‘Church leadership cannot leave us waiting any more’ – Fr Joe Inguanez

Fr Joe Inguanez says 'religious orders and congregations are conspicuous by their silence'

Fr Joe Inguanez
Fr Joe Inguanez

The Maltese Church is at a standstill and its institutional leadership needs a shakeup, according to sociologist Fr Joe Inguanez.

Inguanez, an intellectual known for his easy interpretation of change, candidly admits that critical decisions need to be taken urgently.

For weeks, opinion writers have taken to different newspapers to express their criticism of the Church’s leadership – or lack of it – over the past years, after the blow suffered in the divorce referendum.

The latest critic to join in the chorus of disapproval against the Church’s leadership vacuum was Fr Joe Borg, who said the Church’s leadership was in crisis.

Archbishop Paul Cremona, OP, has receded from the public eye and was conspicuously absent from a number of public debates, especially the civil unions discussions.

“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 told MaltaToday.

“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 shakeup.”

Inguanez argues that inaction becomes negative action and insists that the “Church leadership cannot leave us waiting any more”.

The Archbishop’s absence during the civil unions debate was attributed to problems related to his health. According to Borg, the issue was “the elephant in the room” – a problem that is known in private, but not to be talked about in public.

While it appears that everyone knows what the problem is, yet no one is ready to talk about it. For Inguanez, even though there is much justified criticism of the leadership at the top, “the malaise is more widespread”. 

“There are times where middle-management in the Church, and this includes the parish priests, very often is proving to be unsuited for the job at hand. And with all due respect, the religious orders and congregations are conspicuous by their silence. When you run a school you do not trouble anyone! It’s when you start touching the wounds that the patient starts shouting. Prophecy in the Maltese Church is at a deficit,” Inguanez says.

He refutes the suggestion of one root cause, but explains that the causes are many and complex. The Maltese Church, he says, is faced with problems in common with the Universal Church.

Inguanez says these problems emanate both from the Church’s institutional structure and from those occupying key positions in the structure.

“The mystic and wise Pope Benedict XVI saw these accumulated problems, prayed and took the radical and rare action of stepping down to make place for someone more suited to handle the situation.”

He adds that it was Pope Benedict himself who spoke about these problems and spelled them out clearly in his message of resignation.

“Both the Second Vatican Council and the Code of Canon Law are very straightforward on this issue of resignation of Bishops, though not directly about the Pope. But Pope Benedict, though not obliged, took the cue,” Inguanez points out.

A report by the Times of Malta revealed that the Church’s leadership vacuum was discussed at a recent presbyterial council, with priests becoming increasingly concerned that direction from the Church’s leaders was not forthcoming. It transpired that the meeting was chaired by Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna, while Mgr Cremona was indisposed.

Asked whether he thought that mounting pressure could force Mgr Cremona to resign, Inguanez said undue is wrong – the issue is ultimately a question of conscience.

“Like anyone else, the Archbishop has the right and the duty to follow his well-formed conscience. One should not consider the Archbishop to be the son of a lesser god: like any other human being, he has the right to freedom of conscience. “I am not saying that he should stay on. I am saying he should not be forced to do anything against his formed conscience. However, in making up his conscientious decision, with due respect I must say that he cannot escape the present day context of the Maltese Church. Which I am sure he will.”