I do not write this letter out of piety or to be melodramatic. Nor do I write it to state on which side of the wall I stand. I do it due to a deep sense of shame. For during the last few months I have been humiliated over and over again by the injudicious behaviour of the local Catholic Church in general and of some Catholics in particular. Their faults are also mine.
By officially declaring that it would not take part in the campaign debates, the Catholic Church placed itself in a position of being able to inflict damage on its adversaries without the possibility of rebuttal. In a political and pragmatic sense this is worse than what happened in the ’60s. Alas, despite this stand, stealthily the Church wrought immense pressure on many people’s consciences. A few examples will suffice.
Children were frequently used for emotional impact. Religious celebrations, including weddings, were routinely exploited for political propagandistic purposes. The alleged Virgin Mary of Borg in-Nadur was made to campaign with anathemas and threats of her own (with flyers saying as much placed at church entrances). All sorts of printed material were sent to households through parish structures to influence the electorate. People were consistently told that divorce would open the door to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriages, and would moreover increase poverty. Some were scared into believing that the referendum is part of a sinister ploy to ultimately destroy the Church in Malta and Gozo. Pseudo-religious emails were sent with words and pictures verging on hate-messages. Many simple and vulnerable Catholics was repeatedly told (in door-to-door visits, in private conversations or in confession) that voting ‘yes’ or not voting at all would be a grave offence to God. Pressure groups were set up presenting those in favour of the ‘yes’ vote as antichrists or false Christians. People were denied Holy Communion or absolution of sins for declaring their ‘yes’ vote. Unusual prayer meetings and live-ins by religious groups were organised to insist on the ‘no’ vote. The head of the pro-divorce main lobby group was banned from practicing at the ecclesiastical tribunals. Members of religious lay groups were told by their spiritual directors that they would have to leave if they voted ‘yes’ or not at all. Posters similar to those of the 1960s were put up at church doors. Partisan politicians were left to make religious arguments without impunity.
I am deeply humiliated and ashamed by all of this. This is not the Catholic Church I believe in and love.
My fellow citizens, I am truly mortified by such disrespect and insolence shown to your intelligence and rights as human beings. If you consider me part of this, as I truly am, then I genuinely think and feel that it is my moral duty to implore your forgiveness. For this I will be most grateful.
(Published in The Times of Malta, Saturday, May 21, 2011, page 13)