Mirror, mirror on the wall

By Fr Joe Borg
Times of Malta
April 3, 2016

Had Pope Francis been a political leader he would have cracked open a bottle or two of Dom Perignon White Gold, one of the most exclusive champagnes by Moët et Chandon, to celebrate with his Council of Nine helping him reform the Roman Curia.

Costing around €13,000 per bottle, the good pope would not order too many, but given the nature of the good news, he might consider it. Mind you, I am not referring to Easter. There was grander news in the air. Malta Today told us that a whopping 92.9 per cent of Maltese “judge positively” the way Francis is leading the Church.

Alas, Archbishop Charles Scicluna would have to settle for good old Mass wine. The approval rating for his leadership is only 47 per cent; a measly D-grade by university standards. Quite naturally, Scicluna would find some solace, had he been the type to find solace in such things, in the fact that a Malta Today poll gives 37 per cent trust ratings to the Prime Minister and 33.5 per cent to the leader of the Nationalist Party.

The study by Malta Today is interesting but at least two questions beg for an answer.

How is it that one approves of someone’s way of leading the Church but then disagrees with almost everything that this person stands for? And how is it that the more you disagree with what the much-lauded leader stands for, the more you agree with his way of running things?

According to this survey, the majority are in favour of the legalisation of euthanasia. Francis roundly denounces this as a “false sense of compassion” and a sin against God. Moreover, he adds that support for euthanasia is a sign of the throwaway culture.

True leadership is not shown by a retreat into the sacristy

The group that most supports Pope Francis are in the 18- to 34-year-old age bracket. They are also the least age group to believe in hell, by far the least who attend Mass on Sunday, the most who are for cartoons that make fun of Christ and the second largest group in favour of abortion in the case of rape.

Do they know that Pope Francis is vehemently against each and every one of these positions?

There is also a relative majority in favour of the Church speaking less on welcoming migrants, while the number of those who want the Church to speak less about the environment is almost as high as those who want the Church to speak more. These are two subjects about which Pope Francis speaks incessantly and most emphatically.

We do not know why the Maltese approve of the way Pope Francis runs the Church but we know that they disagree with what his stands for. Neither do we know why Scicluna netted only 47 per cent.

I do not think it is because some parishes were designated as arch parishes or because a glut of monsignors and honorary canons were appointed. The likes of me do not like this development one little bit, but the likes of me, I suspect, are in a minority.

So should we look at what he says for an answer?

Truth be told, Archbishop Scicluna takes as strong a stand as Pope Francis does on the environment and on refugees. He has also taken strong stands against the exploitation of workers, the dangers of the gaming industry, embryo freezing, gay conversion therapy and euthanasia. He did not mind apologising to the gay community for mistreatment by the Church and has been on the forefront of the Church’s global war against sexual abuse of minors. He lobbied for an inclusive society where people with disabilities would have rightful access to what they need.

Francis takes similar positions on these subjects. However, Francis has also spoken harshly against corruption, for example, something that Scicluna has not, as yet, done strongly enough.

So why is it that when the Pope takes these strong positions he is applauded, but when Scicluna takes the same stands he is criticised? The answer is undoubtedly a complex one.

Undoubtedly the media’s selective way of reporting Scicluna can provide a clue. Most would not remember when Scicluna spoke about the subjects I mentioned but would remember his aside comment on the lighting system at Castille and the Prime Minister’s visit to a faux kitchen during his New Year Message.

But probably there is more to it than that.

Inguanez and Gatt last year published ‘Enigmatic Faith’, a well-researched study about the faith of the Maltese. This provides a tsunami of very valuable data but unfortunately does not provide us with an exhaustive, concluding synthesis of the data accor­ding to different models of religiosity.

But one of the tables published can throw light on the current conundrum about Scicluna’s ratings. According to Table 25, the vast majority of the Maltese think that the Church should teach about the morality of sexuality or on matters relating to birth and death. (Though the Malta Today survey shows that the Maltese would not care about what the Church says.) The Maltese think that the Church should also teach about leisure and fraud. But 76 per cent believe that the Church should not teach about politics! Other studies conducted in previous years present a similar picture.

The Church should undoubtedly avoid partisan politics, but can the Church ever accept to be silent on ‘politics’ understood as the management of the State? Pope Francis over and over again answered in the negative. He went so far as to declare Donald Trump a non-Christian! Scicluna seems to be following Francis’s position.

True leadership is not shown by a retreat into the sacristy but by prophetically facing issues honestly in a dialogical searching for the common good. Finding the golden mean in this minefield is not easy but silence is not an option.

Scicluna’s toast with good old Mass wine for the grade ‘D’ he was awarded by the Malta Today poll is not something to be ashamed of, after all. No need to worry for not being the most popular of them all.



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