Tax evasion, murder, pika and hope: Church reflects on ills of Maltese society

Malta might no longer be kattolika, a Church document contemplating pastoral reform says. KURT SANSONE leafs through the virtual pages and finds that it offers a serious reflection on contemporary society

Tax evasion, graft, omertà and favouritism are a matter of course for many, but the Church is asking its followers to realise these ills betray the Catholic ethos.

This reflection is found in an 85-page document released by the Church recently in which it lays down its vision for renewal.

The stark description of Maltese society forms part of a section outlining the “wounds” the Church must address. These wounds include historical ones such as the Maltese Church’s demonisation of Labour supporters in the 1960s and cases of clerical child sex abuse.

The document called One Church, One Journey maps out a renewal process that should take until 2024.

It is addressed to church goers, the clergy, the religious, lay people active in the Church, the faithful, but it is also an exercise in reflection for society at large.

In a description of the Maltese social fabric, the document states it would be “delusional” to pretend that society is flourishing because certain economic and social indicators are positive. It argues there are other gauges of wellbeing that cannot be ignored, the environment being one of them.

But it warns of an even more dangerous situation characterised by the “dissonances and inconsistencies” that society willingly accepts as normal. The document puts its finger on actions that betray the lofty ideals of solidarity and the common good, mentioning the murders of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and migrant Lassana Cisse.

“The shocking assassination of a journalist and the murder in cold blood of a migrant of colour; the way many people take for granted ‘collective’ practices like tax evasion, graft and omertà, or how often they instinctively knit their social fabric through ‘friends of friends’, amoral familism, pjaċiri… shows the gap between where we are and the Catholic ethos grounded in the common good, solidarity, the preferential option for the poor or even a basic civic sense,” the document says in a stark indictment of Maltese society.

But it also provides auto-reflection on how Catholics should be acting in such circumstances. The institution does speak on matters of the common good but on its own is not enough, the document adds.

It says that Catholics are failing to be witnesses of the Gospel in their social relationships.

In a nutshell, the document says it is not just a question of belief but also how one lives their life, whether the person is a priest or a lay person.

This rationale is present throughout the document as it prods the conscience of the faithful to translate religious belief into concrete action in everyday life.

“A social and political conversion must begin with our being imbued by the Church’s social teachings that challenge each one of us, personally and communally, to be a Church for and from the peripheries, seeking their justice above our wealth, their well-being above our comfort,” it says.

The document also addresses the thorny issue of feasts and popular devotion that risk becoming “mere traditions” if disconnected from their spiritual roots.

Feasts and other public expressions of faith such as Good Friday processions can reflect the community’s togetherness as a people of God.

But the document warns that when these events become disconnected from the scripture they only “perpetuate pika or serve the market economy rather than God”. This impoverishes prayer and leads to fragmentation.

And yet another self-indictment: “Then, the Church betrays herself – whether through reducing prayer and liturgy to mere ritual; through the factions’ drive to one-upmanship; or through hedonism replacing devotion.”

The document also touches on the wounds in intimate relationships and how the Church must heed the “urgent call” to accompany people experiencing marital and family problems.

It warns against exclusion of specific groups in the life of the Church, a veiled reference to Catholics who have started new families after their marriage broke down.

Departing from the words of Pope John Paul II, who on his first visit to the island in 1990 had described Malta as cattolicissima, the document acknowledges that Malta might no longer be kattolika.

But this is viewed with a sense of hope. “We should be grateful that this forced emptying of the Church as an institution implies the possibility of rebirth of the Church as true communion; as true leaven for a new culture of encounter, where we are not afraid of religious or political differences, but rather embrace all diversity as signs of God’s infinite creativity and beauty.”

The document continues in this spirit, identifying the weaknesses but also indicating the way forward.

It then proposes some concrete steps to enable a new pastoral model that tries to change the institution into “a field hospital” for those in search of God.

The pastoral reform seeks to transform the Church into one that “listens, welcomes, accompanies and goes forth”.

Achieving the goal will not be an easy task but the document has laid bare the issues that have to be tackled to ensure the Church remains relevant in the spaces where people interact.

Who are the poor?

The primary responsibility of the Church is to be the “eyes that see” and “ears that hear” the cries emerging from the peripheries. The document outlines the traditional understanding of poverty but urges a renewed reflection of new forms.

  • Migrants traumatised through perilous journeys
  • Homeless and those living in less than dignified conditions
  • Those struggling with addictions or other debilitating physical and mental health conditions
  • Elderly and single parent households unable to make ends meet
  • Children and youth who feel disheartened for the future
  • Elderly combatting loneliness
  • Those grieving the loss of a loved one
  • The child suffering emotional neglect
  • The neighbour struggling with abuse at work
  • The family caught in marital conflict
  • The new mother with no support
  • The victim of domestic abuse
  • The colleague gripped with anxiety
  • The friends caring for an ill family member

A pastoral transformation: key proposals

  • Create a commission that will assist Church entities to integrate the Christ’s word in all pastoral work
  • Making more biblical digital resources available
  • Active listening, especially by bishops, that facilitates communication and communion in particular with children and youths
  • Train priests in discernment and spiritual direction
  • Set up a poverty observatory in collaboration with civil society
  • Seek to engage in sincere dialogue with one another
  • Learn about church history to be able to confront the scandals of division and abuse
  • Publication and implementation of the new safeguarding policy so that the church can become a safer place for children and vulnerable adults
  • Create a group of persons of diverse nationalities comprising parish priests of the various languages to study the new reality and suggest better integration
  • Address causes of xenophobia, human trafficking and exploitation
  • Initiate a process of reflection regarding better utilisation of property belonging to church entities and to determine which properties can be used for projects in favour of the needy
  • Study the relation between numbers of masses, priests and pastoral workers with the aim of improving the distribution of human resources