Saturday, 17 April 2010

Pope Benedict XVI: Visit to Malta (5)

The text of the speech of welcome given by the President of the Republic of Malta when Pope Benedict arrived at the international airport on the island can be found here, on the section of the website of the Maltese Government given over to the activities of the President.

As usual, it really does pay to read the whole.

This is how President Abela's welcome is being covered in a BBC News website report [NOTE: The BBC report has been updated since I first saw it, and wrote this post. The account of President Abela's remarks has been extended, and is now much fairer. But what is below was the complete account, as in the first version of the post.]
Maltese President George Abela made the first direct reference to the abuse crisis in his welcome speech at the airport.

The Republic of Malta, whose population is strongly Catholic, has no state religion, the president pointed out to the Pope.

Then he referred to the criminal case currently before a Maltese court in which three Catholic priests are accused of sexually abusing 10 Maltese men when they were children in a Catholic orphanage.

"Justice must be seen to be done," the president told the Pope.
Now, in his address the Maltese President offered an analysis of secularisation, and the anti-Christian drive of much secularist effort in Europe, with which the Holy Father would have had considerable sympathy. Italics are my own translations of the Italian sections of the President's address; I have added emphasis to highlight the President's reference to the abuse of minors by clergy. It is interesting, too, to see the President's expression of some of the values fundamental to life in Malta - marriage and family life in the same sense as the Church would understand them, respect for life - though he recognises the challenges that they are facing.
Like all the rest of Europe and the western world, we are now facing a conflict between Christianity on one side and laicism or secularism on the other which in the words of philosopher Marcello Pera, as he recently described it in Il Corriere della Sera, whilst referring to Europe : "e in corso una guerra. La guerra e' fra il laicismo e il cristianesimo". ["a war is taking place. A war between secularism (the sense of the Italian word is better expressed by secularism than by the closer translation of laicity) and Christianity"]

And, in drawing parallels with Nazism and Communism he reiterates that: "Oggi come ieri, cio' che si vuole e' la distruzione della religione. Allora l'Europa pago` a questa furia distruttrice il prezzo della propria liberta'... la stessa democrazia sarebbe perduta se il cristianesimo venisse ancora cancellato". ["Today as yesterday, what is desired is the destruction of religion. However, Europe paid to this destructive rage the price of its own freedom ... democracy itself will be lost if Christianity is annulled again"]

Today, we face the wave of secularism which has as its starting point the strict separation of Church and State: a laicist model advocating that the State should be strictly separate from religion which is conceived as belonging exclusively to the private domain. This profane character which has developed in some European States is driving people to be laicist or even anti-Christian.

However, as we all know or as we all should know, the moral foundations of a society as a whole, comprising believers, agnostics or atheists, are better served not with the falling away from religion but with the reinvigoration of the moral consciousness of the State. As Your Holiness has splendidly described it in your book "Values in a time of Upheaval":

"One point that is fundamental in all cultures, is namely, reverence for that which is holy to other persons, and reverence to the Holy One, God. One can certainly demand this even of those who are not themselves willing to believe in God. Where this reverence is shattered, something in a society perishes".

Holy Father, those of us who believe, are fortified by these fundamental values enunciated by the Church and, though we acknowledge that church members, even its ministers, may, at times, unfortunately go astray, we are left in no doubt that these values have universal application and their validity transcends both time and space. It would be wrong in my view to try to use the reprehensible indiscretions of the few to cast a shadow on the Church as a whole. The Catholic Church remains committed to safeguarding children and all vulnerable people and to seeing that there is no hiding place for those who seek to do harm. It is therefore the Church and even the State's duty to work hand in hand to issue directives and enact legislation so that effective, transparent mechanisms are set-up together with harmonized and expeditious procedures in order to curb cases of abuse so that justice will not only be done but seen to be done.

Holy Father, we are proud as a nation to have inherited a Christian heritage which is at the core of our historical identity, even though we are not a confessional state. We too are experiencing, like all the rest of Europe, the phenomenon of multiculturalism, but this does not mean that we have to renounce to the beliefs which are our own. We still cherish a code of values, nourished by our Faith, such as the cardinal value of marriage and the family. We acknowledge that our Maltese family is undergoing rapid social changes and challenges, greatly influenced by current Western-world lifestyles and the ever-increasing secularization of the Maltese society. But the majority of our people still believe in monogamous marriage, based on the relationship between a man and a woman, open to the procreation of children, and consequently to the formation of a family as the bedrock of our nation.

We treasure the inviolability of the human person and affirm our full respect for human rights and uphold the principles of social justice by providing equal opportunities for all and ensuring that everybody has access to one's basic needs. We are against human trafficking and cherish the sanctity of human life from its conception to its natural end. We believe in the values of freedom, equality and solidarity, the fundamental principles of democracy and of the rule of law.
"It would be wrong in my view to try to use the reprehensible indiscretions of the few to cast a shadow on the Church as a whole." Now doesn't that sound rather different than the impression created by the BBC News report!

It is a shame that the Vatican website carries only the addresses given by Pope Benedict himself, and not those by other participants in the events of his apostolic visits. Carrying these other addresses would give a much better sense of the dialogue taking place between Pope Benedict and those he is meeting, even when the other speeches are less "Pope-friendly" than this one.

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