Monday, 23 May 2011
Sunday, 22 May 2011
DD (Divorce Debate) is getting nasty and vicious. The defenders of the status quo, the conservatives who see everything in black or white, heaven or hell, saints or sinners, are resorting their dirty tricks, seeking to continue imposing their extremism on society at large.
They are calling names those who stand against them. Convinced Christians who think that divorce, or the lack of it, has to be elective rather prescriptive, have been labelled as wolves in sheep’s clothing by no one lesser than the second in command of the Maltese Catholic Church. By doing so, the Church in Malta is putting itself in a position of a sure loss.
Even if the No vote prevails in the referendum, as it probably will given the resources and religious dictum supporting the anti-divorce movement that has rendered the campaign a tug of war between sinners and saints, a substantial minority of Catholics who are against divorce out of choice but democratic enough to vote in favour of its introduction to provide minority rights for those who need it, will view the current Church administration as a throwback to the sixties. And all this for a few years’ extension of the chaotic status quo, which will ultimately become untenable and will be addressed by the belated introduction of divorce as progressive generations replace their more conservative ancestors.
“Flimkien ghal uliedna” is the slogan of the anti-divorce movement. But which “uliedna” may I ask? Are the children born to unwedded parents second-class citizens in their own country simply because due to the absence of divorce their parents cannot marry? Children born out of wedlock are no longer a rarity. One in four babies are born to unmarried mothers. Removing the atrocious tag of illegitimacy from our legislation was merely symbolic. The anti-divorce movement, in deed rather than in words, is showing that for them children born out of wedlock are still bastards and illegitimate. And the Church and the PN are supporting this atrocious statement of fact.
We are still trapped in the gaġġa that my friend the late Frans Sammut so ably defined nearly 50 years ago. The appearance may have changed but the substance remains.
We always lived under an aura of grandeur. Our strategic importance, our historical culture and the natural beauty of our country are unquestionable attributes disproportionate to our minute size. Since we joined the EU and witnessed our representatives, be they prime ministers, ministers, government functionaries or commissioners, on equal footing with their peers from much larger and stronger EU countries, this notion of grandeur has grown exponentially. But now it has reached dangerous limits bordering on the insane. The anti-divorce movement billboard proclaims that a vote for the introduction of divorce will be a great leap in the dark.
Just chew on the message. You will unavoidably reach the conclusion that the anti-divorce movement is proclaiming that we in Malta, because we have kept divorce off our statute book, are the enlightened and 99.9% of the world population who have civil or religious divorce as part of their statute or culture, are condemned to live in the dark.
China has a problem of exploding watermelons. We may soon have the problem of exploding heads.
Bishop Mario Grech has rightly preached that “Everybody has a right to get married but not everyone has the right to receive the sacrament of marriage...”. That is all well and good. It might not be in the spirit of Christ’s teaching that ordered Peter to forgive for seventy-seven times, but the Church has the right to interpret Christ teaching as it pleases as much as the individual has a right to stay within the Church or live without it.
But by the same reasoning, why is Bishop Mario Grech so determined to deny access to divorce to those who were not married in church and to those who were married in church prior to the introduction of the law of civil marriages, when a church marriage was the only way to be acknowledged as being civilly married?
If the Church proclaims for itself the right to whom it may choose not to administer the Holy Sacraments how can it also claim the right to rule the civil life of those who are not among its faithful? Any practising Catholic has to be against divorce. But this should be a matter of choice not of imposition and every practising Catholic who also holds democratic principles should be in favour of the introduction of divorce. Being against divorce and being against the introduction of divorce are two distinct and separate things. The former is the obligation of true Catholics. The latter is the misguided fundamentalism of those who unlike God Himself, who allow us the freedom to choose being saints, sinners or somewhere in between, want to take away the choice everyone is entitled to make about their own personal life.
And for upholding such democratic principles we have been branded ‘a wolf in sheep clothing’. Oh my Lord! Ten minutes in silent adoration are worth a thousand homilies from such fundamentalists.
The power network that existed between the PN and the Church was not created yesterday. It lurks beneath the surface most of the time but it has come to the fore in the divorce referendum. The PN’s interest would have been much better served had it stayed neutral on the issue once it decided to hold a referendum. If it were against divorce, it should not have held the referendum. If it were in favour it should have legislated.
If the PN had no definite views about the matter, it should have left it to civil society to debate it. However, the old power network that help each other in times of need has forced the PN, against its own self-interest, to support the Church in its anti-divorce campaign.
Whatever the result of the referendum, Labour is bound to finish on the winning side. And what is good for Labour cannot be good for the PN. If the Yes campaign wins, Labour will gain enhanced credentials as a true agent of positive change in society. It will start looking more and more like a government in waiting. If the Yes campaign loses those who are disgruntled with the PN’s performance will save their disgruntlement and expressed it in the general election. This is especially so considering that in the last few years voters could not even voice their protest against the government in local elections.
Next time round the PN will not be enjoying the Alfred Sant bonus. Pro-divorce generation who normally vote PN would have little qualms to switch to Labour.
Dominique Strauss Kahn (DSK) has gone from sleeping in a $3,000 suite in a Manhattan luxury hotel to sleeping in Rikers Island high security jail in the short space of 48 hours. Reputation is built gradually, going up the stairs in small steps but destroyed by one single event like falling down the lift shaft. He was popular at the IMF and universally understood to be on the verge of launching his candidacy for the French presidency.
To his colleagues in the world of global public finance, DSK was one of the most − perhaps the most − charismatic and impressive operators around. When he walks into a room, people notice. When he speaks, people listen. He quit his position on Wednesday and vowed to prove his innocence. History is littered with the ghosts of powerful people who abused their power. No matter what the outcome of the case, his career and ambitions seem ruined. It is a pity that such talent was lost so prematurely.
Sunday, 8 May 2011
The Malta Independent on Sunday
Anyone who follows my column knows where I stand on the issue of divorce. I consider divorce to be a civil right for the minority that needs it. The absence of divorce has not prevented the weakening of family ties, so it is my considered view that its introduction will not harm the common good and that the weakening of family ties has to be addressed by wider measures rather than a vulgar abolishment that keeps us in the sole company of The Philippines and the Vatican among populations on this planet. Equally forcefully, I am against such a matter being decided by a popular referendum. Civil rights, especially the rights of minorities, cannot be subjected to the whims of the majority. Elected representatives have the duty and obligation to give minorities their civil rights, rather than irresponsibly shrugging off their duties onto the general electorate. Should divorce be decided by the unfaithful husband who cheats on his wife and is against its introduction lest his wife packs up and leaves; or lest his mistress insists on him marrying her` Should divorce be decided by the estranged wife who will vote against out of spite to deny her former husband an opportunity to remarry, even though they have not been living together for more years than can be counted on her fingers and toes and there are no minor children involved` Strange as it may sound, by using various agencies to mount a negative campaign against the introduction of divorce, the Church is actually allying itself with such egoistic animal instincts that are against the introduction of divorce for anything but holy and spiritual reasons. The Church should be against divorce but not against its introduction. The Church has a duty to guide its faithful to live their religion and to abstain from divorce as a matter of personal choice and lifestyle, without imposing it on others who are not members of the Church or who make a personal choice not to live their religion. Any responsible person, even if wholeheartedly against divorce as a matter of personal choice, would in my opinion be harming society by denying it to the minority that really needs it. The pretence that, without divorce, we will have strong families, stable marriages and happy children is an insult to the intelligence of a growing minority who were born in perfectly normal families except for wedlock, a minority gradually reaching the voting age threshold that politicians care about so much for reasons well beyond the divorce issue per se. It is an insult to those who have suffered so much in an unsuccessful marriage, a hurt that no one who has not lived through such a bad experience can ever imagine. It is an insult to any objective observer, seeing that an absence of divorce has been ineffective for preventing marriage disintegration, resulting in an exponential growth of new unconventional family units without any legal framework. If it were true that no divorce equals happy families, as the billboards imply, than the divorce issue would not have arisen. Who buys curative medicine when there is no sickness` The truth is that divorce can bring some legal order to the jungle of unorthodox family units among us. And how should one define a family unit` Is it a disintegrated marriage where the parties have not lived together for decades and where the children born in marriage have made their way in life with the help and support of both separated parents and formed their own household` Or is it an unmarried family who have been living together for a generation and where minor children born out of wedlock are living as a normal family in the protection and love of their unmarried parents` Would the unmarried parents be serving God or society if they leave behind their minors born out of wedlock to obey the Church in protecting the original marriage whatever it takes` The solution to lasting family units is not the absence of divorce, it is strong marriage preparation, a growing economy permitting work-sharing and the enjoyment of quality family time opportunities, a fair social network permitting financial support to young family units, and a wide programme for the upgrading of moral values, which must include as a priority a thorough redefinition of our tax structure to cultivate a moral for tax compliance culture which would permit lower taxes for all and social security transfers to those who are truly deserving. I receive readers’ feedback on many of my columns, but I have been touched like never before by an e-mail I received on my last piece of two weeks ago from a missionary in a poor Latin American country: “I have been absent from Malta for some forty years so I cannot really understand what is happening there currently. I lived in Malta in the 60s and 70s, and experienced the political confusion of the time when voting your convictions led to mortal sin. It would seem that things have not changed much, minds are still offering simplistic choices between heaven or hell, sin or no sin, black or white, policies based on strict rules rather than conviction. In this poor country divorce has existed for some two centuries and I assure you that we celebrated the Holy Week in thousands and nobody threatened anyone with hell or sin. In their poverty these people teach me how I should live my faith and whilst they don’t know who Voltaire is they have been teaching me much more than I have been teaching them these last 40 years. “The divorce referendum in Malta is a waste of time and money. It would have been much better if this money was sent to my mission where we really need it to help these poor people.” I was left speechless! The spirit of St Francis of Assisi lives on, but not here. Here we have the spirit of St Peter with his keys of heaven directing all those in favour of the introduction of divorce straight to hell for denying that Kristu Iva, Divorzju Le.