Maltese archbishop Paul Cremona asks Vatican to resign

After years of struggling with mental health, Cremona at 68 asks pontiff to name a successor

Arhcbishop Paul Cremona will resign
Arhcbishop Paul Cremona will resign
Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna (left) and Gozo Bishop Mario Grech (right) were the standard bearers for the Maltese church
Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna (left) and Gozo Bishop Mario Grech (right) were the standard bearers for the Maltese church
The Church was unable to put up a concrete opposition against civil unions or gay adoptions in 2013.
The Church was unable to put up a concrete opposition against civil unions or gay adoptions in 2013.

Archbishop Paul Cremona has asked the Vatican to accept his resignation from the post of head of the Maltese church.

Cremona, understood to have struggled with his health over the past five years, will have to wait for Pope Francis's green light to step down.

At 68, Cremona's resignation before the formal retirement age of 75 makes him the first bishop to request to step down from the helm of the Maltese church.

He will undoubtedly pave the way for his succession by either Gozo Bishop Mario Grech, or Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna, both of them strong voices in the local church, who at times were the visible standard-bearers for the Maltese church's pastoral and evangelical mission.

He was appointed archbishop in 2007, burdened by expectations of a renewal for the Maltese church following Mgr Joseph Mercieca's tenure.

He was reported to be suffering from depression, and in the process saw the Church facing up to some of its most momentous of challenges, with the campaign to introduce divorce somewhat undermining the influence of the Maltese church. A year later, it was a weaker voice, barely audible, that opposed civil unions and gay adoptions.

Pressure started building on Cremona in the summer of 2014 from the columns of the media. University lecturer and media academic Fr Joe Borg complained of a leadership vacuum inside the church, while former Labour columnist Lino Spiteri suggested that an “attempted coup” was at hand.

Cremona later met Borg, theologian Fr Rene Camilleri, and head of Discern think-tank Fr Joe Inguanez over their vocal criticism of the Church’s leadership which had in August become a frequent talking point in newspaper columns. nguanez, head of the Church’s research institute Discern, spoke of the Maltese Church being 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.

But Professor Victor Asciak, the former head of the Church environment commissioner, came out in defence of Archbishop Paul Cremona, suggesting that the local Church leader was being ‘crucified’ for refusing to align the Church with partisan politics.

“The first time someone made a connection between the Church leadership, or lack thereof, and politics, it was the leader of the Nationalist Party. Last April [Simon Busuttil] spoke along the lines of how Joseph Muscat had succeeded in ‘silencing’ the Church over the civil unions issue. So like it or not, there is a connection. When a political party starts talking about the leadership of the Church, how can anyone say there isn’t a link with politics?”

But Cremona had been out of action for a very long time, accused of either being silent on controversial issues or immune to the changes implemented by Pope Francis. “Our Curia is in a bunker mentality,” wrote Nationalist pundit Frank Psaila in MaltaToday, “afraid of the regeneration of ideas within it – scared that someone would upset the apple cart. Perhaps it’s time for Pope Francis to take stock of the situation at the Maltese Curia and pave the way for fresh blood, and strong leadership at the head of the Maltese Catholic Church.”

In a sudden impulse decision, two weeks ago Cremona gave his go-ahead for the installation of permanent deacons in the church, during a diocesan assembly, which would allow married laymen to perform the holy sacraments. “After years of reflection and consultation, I believe it is time to start the process and allow the ordination of permanent deacons and lay ministries,” he told his audience.

But observers were surprised at the announcement, saying that there was no prior hint that Cremona would accede to this request.

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