Press Release: Responsibility, Accountability and Transparency, making the Church the safe place it should be

PRESS RELEASE
20th February 2019

Responsibility, Accountability and Transparency – making the Church the safe place it should be

The “Protection of Minors in the Church” Meeting of Bishops, which will take place in the Vatican, between 21 and 24 February 2019.

Faced with widespread and growing discomfort with revelations of very serious cases of sexual abuse involving members of the clergy, Pope Francis has called a 3-day meeting in the Vatican for Bishops that starts tomorrow the 21st February, 2019. The meeting will discuss the ‘The Protection of Minors in the Church’. The Pope has summoned the highest representatives of the Catholic Church from around the world to give a united response at the universal level. The entire Church must choose to live in solidarity, above all with the victims, with their families and with the ecclesial communities wounded by the scandals. As the Pope has written, ‘If one member suffers, all the members suffer together’. (1 Cor 12:26).

The Church is seeking to send a clear message of its commitment to protect minors, and that this has to be done in a clear and effective manner by the entire community, starting with those in the highest positions of responsibility. More recently, other forms of abuse are coming to light, but all are rooted in the same culture of secrecy, abuse of conscience and abuse of power that are the cancer of clericalism that Pope Francis condemned in his Letter to the People of God issued in August 2018. In it he stated categorically: “to say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to clericalism.” Pope Francis has concretely shown his zero tolerance for abuse by even those in the highest ranks within the Church, most recently by defrocking the ex-Cardinal McCarrick.

Indeed, the theme of the meeting starting tomorrow: ‘Responsibility, Accountability and Transparency’ indicates that the main purpose of the meeting is not to create new procedures, but to undertake a fundamental reform of the quality of leadership in the Church through an internal conversion. In his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis asked Catholics to pray for the meeting which he described as “a powerful gesture of pastoral responsibility in the face of an urgent challenge of our time.”

The three days of discussion will be devoted to a specific topic: “Responsibility, Accountability, and Transparency”. The 190 participants present in the Vatican Synod Hall will hear three reports a day, three of these by women, and all nine interventions will be followed by a question and answer session. Members of the Organizing Committee will also meet privately with representatives of the victims and survivors’ associations. There will be testimonies from survivors and moments of prayer, at the beginning and end of each day. Pope Francis will open the Meeting with an introductory speech on Thursday morning, and close it on Sunday with a discourse after Mass. A Penitential Liturgy will take place on Saturday afternoon, and will be broadcast live.

Catholic Voices Malta joins Catholic Voices International and indeed, the Universal Church and all people of good will in praying for Pope Francis, our Archbishop Scicluna who is in the team leading the meeting, and all the participating Bishops. This great moment of trail for the Church can be a turning point for its purification.

Information on the Meeting
The official website of the “Protection of Minors in the Church” Meeting is www.pbc2019.org and will remain active even after the Meeting is over, as a “tool for developing future initiatives”.

For any questions, information or follow up you can also contact info@catholicvoices.mt

The Letter to the People of God by Pope Francis can be found: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2018/documents/papa-francesco_20180820_lettera-popolo-didio.html

Reality check for low Sunday Mass attendance. Newsbook Blogg Tonio Fenech

During the past two weeks much has been written about the phenomena of low Sunday mass attendance, what this implies, and possibly who’s to blame. The Humanitarian Association was quick to claim victory for secularism and asserting that Malta is no longer a Catholic country.

While the actions of those who live the Catholic faith are more important that the numbers that go to Church, a proper look at the figures shows a reality quite different of what has been portrayed in general.

The Maltese Archdiocese for the first time, commissioned a Survey to accompany the Census. Some were confused by this and questioned the need. I thought it was well thought. The Census listened to the people coming to Church, the survey sought to listen to the people not coming to Church, equally or possible more important to understand.

The survey carried out by Misco in fact makes some interesting reading. 95% believe in God, something good, showing people still have an openness to the spiritual reality. 92% believe they are Catholic, 7% do not follow any religion while 1% adhere to some other religion. If 95% claim to believe in God, then out of the 7% that do not follow any religion, 1/3 still believe in God, i.e. only 5% of the Maltese population is either atheist or agnostic.

Interestingly these results are not very far from a survey carried out by Malta Today around March 2018, that also found that 93.9% of the Maltese population identified themselves as Catholics. The survey then had also found that 88.8% were against the removal from the Constitution of Catholicism as Malta’s official religion and an even stronger majority was against the removal of the crucifix from public buildings such as schools.

Focusing again on the more recent Misco survey, 93% claim that religion is important to them (66% claiming very important), even if simple maths tells us that not all of these attend mass every Sunday with some actually not attending at all.

Evidently the Maltese Church needs some sole searching to understand why so many believe in God, feel Catholic, see their faith as something important, but do not find Sunday mass as relevant in their journey of faith.

Most Catholics find themselves somewhere in between two extremes. Those who for them Sunday mass observance is the start and end of what it means to be a Catholic, just like ticking the box, or having a membership card, to the other extreme, where I noted many online individual comments to these stories seem to come from, that to be a good Catholic one does not have to go to Church. Only 37% state that one must follow a religion if one believes in God, which possibly explains why the census found that only around 40% attended Sunday Mass on census day.

The survey on the other hand also found that 74% actually go to mass at least once a month, with 50% of the respondents claiming to have attended mass the previous Sunday. Here we find a discrepancy between the census and the survey. The census counted 40% while the survey measured 50%. The survey analysis seeks to explain this by making a mention that there is an element of social desirability bias, i.e. people reply what is expected from them as “good” behaviour. While this may be so, there may be a different reason like people who in a month go to Sunday mass more frequency then once, but not necessarily every Sunday, feel justified to place themselves in the category of regular Church goers rather than occasional.

I also found it very strange that despite all that has been reported, officially by the Church, journalists and various commentators, one important figure seems to have been overlooked. 75% of the respondents claimed to pray daily, 44% of these actually claiming to pray several times a day. This is real hope for our nation.

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium starts his Apostolic Exhortation with a fundamental invitation to encounter Jesus in prayer, when he states “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.

Professor Mark Anthony Falzon, an anthropologist, in his observations to the Malta Independent of the 3rd February 2019 enforces the understanding that what we are seeing is no necessarily a decline in religious belief but rather a transformation. I quote, “A caveat is in order here, because while that for Sunday Mass attendance is a relatively straightforward statistic which measures practice (you either go or don’t), that for belief in God is an infinitely more complicated one.” In fact, Professor Falzon claims that we are not looking at a decline in religious belief, but rather a change in what people do with their beliefs – a change in religious practice.

This transformation is understandable within a society which is becoming more individualistic, self-sufficient and too busy, losing touch with the beauty of being family, community and shifting towards social media friends, followers and likes.

So why are people not attending? 20% because they do not agree with what the Church or what the priest say, 12% laziness, 12% lack of time, 10% they see Mass not relevant and 10% simply do not they like going to Church.

Indeed 80% have nothing against the Church by are simply not motivated, they are waiting for the Church to give them a reason to go beyond mere rules of observance. They are looking for meaning, a reason to go, in day which like air above the surface of the water, they struggled to reach after a week drowned in the busyness of work, family life, commitments and whatever, and the last thing they want to go to is a place where they sit, detached from those around them, listening to a ritual of prayers and a homily which they struggle or are to sleepy to follow after a Saturday late night (or early morning for some).

Interestingly in the case of the 16 to 24-years age group, there is even more hope and room for outreach then society wants to make us believe.

Disagreement with the Church or the priest is far less significant at 5%, and the real reason is lack of time at 27% and laziness at 22%, if only as parents they find some sort of encouragement, and in the Church provides them the attention, friendships, fun and answers they look for. This should be what mass is all about after all, a meaningful community of friends, in celebration mode, sharing and expressing a joy that comes from understanding what Jesus did and what Jesus still does for us.

I close with the words of Pope Francis in the more recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudate et Exsultate, where he says, “Far from being timid, morose, acerbic or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humour. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit. The Christian life is “joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17), for “the necessary result of the love of charity is joy; since every lover rejoices at being united to the beloved… the effect of charity is joy”. Having received the beautiful gift of God’s word, we embrace it “in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:6). If we allow the Lord to draw us out of our shell and change our lives, then we can do as Saint Paul tells us: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4).

This is what mass should be all about. Then people will come.

Tonio Fenech is a member of Catholic Voices Malta

This article appeared on Tonio Fenech’s Blogg on Newsbook on the 6th February 2019 https://www.newsbook.com.mt/blogg/2019/02/06/reality-check-for-low-sunday-mass-attendance/?lang=en

The sacrifice of our children at the altar of money – Legalisation of recreational Cannabis, by Tonio Fenech

What next to be sacrificed at the altar of money in our country?

The good name of our country, our environment, whatever we understand by good governance, national objectivity, our values, business integrity, you name it, as long as it makes money, sell or sacrifice it.

Our children will be the biggest victims of the remorseless neoliberal society we are sowing today.

The fast deteriorating environment to fill the pockets of the few, the spiral housing prices that are making the younger generation think more than twice whether to even consider marrying let alone having a family because they cannot afford it, the false belief and comfort that it will always be easy, the disconnect from the spiritual, making the fruits of a moral society like solidarity, ethics, care and concern for the common good and human dignity alien concepts that are perceived more and more as a hindrance to one’s personal achievements and happiness then what we should aspire for. In essence money is fast becoming the only god we worship … until it lasts.
However, the next sacrifice this county is being asked to offer in the name of money will not be a consequence for our own children, the next sacrifice at the altar of money will be our own children.

Hoping that I am wrong, it appears that the mind of this Government is set on the legalisation of Cannabis for recreational use. Yes, you read correctly, for recreational use not the medical use, despite the emphasis Government made last year when legislating in Parliament in the name of creating jobs.

It seems that the big fish around this industry are telling the Government that this is not enough and that if “we want jobs”, then he needs to legislate also for recreational cannabis. Jobs? Do we really need these jobs? Is the Government not saying we are at full employment? Just days ago the Jobs Plus Chief (former ETC) told us that next year we need to import 13,000 more workers to sustain our economy as is. So jobs for who?

The Government concerned with the political back lash on this issue, is trying to dress its proposal as intended for “harm reduction”. Make no mistake about it, recreational cannabis is not about harm reduction but about a billion-dollar industry that wants to make money, to sell to a bigger consumer base. There is big money around this industry, with the reputable magazine Forbes in an article in March 2018, quoting ArcView Market Research and its research partner BDS Analytics, that over the next 10 years, the legal cannabis industry will see spending growth on legal cannabis worldwide hitting $57 billion by 2027. The recreational market will cover 67% of this consumption; while medical marijuana will take up the remaining 33%.

No wonder the big push is for recreational cannabis.

And who is the consumer target for this industry? Irrespective of the educational programs this Government is promising this year, the target will be our children, our young boys and girls, many in the more challenging phase of their life, pressured with exams, facing uncertainties and failings as much as success and fun. At an age more prone to the manipulative advertising campaigns that come like a tsunami and burry any educational campaigns, once cannabis becomes legal and mainstream.

The Government will tell you that it has a mandate because it bunched the proposal in an electoral program that if you look for it over the internet you will not find.

So I looked for what was said in the time of the last electoral campaign and what I found was the Prime Minister being quoted as saying that it was a high time that the country “holds a mature discussion on marijuana”. (Malta Independent 19th July 2017). A mature discussion is a far cry from electoral mandate.

However, the signs are that the Government’s mind is already set to legalise cannabis for recreational use, it’s just how

October last year, days before the Budget Speech, Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia assured everyone that Malta was in no rush to follow Canada’s legalisation of recreational cannabis, but rather she emphasised that this year we should see an information campaign that highlights the dangers of drug use (MaltaToday, 18th October 2018).

To me the conclusion of that article is, we will educate your children to understand the dangers of cannabis but then we will allow the fat cats to tempt our kids into consumption, the polite word, ADDICTION the crude reality. But of recreational cannabis is safe why do we need of an educational campaign? The answer is simple, because it is not safe, one can easily become addicted, lose motivation for life and live and work only for that addiction and eventually when cannabis will not be enough look for the harder drugs that the criminals (who will always be with us) like vultures willingly provide.

Frankly the mind boggles me, we invest so much in our children, not only as parents, but also as a State from our taxes. A sizeable spend in education (not sure is spending it effectively enough, or indeed if enough, but that’s for another article) from the early years of child care, primary, secondary and a Tertiary system that even pays stipends, scholarship for postgrad, EU programs you name it we give it to them. We pass them through so much stress, (that I am completely against, but that we will be subject of another blog), because we want them to achieve. And when they are of age, we want to give them Cannabis … Seriously?

Dump all our love, protection, investment, to fill the pockets of who this predatory industry?

Last week PBS enters the fray, obviously on the instructions of the strategists thinking how to put in this piece of legislation without causing the stir and concern that indeed it should. PBS tries to feed us that it’s all ok by making a morning breakfast discussion, on the use of recreational cannabis.

Tagging the program as representing different views about the subject, we discover that the only two people participated in the debate, John Ellul, the Chairman for the Open Debate on Cannabis Legalisation, who represents no Open Debate or Society but is the Government consultant on the legislation being prepared to legalise cannabis and Graziella Calleja, ReLeaf co-founder, an organisation set up recently to promote the legalisation of cannabis. These “different” opinions in the program “agree”. Surprise, surprise.

As Lovin Malta’s portal reported “High-Ranking Maltese Official Lays Out Early Proposals to Legalise Recreational Cannabis”. The message John Ellul was sending was not the message of an openness to a mature debate that we were promised to have, but of a Government that already has its mind set with an advanced legislative proposal for the legalisation of recreational cannabis.

The program focused on age limits, giving equal access to cannabis users, registry for users and not on explaining the harm cannabis does, rather its effects were played down or not mentioned. The tack is very shrewd, Government is not interested in having a debate on whether or not we should legalise cannabis for recreational use, Government is simply interested in the how with the least political damage possible.

Clearly we are not in for an educational campaign we are in for a brain washing campaign to tell us it ok.

Will we here the views of Caritas, the Malta Association of Public Health Medicine (MAPHM), professionals and their associations like the Psychiatrists, Psychologists and the Sociologists. Are their opinions more important than those of declared lobbyists who have a big financial vested interest?
If the Government wants to talk about harm reduction, then the last thing to do is get in bed with an industry that thrives on creating addictions. Shut the door, throw the keys and send the pushers in jail.

We don’t need FAKE mantras like cannabis is a substance like many others, yes even cocaine, heroin, synthetic drugs, are substances. Re defining terms will not make cannabis less harmful.

I believe the Parliamentary Secretary when she says she is against the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. She is a mother; I cannot think of a loving mother believing otherwise. Once we open the door, it will be difficult to close, industry will always come for more. They already want more.
I hope the Government will take heed of the warnings and positions of Caritas and the Malta Association of Public Health Medicine who have clearly expressed concerns on the legalisation of cannabis.

Let’s put the interests of our children first, there place is not the next sacrifice to the alter of money.

In the next blog I will tackle some of the arguments being made, and seek to understand better there implications.

Tonio Fenech is member of for Catholic Voices Malta

This articles has been reproduced from Tonio Fenech’s Blog on the 24th January 2019

 

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People are more important – 49 migrants abandoned at sea an, appeal by 48 NGOs

48 NGOs, including Catholic Voices Malta,  have voiced their heartfelt disappointment at the fact that no action has yet been taken on the stranded Sea-Watch vessel, with 49 migrants having been abandoned for 18 days.   As a united front we have called on the Maltese government to put people before politics and allow the two stranded rescue vessels with 49 migrants onboard to be given shelter in Malta.   As NGOs we met in front of Castille and asked for meeting with PM.

A spokesperson for Sea Watch International, the migrant rescue NGO, said earlier in the day that the psychological wellbeing of the migrants on board its vessel is deteriorating. The migrants have been on board the vessel since 22 December.

As NGOs we stood outside the Office of the Prim Minister at Castille and read our message to the Prime Minister, saying that this was indeed a European problem that requires a European solution but that this same argument cannot be employed in abdication of the nation’s responsibility to save lives.
“The duty is not just a legal one but a moral one. What is more important here? To make a political point or to save lives?”

“This is nothing short of tragic and shameful. It can only mean that we have completely lost our humanity – as a people and a union of States that supposedly upholds the values of solidarity, respect for human rights and human dignity,” Integra Foundation director Maria Pisani said on behalf of all the organisations.

Representatives of the organisation then entered the Prime Minister’s Office in Castille and presented the statement and the request for a meeting with the Prime Minister to one of his spokespersons. They were assured that an answer to their request for a meeting would be given in the coming hours.

Pope Francis on Sunday issued an appeal for effective solidarity by European governments with 49 migrants stranded on two ships which are sheltering from rough seas off Malta. In remarks following the Angelus at St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said: “49 persons rescued from the Mediterranean Sea have been aboard two NGO ships for several days, seeking harbour for disembarkation. I urgently appeal to European leaders to show concrete solidarity with these people.”

The Maltese Bishops Conference i.e. Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Galea Curmi and Gozo Bishop Mario Grech, wrote to the  Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, urging European bishops to insist with their governments on action to help these stranded migrants.

The letter said, “Ironically, as we Catholics were celebrating the birth of Our Lord who was rejected at birth, a group of 32 migrants was refused shelter by Europe after being rescued at sea off Libya. They have now been out at sea on a rescue vessel for no less than 13 days, only being allowed to enter Maltese territorial waters yesterday, Wednesday 2nd January, to shelter from a storm.
“A second group of 17 migrants rescued by another NGO vessel has been stranded at sea for five days,” the bishops wrote.   “One can only imagine the added suffering endured by those men, women and children, whose only ‘fault’ is that of fleeing a cruel environment in hope for a better life, one which respects the human dignity we Catholics and Europeans strongly promote as one of our fundamental values.  This situation, which is now in desperate need of action, has prompted us Maltese Bishops to repeatedly appeal to the leaders of our country to express solidarity in a tangible way.”

THE STATEMENT BY THE 48 NGOs READS

PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT

We are appalled beyond words that, after 18 days of negotiations, 49 men, women and children remain stuck on a boat within sight of the Maltese shore.
In spite of countless calls for solidarity, European Member States have not managed to find a diplomatic solution to the current impasse.

This is nothing short of tragic and shameful. It can only mean that we have completely lost our humanity – as a people and a union of states that supposedly upholds the values of solidarity, respect for human rights and human dignity.

We acknowledge the complex issues this situation raises, and agree that it is a European challenge requiring a European solution. However, this cannot be an excuse to abdicate our own responsibility, as individuals and as a nation, to save lives at any cost. The duty to save lives is not only a legal but also a moral imperative which can never be subjected to political conditions, such as the availability of concrete offers of relocation or the fear of creating a precedent.
At this point, the question we must answer is simple: what is more important, scoring political points, or saving lives?

For us, the undersigned organisations, there can be only one answer: people are more important.

Today we are here to take a stand for life and dignity. We call on Malta to prioritize life and open its doors today.

IN-NIES HUMA IKTAR IMPORTANTI

Ninsabu ixxukjati u bla kliem li, wara 18 il-ġurnata ta’ negozzjati, 49 raġel, mara u tfal għadhom miżmuma fuq dagħjsa ftit il-bogħod mill-art ta’ Malta.
Minkejja talbiet numerużi favur is-solidarjeta’, il-membri ta’ l-Unjoni Ewropea għadhom ma rnexxilhomx isibu soluzzjoni diplomatika għall-impass preżenti.
Din hi sitwazzjoni traġika u tal-mistħija. Ifisser b’mod ċar li tlifna kompletament l-umanita’ tagħna – bħala poplu u bħala Unjoni ta’ stati li suppost jiddefendu l-valuri tas-solidarjeta’, tar-rispett tad-drittijiet umani u tad-dinjita’ umana.

Nifhmu li din is-sitwazzjoni tqajjem kwistjonijiet kumplessi, u naqblu li hija sfida Ewropea li tirrikjedi soluzzjoni Ewropea. Madankollu, ma nistgħux nużaw dawn l-argumenti bħala skuża biex nabdikaw ir-responsabilta’ tagħna, bħala individwi u bħala nazzjon, li nsalvaw il-ħajja akkost ta’ kollox. Id-dmir li nsalvaw il-ħajja m’hijiex biss legali imma wkoll dmir morali li qatt ma jista’ jkun sottomess għall-kondizzjonijiet politiċi, bħad-disponibilita ta’ offerti konkreti ta’ rilokazzjoni jew il-biża li jinħoloq preċedent.

F’dan il-punt, il-mistoqsija li rridu nirrispondu hija din: X’inhu l-iktar importanti, li nagħmlu punt politiku jew insalvaw il-ħajja?

Għalina, l-organizzazzjonijiet firmatarji, hemm biss risposta waħda possibli: in-nies huma iktar importanti.

Illum qegħdin hawn biex nieħdu pożizzjoni favur il-ħajja u d-dinjita’. Nagħmlu appell lil Malta biex nagħtu priorita’ lill-ħajja u niftħu l-bibien tagħna illum.

08/01/2019

This statement is being issued by: 1. aditus foundation 2. African Media Association Malta 3. agara foundation 4. Allejanza kontra il-Faqar 5. Allied Rainbow Communities 6. Caritas Malta 7. Catholic Voices 8. Christian Life Community (CLC) Malta 9. Department of Gender Studies, University of Malta 10. Department for Inclusion and Access to Learning, University of Malta 11. Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Malta 12. Department of Youth and Community Studies, University of Malta 13. Drachma LGBT 14. Drachma Parents 15. Fondazzjoni Ejjew Ghandi 16. Integra Foundation 17. International Association for Refugees 18. Isles of the Left 19. Jesuit Refugee Service Malta 20. Kopin 21. Kummissjoni Gustizzja u Paci 22. Kunsill Studenti Universitarji 23. LGBTI+ Gozo 24. Malta Catholic Youth Network 25. Malta Chamber of Psychologists 26. Malta Emigrants’ Commission 27. Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement 28. Maltese Association of Social Workers (MASW) 29. Moviment Graffiti 30. Migrants Women’s Association Malta (MWAM) 31. Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Social Wellbeing, University of Malta 32. Paulo Freire Institute 33. Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta 34. PRISMS 35. Richmond Foundation 36. Salesians of Don Bosco 37. Segretarjat Assistenza Socjali tal-Azzjoni Kattolika Malta 38. Society of Jesus in Malta 39. Solidarity with Migrants Group 40. SOS Malta 41. Spark 15 42. St Jeanne Antide Foundation 43. Studenti Harsien Socjali (SHS) 44. The Critical Institute 45. Troupe 18:45 46. University of Malta Chaplaincy 47. Victim Support Malta 48. Women’s Rights Foundation

Freedom of expression, freedom of religion and X Factor – Tonio Fenech


To be clear from the outset, this issue is not about LBGTIQ people, I respect their choices and God loves us all irrespective of our gender or how we feel.

Facts of the case

However, I was quite perplexed when I read the news that, not one, but two ministries issued a joint statement, to condemn frankly “their own spin”, falsely claiming that a singer on the X Factor programme, Matthew Grech, made some sort of promotion of conversion therapy for gay people.

Excuse my harsh words but factually the ministries’ claim is simply untrue. I personally heard what Matthew Grech said – he talked about a very personal spiritual experience that changed his perception of life and sexuality, and affirmed that God intended sexuality for marriage, which as he emphasised within the Christian context is between a man and a woman and that sex outside marriage is a sin.

I don’t know, maybe what he said was not music to the ears of Minister Dalli and Minister Bonnici, but certainly whatever he said did not justify the disproportionate reaction and the attack that followed on this person through the statement and the social media.

Matthew in no way tried to impose his beliefs, to which he has a fundamental right not only to believe in but also to pronounce publicly. Frankly what he said is not much different to what Pope Francis said on same sex marriage in his Exhortation Amoris Laetitia where in verse 42 he states “We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage.”

So while the State may have decided to do so under the standard of “live and let live”, within the same standard Christians have the right to believe and live differently. When Pink News on the 18th February 2013, reported the intervention of then Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna to clarify some public misstatements being made on what the Church teaches on the matter by a devote Catholic, the article said, “The fact is that gay people are called to chaste love as any other person, whether married or single.” Bishop Scicluna maintained that “Gay people are not called to marriage which is the permanent union between one man and one woman open to the gift of parenthood,” but then added, “they are indeed called to chaste friendship and chaste friendship is chaste love.” His words should not be interpreted as an imposition on the general LGBTIQ community, but a pastoral guidance to Catholic LGBTIQ people seeking to live their faith.

Call outs

Secondly, while Matthew Grech never mentioned conversion therapy the ministries still felt the need to introduce what they implied an ethical concept, and that the broadcaster should have somehow made a “call out” on the damage of conversion therapy during the same programme.
If indeed this has become an ethical media principle are we now to expect that expect broadcasters, newspaper editors and the like to “call out” say that “Abortion causes profound psychological harm to the mother and death to the child” whenever someone expresses an opinion in favour of abortion on any form of media? Interesting.

Freedom of speech

Minister Owen Bonnici, as report by the Times on the 12 July 2018, went into great pains to defend Jason Micallef with the Valletta 18 Dutch counterparts who like many in Malta saw as unacceptable the comments he had made on social media on St Patrick’s Day, when he poked fun of Daphne’s last words, before her macabre murder. Bonnici saw no issue with these words and quoting from the article that reported the event he said “I will never ever, even by a whim of thought, do something which conditions the way a person speaks or exercises his freedom of expression.” It seems “I will never ever” no more Minister Bonnici, as you have done with poor Matthew Grech.

Human rights are not for governments to decide who can exercise them and when. Contrary to what Minister Dalli seems to expect we have no obligation to try and understand what “responsible” for her means before we us mortals speak, especially when in Parliament she claims that she has little time for us who argue in favour of free speech. Where is this government going with this? Minister you are so wrong. It is all about Freedom of Speech.

Human Rights actually are there to protect us from those that try to deny us these rights especially governments who want to censor anyone that does not speak from their hymn sheet, and do this by making arbitrary imposition in the name of “responsibility”.

And who may I ask decides what is responsible? Government? Where are those who stood up for Charlie Hebdo, (actually the 12 journalists murdered)? I think we all agree that the satirical magazine was to say the least offensive towards Muslims, Catholics and other people targeted, but I recall everyone even the government was quick to issue statements upholding the right freedom of speech. No talk of “responsibility” then.

This government has gone so far as to remove the vilification of religion from our criminal code. So for this government it is OK to offend Catholics, Muslims and people of whatever belief, but not say anything that affirms the beauty of marriage between a man and a woman because this may confuse 15 or 16 year olds we claim to be so mature that they should be close to or allowed to vote? Are we serious?

Freedom of thought and religion

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declaration is very clear, quote, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”. Note the right is not only to believe but also to manifest it publicly.

I hope the poor producers of X Factor caught in this unnecessary cross fire realise that when (as the Times claimed) they accepted to be “forced” by some government official, and to remove Matthew Grech’s interview from their social media channels, they have effectively contravened Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Malta is signatory and which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers“.

I suspect that they are now considering imposing some sort of rules about what a contestant can or cannot say on the TV show, or worse use unfair editing to cut out comments that the might think Minister Dalli and Minister Bonnici would not like, or worse interfere in what contestants actually say if they want it aired, I hope they appreciate that these are all breaches on the participant’s fundamental human rights, that are not granted to us by the Government.

Nobody found objection to the lesbian couple appearing ironically right after Matthew, and telling us of their beliefs and love for one another. Good luck to them, why should anyone be offended with them or with Matthew?

Expressing one’s beliefs should not offend or confuse anyone, even less being accused of untold damage. What an exaggeration!

The separation of State and Church

This government talks a lot about the separation of State and Church, but this does not only mean that the Church should not impose its morals on the State, but also that the State does not impose its morals on the Church and its followers. If the government does not recognise this obligation, it is infringing on the right of religious freedom of each and every one of us.

Minister Dalli is Minister for Equality, the right for equality for each and every one of us and not just one group, including Matthew Grech. She is obliged to protect Matthew, his dignity, rights and freedom to choose whether he wants to remain gay, and not expose him to the ridicule of the social media trolls that are always happy to jump on the bandwagon of the ministers’ unfair comments and bash the individual.

As a person who believes in freedom of speech and the freedom of religion I condemn with the same measure of force those who are trying to silence Matthew Grech.

Je suis Matthew.

 

 

This is an article that appeared on the Malta Independent Monday 29th October 2018.

The last homily of Saint Oscar Romero delivered in the mass in which he was assassinated in El Salvador

Homily of Archbishiop Óscar Romero on March 24, 1980 during the mass being offered for the first anniversary of the death of Sara Meardi de Pinto, mother of Jorge Pinto, publisher and editor of El Independiente, a small weekly newspaper.

The Gospel reading was John 12:23-26.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains infertile. But if it dies, it produces a great yield. Those who love their own life lose it; those who hate themselves in this world will be preserved for life eternal. Let whoever wants to serve me, follow me; and my servant will be where I am. Whoever serves me will be rewarded by my Father.

Because of what Jorgito has written in today’s editorial in El Independiente, I have some understanding of his filial emotions on the anniversary of his mother’s death. In particular, I can glimpse her noble spirit, how she placed all of her refined education, her graciousness, at the service of a cause that is so important today: our people’s true liberation.

You have just heard Christ’s Gospel, that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life which history demands of us.

My dear brothers and sisters, I think we should not only pray this evening for the eternal rest of our dear Doña Sarita, but above all we should take up her message, which every Christian ought to give intense life to. Many do not understand, and they think Christianity should not get involved in such things.

But, to the contrary, you have just heard Christ’s Gospel, that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life which history demands of us, that those who would avoid the danger will lose their life, while those who out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others will live, like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently. If it did not die, it would remain alone. The harvest comes about because it dies, allows itself to be sacrificed in the earth and destroyed. Only by destroying itself does it produce the harvest.

From her place in eternity, Doña Sarita wonderfully confirms the message of the following passage from Vatican II, which I have chosen on her behalf. It says:  We do not know when the earth and humanity will be consummated, nor do we know how the universe will be transformed. This world’s present state, deformed by sin, is to pass away. But God teaches us that He is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice dwells and whose blessedness will fulfil and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart. Then, when death has been overcome, God’s children will arise in Christ. What was sown as something weak and corrupt will be clothed with incorruptibility. Charity and its fruits will endure, and all the creatures that God created with human beings in mind will be free of the bondage of futility.

We are warned that it profits one nothing to gain the whole world and lose oneself. Nevertheless, the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for perfecting this earth, where the body of the new human family grows, a body that even now is able in some way to foreshadow that new age. And so, to the extent that temporal progress can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of serious concern for the kingdom of God, even though temporal progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s kingdom.

Let us do what we can. We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding.

For after we have spread the benefits of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom across the earth in the Lord’s Spirit and following his command, we shall rediscover all those good effects of our nature and of our efforts, but clean of every stain, brightened and transfigured. Then Christ will hand over to the Father “an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace” [Preface from the Mass of Christ the King]. “On this earth that kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns, its perfection will be accomplished” [Gaudium et Spes, No. 39].

This is the hope that inspires us Christians. We know that every effort to better a society, especially one that is so enmeshed in injustice and in sin, is an effort that God blesses, that God desires, that God demands of us. And when one finds generous people, like Sarita, and her thought incarnated in Jorgito and in all those who work for these ideals—one must try to purify them, of course, Christianize them, clothe them with the hope of what lies beyond. That makes them stronger, giving us the assurance that all that we work at on earth, if we nourish it in a Christian hope, will never be a failure. We’ll find it in a purer form in that kingdom where our merit will be in what we have worked at here on earth.

I think that to aspire is not without purpose at a time of hope and struggle, on this anniversary. We remember with gratitude that generous woman who was able to sympathize with the concerns of her husband and of her son and of all who work for a better world, and who added her own part, her grain of wheat, in her suffering. Beyond a doubt, this will guarantee that her heavenly reward will be in proportion to that sacrifice and understanding, which many lack at this moment in El Salvador.

I beg you all, dear brothers and sisters, let us look at these matters at this moment in our history with this hope, with this spirit of giving, of sacrifice, and let us do what we can. We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding. The holy woman we remember today could not do many things directly perhaps, but she could encourage those who can work, could sympathize with their struggle, and above all could pray. Even after her death, she sends a message from eternity that it is worthwhile to labour, because all those longings for justice, peace and well-being that we experience on earth become realized for us if we enlighten them with Christian hope. We know that no one can go on forever, but those who have put into their work a sense of very great faith, of love for God, of hope among human beings, find it all results in the splendours of a crown that is the sure reward of all who labour thus, spreading truth, justice, love and kindness on the earth. It does not remain here, but, purified by God’s Spirit, is harvested for us and given us for our reward.

This holy Mass, the Eucharist, is itself an act of faith. With Christian faith we know that at this moment the wheaten host is changed into the body of the Lord who offered himself for the world’s redemption and in that chalice the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain—like Christ, not for self, but to impart notions of justice and peace to our people.

 

Let us, then, join together intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer for Doña Sarita and for ourselves.

[At this moment the fatal shot struck Archbishop Romero, and he fell mortally wounded.]

 

 

The Property Market addressing the core issues – Tonio Fenech


Recently the PM expressed satisfaction that 80% of the population have become richer thanks to the increase in property prices. Sounded like we should we thankful to this untamed property inflation period this country has gone into. If indeed 80% of families are “richer”, this was thanks to policies of previous Governments from both sides of the House who pushed policies focused on home ownership making normal families owners of their own home at affordable prices and which today have become unaffordable.
Let us also appreciate that if 80% have notionally become richer the remaining 20% significantly and really become poorer, some even homeless.
Also, 80% of the notionally richer 80% (taking the Pareto principle) may own more expensive homes but their wealth has not really increased, as selling you expensive home to buy an alternative home that is equally expensive effectively leaves one neutral not richer.

Not in this statistic are our immediate future families, so called first time buyers looking for a reasonable home, who also are worse off as they cannot afford a reasonable home and make ends meet, as both buying and renting a property has become unaffordable.

The stories that tell the difficulties that young professional couples are facing in acquiring a home and reported by the Times of Malta on the 23 September put another serious concern on the present situation. The young professionals interviewed concluded that it is becoming more affordable to move abroad (avoid completely this over-crowded and over-congested island) then buy an expensive low quality property in Malta. These professionals’ annual income as a couple was claimed to be around Euro 55,000, clearly not on the lower side of the average income, and yet they can’t find a decent apartment. If they can’t make ends meet, what about those first time buyers that average Euro 25,000 to Euro 35,000 a year, indeed the more common? These people are trapped in poverty as going abroad is not really an option.

The untamed rise in housing prices is causing serious economic risks to our country, outpricing ourselves economically, an over-heated economy, and so on. However, there is another risk called brain drain. As cheap labour continues to relentlessly fill vacancies, today even in the professional sphere, accounting, IT, etc. the youth we have educated with our taxes at University, MCAST or ITS are considering leaving this island as with the qualifications they hold they can get better jobs in other EU countries and afford to buy or rent reasonable homes in places that offer a better quality of life.
The market is not fine, there are other consequences beyond the mere buying and selling or renting and the commissions and profits that estate agents and developers make. It’s not fine for the low income earners, the first time buyers, and those becoming poorer.
At the pace of growth in prices, the only hope for average income earners is that this bubble will burst unless Government seriously provides not only social accommodation, but equally important affordable accommodation for first time buyers and other average income families seeking a more adequate home.

Frankly, the MDA’s PPPs proposals are no solution. Why should the Government give free land to the private sector to provide housing units at Euros 400 a month when building such these units through the Housing Authority the contractor can get his fair share of compensation of around €55,000 for a 3-bedroom unit that the family can repay through a home loan that will cost the occupants merely Euro 250 a month for 20 to 25 years. Frankly why should MDA and the likes be given an extra Euro 150 a month for every unit built rather than passing that benefit the families.

The strategy to address the housing challenge is not rent controls, or limiting who buys and sells what and to who as again the MDA proposed when in alluded to some New Zealand model. The real solutions can be found by understanding what made the so called 80% richer, i.e. state run home ownership scheme.

I urge the Government to restart building adequate housing units, that are affordable to average income families and first time buyers and build the units needed for social housing. Only such a policy will tame market prices, as it is market based. Reframing from building housing units and assisting first time buyers to buy from the private sector when there was an oversupply of property and reasonable prices, made sense, but this is not the reality today and so government policies must change accordingly.

Secondly Government needs to address the income disparity that property inflation and the import of cheap labour has caused. Malta’s economy cannot be deemed successful if it remains reliant on cheap labour. We rarely see Maltese waiters because Maltese cannot afford to sustain their family at such pays and therefore they prefer knocking on the Minister’s door for a job. In the meantime, hotels and restaurants boast of ever increasing profits (good luck to them) while paying peanuts in wages because the Government keeps allowing them to fill their staff shortages with foreign workers willing to work for peanuts for a couple of months.

Joseph Muscat when Leader of the Opposition had advocated in favour of the living wage. We are in an economic situation that merits a serious but short discussion. If developers are running this country and making Euro 4 million from every apartment, they should at least be obliged to pay more fair compensation to their workers and also contribute more to the national coffers to attain social justice.

These are the touch decisions that low average and income families, first time buyer and the poor are expecting from this Government, and not a white paper that will propose restrictions on who sells to who and buys from who merely to continue benefiting the big developers that seem to want everyone to buy only from them after ruining the life of everyone around them with their mega towers.

This article appear as an Opinion piece on the Sunday Times of Malta of the 7th October 2018.

Tonio Fenech is the Coordinator of Catholic Voices Malta