Intervista mal-Arċisqof Charles J Scicluna

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Il‑Ħadd 4 ta’ Settembru 2016:Intervista mal-Arċisqof Charles J Scicluna

Il-Knisja miexja bil-mod imma b’pass meqjuż

Do you see morals and politics as being compatible in today’s society?
Morality is what makes a human act authentically human. If we say politics is the art of taking care of the common good, it has to be moral. I think there is no chance that we humans can do politics and not do it in a moral way. Otherwise, it is not going to be authentically human.

That sounds good in theory, but do you think it is happening in practice?

I think what happens in practice depends on the individuals. I do hope and I do believe that there are people in politics who are trying to do the best they can in an authentically human way. Only people who do not do anything in life do not make mistakes, and making mistakes is a part of human life.
The fact that we get it wrong does not mean that we do not get it right most of the time.

Where do you see your role in all this?
I think that as Archbishop my role is to encourage my community to take an active part in all aspects of human life. I take great courage from what the Pope has done in creating a dicastery, a sort of department or ministry within the Vatican, to promote integral human development.
I think if we are going to talk about the relationship between the Church and society, I think we are there to be of service to society by promoting integral human development.

You have been criticised by this government for only having found your voice after the 2013 election. How do you respond to this?

Well, I became Archbishop last year and I was ordained bishop on November 24, 2012. These are facts; this is history. As a bishop I started doing homilies in late 2012, beginning of 2013. I don’t think I can be criticised for becoming a bishop in 2012.

Do you feel threatened by this government’s liberal values?
I don’t feel threatened by any government. I hope that the government does not feel threatened by me. I have a message to bring to the people, and it is up to the people in government to opt to listen or to disregard what I say. It is a free country.
I do not think that the demerger of Mepa was a good thing. Now we have to live with what we have

Do you think the government feels threatened by you?

I think you should ask them that question.

I am asking you for your take on it.
I don’t think so, no. We do have a good working relationship, and I think that should continue. I thank them for the cooperation there is. For example, Caritas. Caritas is supported by the government, but the government is wise to support Caritas, because it knows it delivers.
It delivers by addressing problems in an authentically humane way.
The fact that we are free to engage in a civil dialogue should not threaten anybody. Now if I say something and it’s not really what people want to hear, I think that’s also part of being a free person in a free society.
I think there are limits to civil dialogue. The limits should be that we should not engage in mud-slinging or name-calling. We should be civil when talking about civil dialogue.

Society is becoming more liberal. Do you think the Church needs to adapt and move with the times?
Absolutely. The Church always needs to adapt to circumstances. There is a core message, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church will be faithful to that core message if it adapts to circumstances and even adapts its language and the way it conveys its message.
Otherwise it will betray the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is a fresh, good message. So if we use something which is outdated or anachronistic, we have to ask: ‘Am I being true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ or is it only a nostalgia for some museum piece that I want to simply polish every now and then?’

Do you question if the Church is still relevant?

I think we need to do that, and I do question that. I think we should continue to engage with society. People are free to listen to Jesus Christ and the Church, and they are also free not to.
That is a question that we need to keep asking ourselves, and that is what Pope Francis is making the Church do.

Why is change so painfully slow with the Church?

You may be right there. The Church is a great ship that moves slowly but surely across the centuries. I think that is something we have to acknowledge. The Church has been around for 2,000 years, and we have the word of Jesus Christ that the Church will be here until the end of time. I do not know whether that’s good news for everybody, but it is a great ship that moves slowly – but surely.

Celibacy. Is that something that needs to change?

I do not know whether that needs to change. We already have clergy who are not celibate because they are married. There is a great richness in celibacy. It is obviously a challenge to live the celibate life. But for a married person, for example, it is also a challenge to be faithful.
Every choice in life has its challenges; celibacy is also one of them. What I find is truly commendable in celibacy is that it opens the heart of a priest to an all-embracing universal love, because it is not exclusive.
That is not to demean the beauty of marriage. Pope Francis with his document Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), speaks so highly about marriage that you realise that this vocation is a very beautiful vocation.
Choosing celibacy is certainly not demeaning the beauty of marriage.

You used very sexual imagery to describe the Townsquare high-rise project…
Are you talking about Priapus?

I am indeed.
Well, Priapus, some have said, is an obscene reference. I agree it was a tad obscene. I was definitely trying to react to an obscene situation.

So did you face some internal criticism about that?
Internal no. People know me. They know I enjoy the Greek and Latin classics. I did also talk about Midas. In Greek mythology there is not only Priapus, but also Midas. Everything he touched became gold, but he could not eat gold. The question I put to Maltese society is, do we really want to eat and drink our gold?

Where do you see Maltese society going, and the environment in particular?
I was quite encouraged by the very strong initiatives by the new Minister for the Environment José Herrera on the fish farms. That is a great encouragement. I would really like to encourage the government to take the question of the environment very seriously.
The environment is not only about the sea, about the countryside. It is also about our landscape, which is our heritage. There is no need to turn Malta into a Dubai or Singapore. We are Malta; we are a Mediterranean island.
We need to implement policies that continue our sustainable development, which is a good thing, but do not ruin our heritage.
I am hoping for anew generation of politicians, without losing hope in the politicians who are in their seat today

Is this another area where you potentially see the Church and government working hand in hand?
Absolutely. First of all, the government has to call the shots on the environment. It has the power to legislate and the power to enforce. It has to give society the right signals. Condoning everything, giving blanket amnesties, may not be the right and the correct signal, because otherwise people will say, ‘I’ll do whatever I want to do, then two years before the election, everything will be forgiven.’
That is not necessarily a very positive signal. Otherwise I encourage the government to do whatever it can to sustain development with full respect to the environment. I do not think that the demerger of Mepa was a good thing. Now we have to live with what we have. However, the government has the power to rethink or at least give the teeth that ERA [the Environment and Resources Authority] needs, as I think it has lost them on the way.

Do you think politicians are capable of offering long-term vision and leadership, or is it all about the five-year election cycle?
I think that is one of the problems with every democracy. A party in power wants to remain in power, so it has a short-term vision, but if it loses the long-term vision, then we are in a pickle.

Are we in a pickle?
I think we are, because what I’ve seen is only short term. I hope that our politicians’ decisions go beyond elections. I am talking about both parties. They have to be courageous in their decisions. Unfortunately, not only in the Mediterranean but all over the world, unpopular decisions lose you votes, and I don’t think any party in the world wants to lose an election.

Can you see a solution to this problem?
Well, I think that if we have politicians who do not really care about power but do care about the common good, then it will be a step in the right direction. I think people will then acknowledge that a politician who does not care about his power, but is there to serve people, is worthy of being re-elected.
That takes maturity from the public, and that comes through education.

Do you see the traits you described in Maltese politicians now, or at least certain politicians?
I am talking about hope, so I am not necessarily talking about something I see every day. I am hoping for a new generation of politicians, without losing hope in the politicians who are in their seat today.

The Church and the PN have traditionally been allies. Do you think that is still the case?
When I see the agendas of both political parties, I always have to sort of wince. The reality is that both main political parties have the temptation to adopt a liberal agenda, because they think that is what sells and what gets votes.
I am talking about the gospel. ‘Now who is with us is not against us.’ These are the words of Jesus Christ. I am not here to carry the flag of any political party or serve any political party. I want to serve Jesus Christ, and Maltese society in his name.

But it always helps to have allies…
I hope that I find allies everywhere, because I need everyone.

Euthanasia and the morning-after pill. Who is the Church to tell people what to do with their bodies?
The Church has its teachings. I am not forcing any teaching on anybody.
Everybody will be free to listen or not to listen. To do or not to do. I think that the fact that people are free means also that the Church is free to give its teaching.
I think that life is such a fundamental human value that when we talk about the sacredness of life, we are talking a language that everyone can understand. It is not denominational, it is not purely religious, it is about human life.
If you are saying nothing should interfere with a life that has started, even if it is in its very first stages, and nothing should interfere with human life before natural death, I think we are saying that life is sacred.

If someone is suffering and dying, why shouldn’t he have the power to end his own life?
I realise that people can be in that moral quandary, when life is unbearably painful and also without meaning or without dignity. That is why, whilst saying that you should not end your life deliberately, we are also saying that we should invest in palliative care that makes the end of a person’s life more dignified, less painful and more humane.

Maltese feasts. Just an excuse to get drunk?
I hope not. Or an excuse to take an overdose. That is something that worries me terribly. I think that everyone has a right to have a party, a good party, but I think there are excesses that do not give a good name to the parties we organise in honour of the saints.
I have been on record saying that, and I will keep saying it.
That does not mean that I am against a good party, because when Jesus actually wanted to describe Himself, He said that the Son of Man has come to eat and drink. John the Baptist would do penance and fasting. We have followed Jesus Christ, not John the Baptist.

So you are happy with the current situation then?
No, I do agree with you that there are excesses, but that is human life. There are excesses everywhere. Should we stop feasts because there are excesses? No. But we should address excesses. I think we should empower the police to take action.
I do not like it when people tell me that the police simply look on, because that is not good.

On bloggers and Animal Farm
You said that people who incite hatred in blogs will eventually have to answer to God. Do you think it is fair bringing God into it? Surely people should be guided by their own personal values?
Yes, I think that at the end of the day, one has to… First of all, in a homily, you use theological imagery. So when you are saying something is awful, egregious and should not be done, you can say that you have to give account to God for it.
Because if you think that no one is going to stop you, then, well, there is somebody who is above everybody, who is God. And I do believe that.

Was that a snipe at Glenn Bedingfield?
I did not use any names, because I think that there are many people using the blogs to create an atmosphere of hatred and tension between people.
I was struck by the fact that even Time magazine dedicated its front page recently to the fact that the internet is almost being hijacked by people only interested in fomenting hate. This is not a Maltese phenomenon, and it is certainly not linked to only one person. Whoever is responsible for such egregious crimes against peace and tranquility should do an examination of conscience.

Do you think it is even worse when it is someone who is part of the government apparatus doing this?
I think it should not be the purpose of government apparatus to assassinate people who criticise it. It reminds me of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where Napoleon the pig puts nine puppies in a loft and trains them to assassinate their opponents.
I think we should go beyond Animal Farm when we talk about politics, even in Malta.

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