Sociologist Joe Inguanez, intellectual and prominent cleric, dies aged 80

Former head of sociology at the University of Malta, Fr Joe Inguanez was a gentle intellectual whose uncompromising views of society and Catholicism in modern-day Malta made him a reference point for Catholics

Fr Joe Inguanez
Fr Joe Inguanez

The sociologist, cleric and former head of the Church think-tank Discern, Fr Joe Inguanez, has died. He was 80.

Inguanez died suddenly while swimming in Gozo on Monday.

Inguanez was an intellectual whose gentle yet uncompromising views of society and Catholicism in modern-day Malta won him plaudits from those whose attention he commanded.

Having headed Discern, a Catholic think-tank that used applied research to keep guiding the Maltese Church, Inguanez, who lectured at the University of Malta’s Department of Sociology and had also been its head of department, became a prominent cleric in Maltese society.

Born in Ħal-Għaxaq in 1943, he was ordained priest in 1970, having at one point captained the Young Christian Workers movement.

Apart from his towering persona in his field of academia, Inguanez stood apart from many of his fellow clerics for promoting an intellectual criticism of the Maltese Catholic Church.

Inguanez was among the most vocal in 2014 to admit that the Church leadership required critical decisions after then archbishop Paul Cremona was said to have become conspicuously absent from a number of public debates. “I honestly feel that the Maltese Church is at a standstill.  This is always dangerous but much more so in times of the rapid change we are experiencing at both the ecclesial and social sphere,” Inguanez had said at a time of historic reforms in civil libertis,

“One cannot stop one’s boat in a flowing river. Critical decisions need to be taken urgently. However, blood-letting is not a solution. While every Christian has to take an action – even through the promotion of healthy public opinion – the institutional leadership of the Church needs a shake-up.”

‘Don’t be afraid of change’ | Joe Inguanez

Inguanez was a supporter of reforms announced by Pope Francis in the Roman Catholic Church shortly after his election, noting that his papacy had had  “the most positive effect on the population in general, including skeptics and lapsed Catholics.”

“What I appreciate about the new Pope is that while he is emphasising, through words and deeds, the core values of the gospel, he is also changing the structures of the Church to make them reflect the Gospel rather than the court of a medieval monarchy.”

A gentle intellectual at heart, Inguanez believed many of the Church’s ills were born as a result of spiritual and intellectual mediocrity. “This may be an unfair generalisation on my part; however I am of the opinion that mediocrity is at the root of much of the trouble the Church has been encountering for the past fifty years,” he said of what he believed had gagged the spirit of Vatican Council II.

Inguanez also believd the Maltese Church had to emphasise social issues like immigration. “On immigration, the Church in Malta is doing a lot when it comes to hands-on assistance and this is in line with Pope Francis’s message. What it should do more is by way of denunciation of the policies which exclude migrants.”

He also insisted that the Church’s critique should address both Malta’s actions and the European Union’s. “We need a critique of what the European Union is doing with regards to these human beings. Individualism has made us very selective where human rights are concerned.”

Inguanez was critical and aware of an ideology of consumerism taking over social and political caffairs. “We live in a society where are considered to be almost worthless unless you consume.”

Rampant individualism, Inguanez had said, fuelled the idea that “the burden of those in difficulty should be carried by someone and not by us… it’s part of the ‘Not In My Back Yard’ culture.”

This culture, he had said, had contributing towards indifference to the fate of immigrants and other marginalised groups.

Inguanez’s appeal to the Maltese Church in 2014 would have probably remained the same in later years: “In Malta, we need to re-create the conscience of Vatican Council II. The Church still needs updating. Change is a neutral concept and instead of being afraid of it we should turn it into a positive dynamic of our being both at the material and spiritual level… This is what Pope Francis is not simply telling us to do, but is also showing us how to do it by his example.”