The Malta Independent 14 December 2017, Thursday

Differing versions about Pope-PM talks

Malta Independent Tuesday, 25 June 2013, 11:57 Last update: about 5 years ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat yesterday had a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, followed by talks with Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Foreign Minister George Vella and parliamentary secretary Owen Bonnici were also present at the talks.

The accounts provided after the 15-minute talks between Pope and prime minister, differed widely according to whether one examined the Vatican’s Press Office statement or what was said later by Dr Muscat.

According to the Vatican Press Office, the apostolic origins of the Maltese church were mentioned in the talks as well as the determining imprint that Christianity has left on the history and culture of the Maltese people.

Mention was also made of the pastoral visits to Malta by the Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI which “have left a profound memory in the life of the church and in the population.”

During the meeting, according to the Vatican press statement, it was reaffirmed the necessity of maintaining safe the Christian values and emphasis was also made on the important role that the Catholic church exerts in Malta through its educational and assistential institutions.

The church’s role has been safeguarded by means of many agreements between the Holy See and Malta including that about the teaching of the Catholic religion in State schools, that on church schools and that on the church’s property.

A particular mention, added the Vatican note, was made about the “agreement on the civil effects of religious marriages about which there will be further talks between the two sides.”

Mentioning the ‘important challenges and critical situations in the Mediterranean as relating to the role of Malta in the EU, special mention was made as to the phenomenon of migration towards Europe which sees both church and state in Malta strongly impacted.

According to the version given by Dr Muscat to the media accompanying the Maltese delegation, the aim of the talks revolved around the revision of the 1992 treaty granting supremacy to the ecclesiastical tribunal on marital matters, leaving the Maltese courts subordinate to its decisions in matters of marriage annulment.

Dr Muscat explained that the treaty is being used vindictively in the Maltese courts, with the purpose of delaying marital court proceedings.

He said that a prompt revision of the treaty is needed, particularly in light of the introduction of divorce in Malta.

“The Vatican is prepared for and willing to change. We asked for a revision of the treaty, and we found an abundance of understanding on their part,” Dr Muscat explained.

The Prime Minister explained that a bilateral commission will now be set up, with two representatives from each side in order to discuss the relevant changes to the treaty.  

Dr Muscat said that all discussions have to take place through the relevant diplomatic channels, ruling out any unilateral action on Malta’s part.

He said that in the spirit of openness, he informed the Vatican of the government’s intentions to introduce civil unions in Malta.

“It is important to maintain cordial relations with the Vatican. We were honest and open about our intentions, we did not approach the talks with the pretence of a holier than thou attitude.”

The Prime Minister placed emphasis on the need for a speedy resolution to the talks, saying that they have to be concluded within “a matter of months, not years.”

Dr Muscat hinted that the Vatican’s position is that only the relevant clause of the treaty should be changed, but he said that the government wants a wider revision.

On a personal level, the Prime Minister expressed his esteem for the “humble” Pope Francis. Dr Muscat then presented to the Pope his wife and their twin children as well as the rest of the Maltese delegation. He was reported to have told the Pope that, mindful of the Pope’s ‘humility’ he did not bring him gifts of silver but only four ceramics showing the Gospels.

He added that the Pope has been invited to visit Malta.

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