context that the Holy Grail supports its own Messianic code. This is the code of social practice instituted by Jesus when he washed his apostles' feet at the Last Supper. It pertains to the obligations of giving and receiving 'service'. It determines that those in positions of elected authority and influence should always be aware of their duties as 'representatives' of society, obligated to Serve society, not to presume authority over society. The Grail Code is the essential key to democratic government. This is defined as government BY the people FOR the people. Without the implementation of the Code, we experience the only too familiar government OF the people. This is not democratic government. In the course of our journey, we shall discuss many items which are thoroughly familiar, but we shall be looking at them from a different perspective to that normally conveyed. In this regard it will appear that we are often treading wholly new ground, but it was, in fact, only the ground that existed before it was carpeted and concealed by those with otherwise vested interests. Only by rolling back this carpet of purposeful concealment can we succeed in our quest for the Holy Grail. Our quest will begin in the Holy Land of Judaea in the time of Jesus, and we shall spend a good while there so as to set the emergent scene. We shall then progress through 2000 years of history to the present day - travelling through the Dark Ages to spend some time in medieval Europe. The Grail mystery will then be followed into King Arthur's Britain and, eventually, even to the United States, where the American fathers were among the greatest exponents of the Grail Code. Eminent Americans such as George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Thompson and Thomas Jefferson were as much champions of the Holy Grail as were King Arthur, Sir Lancelot and Galahad. Bloodline of the Holy Grail has been described as The Book of Messianic Descent and it carries the subtitle The Hidden Lineage of Jesus Revealed. This of course indicates that Jesus had children and, by implication therefore, that he was married. So was he married? Did he have children? If so, do we know what became of them? Are their descendants alive today? The answer to each of these questions is 'yes'. We shall be looking at the emergent family in some detail, following their story, century by century - the story of a resolute royal dynasty: the descendant heirs of Jesus, who struggled against all odds to preserve the Messianic initiative of the Holy Grail. Our story is one of conspiracy; of usurped crowns, persecutions, assassinations and the unwarranted concealment of information from the people of the Christian world. It is an account of good government and bad government; about how the patriarchal kingship of people was supplanted by dogmatic tyranny and the dictatorial lordship of lands. It is a compelling journey of discovery: a view of past ages, but with its eye firmly set upon the future. This is history as it was once written, but has never been told. Let us begin with the most obvious of all questions: What is the Holy Grail? How is the Holy Grail connected with the descendant heirs of Jesus? The fact that Jesus had descendants might come as a surprise to some, but it was widely known in Britain and Europe until the late Middle Ages. In medieval times, the line of Messianic descent was defined by the French word Sangréal - deriving from the two words Sang Réal, meaning 'Blood Royal'. This was the Blood Royal of Judah: the kingly line of David which progressed through Jesus and his heirs. In English translation, the definition Sangréal became 'San Graal' (as in San Francisco). When written more fully it was 'Saint Grail' - the word 'saint', of course, relating to 'holy'. Then, by a natural linguistic process, came the more romantically familiar term, 'Holy Grail'. From the Middle Ages there were a number of chivalric and military orders specifically attached to the Messianic Blood Royal in Britain and Europe. They included the Order of the Realm of Sion and the Order of the Sacred Sepulchre. But the most prestigious of all was the Sovereign Order of the Sangréal - the Knights of the Holy Grail. This was a dynastic Order of Scotland's Royal House of Stewart. In symbolic terms the Grail is often portrayed as a chalice that contains the blood of Jesus; alternatively as a vine of grapes. The product of grapes is wine, and it is the chalice and the wine of Grail tradition that sit at the very heart of the Holy Communion (the Eucharist). In this sacrament, the sacred chalice contains the wine that represents the perpetual blood of Jesus. It is quite apparent that, although maintaining the ancient Communion custom, the Christian Church has conveniently ignored and elected not to teach the true meaning and origin of the custom. Few people even think to enquire about the ultimate symbolism of the Chalice and Wine sacrament, believing that it comes simply from some Gospel entries relating to the Last Supper. What is the significance of the perpetual blood of Jesus? How is the blood of Jesus (or of anyone else for that matter) perpetuated? It is perpetuated through family and lineage. So why was it that the Church authorities elected to ignore the 'bloodline' significance of the Grail sacrament? Indeed, why was it that they went so far as to denounce Grail lore and Grail symbolism as heretical? The fact is that every Government and every Church teaches the form of history or dogma most conducive to its own vested interest. In this regard we are all conditioned to receiving a very selective form of teaching. We are taught what we are supposed to know, and we are told what we're supposed to believe. But, for the most part, we learn both political and religious history by way of national or clerical propaganda, and this often becomes absolute dogma: teachings which may not be challenged for fear of reprisals. With regard to the Church's attitude towards the chalice and the wine, it is blatantly apparent that the original symbolism had to be reinterpreted by the bishops because it denoted that Jesus had offspring and, therefore, that he must have united with a woman. But it was not only sacraments and customary ritual that were reinterpreted; the very Gospels themselves were corrupted to comply with the 'male-only' establishment of the Church of Rome - much like a modern film editor will adjust and select the takes to achieve the desired result. We are all familiar with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - but what about the other Gospels: those of Philip, of Thomas, of Mary and of Mary Magdalene? What of all the numerous Gospels, Acts and Epistles that were not approved by the Church councils when the New Testament was compiled? Why were they excluded when the choices were made? There were actually two main criteria for selection, and these (from an earlier short-list prepared by Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria) were originally determined at the Council of Carthage in the year AD 397, to be finally ratified in the later Renaissance era. The first criterion was that the New Testament Gospels must be written in the names of Jesus's own apostles. Matthew was, of course, an apostle, as was John - but Mark was not an apostle of Jesus as far as we know; neither was Luke; they were both colleagues of the later St Paul. Thomas, on the other hand, was one of the original twelve, and yet the Gospel in his name was excluded. Not only that but, along with various other texts, it was sentenced to be destroyed. And so, throughout the Mediterranean world, numerous unapproved books were buried and hidden in the 5th century. Only in recent times have some of these early manuscripts been unearthed, with the greatest of all discoveries made (after 1500 years) in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Although these books were not rediscovered until this present century, they were used openly by the early Christians. Certain of them, including the Gospels mentioned, along with the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of the Egyptians and others, were actually mentioned in the 2nd-century writings of early churchmen such as Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus of Lyon and Origen of Alexandria. So, why were these and other apostolic Gospels not selected? Because there was a second, far more important criterion to consider - the criterion by which, in truth, the Gospel selection was really made. It was, in fact, a wholly sexist regulation which precluded anything that upheld the status of women in Church or community society. Indeed, the Church's own Apostolic Constitutions were formulated on this basis. They state, 'We do not permit our women to teach in the Church, only to pray and to hear those who teach. Our master, when he sent us the twelve, did nowhere send out a woman; for the head of the woman is the man, and it is not reasonable that the body should govern the head'. This was an outrageous statement with no apparent foundation, but it was for this very reason that dozens of Gospels were not selected, because they made it quite clear that there were many active women in the ministry of Jesus: women such as Mary Magdalene, Martha, Helena-Salome, Mary-Jacob Cleophas and Joanna. These were not only ministering disciples, but priestesses in their own right, running exemplary schools of worship in the Nazarene tradition. In his Epistle to the Romans, St Paul makes specific mention of his own female helpers: Phoebe, for example, whom he called a 'sister of the Church' - along with Julia, and Priscilla who 'laid down her neck for the Cause'. Writings of the Gospel era are simply alive with women disciples, but the Church ignored them all. When the Precepts of Ecclesiastical Discipline were drawn up, they stated, 'It is not permitted for a woman to speak in Church, nor to claim for herself a share in any masculine function'. The Church of Rome was so frightened of women that it implemented a rule of celibacy for its priests - a rule that became a law in 1138: a rule that persists today. But this rule has never been quite what it appears on the surface, for it was never sexual activity as such that bothered the Church. The more specific problem was priestly intimacy with women. Why? Because women become wives and mothers - and the very nature of motherhood is a perpetuation of bloodlines. It was this that bothered the Church: a taboo subject which, at all costs, had to be separated from the necessary image of Jesus. However, it was not as if the Bible had said any such thing. In fact, quite the reverse was the case. St Paul had actually said in his first Epistle to Timothy that a bishop should be married to one wife and that he should have children, for a man with experience in his own family household is actually far better qualified to take care of the Church. But, even though the Roman Church authorities claimed to uphold the teaching of St Paul in particular, they chose completely to disregard this explicit directive to suit their own ends, so that Jesus's marital status could be strategically ignored. Notwithstanding this, the Church's celibate, unmarried image of Jesus was at variance with other writings of the Gospel era, and it was openly contradicted in the public domain until the perpetuation of the truth was proclaimed a punishable heresy (only 450 years ago) at the Italian Council of Trento in 1547 (the year that Henry VIII Tudor died in England). It is, however, not just the Christian New Testament which suffers from these sexist restrictions. A similar editing process was applied to the Hebrew Old Testament, making it conveniently suitable to be added to the Christian Bible. This is made particularly apparent by a couple of entries that bypassed the editors' scrutiny. The books of Joshua and 2-Samuel both refer to the importance of the more ancient book of Jasher. But where is this book? Like so many others of equal importance, it is not to be found in the Bible! Does the book of Jasher still exist? It certainly does. The nine-foot Hebrew scroll was a jewel of the Court of Emperor Charlemagne and the translation of the book of Jasher was the very reason that the University of Paris was founded in the year 800 - more than a century before the now familiar version of the Old Testament was compiled.
We need more people like Dr. Schembri. She is going against all odds. Keep it up Dr. Schembri!!!
Well done Dr. Schembri keep it up! For more info on how much the church loves our children log on:
well said dr.Deborah Schembri . but the Goverment is mirroring the church. That is why I will vote NO to the PN! in the general election! Yes ,ofcourse the Roman catholic church have every right to speak. But WHY, is the goverment miroring the church? So yes I will vote NO to the PN in general election.