The Malta Independent 26 May 2019, Sunday

Archbishop Scicluna and his recent appointment at the Vatican

Simon Mercieca Monday, 10 December 2018, 07:42 Last update: about 7 months ago

A few days ago, I was invited to preside over the launch of a book by Antonio Ureta about Pope Francis. I shall be reviewing this book next week. What I wish to share is an interesting conversation that I had with one of those present during the coffee break. This gentleman is a person who follows thoroughly the church and attends even Catholic congresses abroad.  What he told me was that not all the clergy, whom he met ata Congress in Rome were in tune with the positions that Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna has taken regarding the implementation of the encyclical Amoris Laetitia.

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It is a fact that archbishop Scicluna was one of the first archbishops, if not the first, to have endorsed the encyclical Amoris Laetitia and put it into practice. I am here referring to stands taken by the Church in support of communion to divorced Catholics. I am not a theologian, therefore I will not be analyzing this fact from a theological point of view. But I am a historian and a commentator of current affairs. Hence, I shall be analyzing this from a political stance.

In my view, there is no place for controversy about this fact. Even before Francis, the Church was not that strict in its discipline on this matter. Everyone remembers the incident when the then Italian Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi was invited to Mass at St. Peter Square and was allowed to receive Holy Communion, even if he was a remarried divorcee. Everybody knows that the man does not live as brother and sister with his women. I think that it is this type of hypocrisy that Pope Francis wants to challenge with his Amoris Laetitia.  

Then, there is the issue of sexual morality within the Church. The Church is still tied with sexual concepts created in the 19th Century. What were considered sins of the flesh, then became scientific and sexual deviances. The Church needs to divest herself ofthese 19th Century concepts. There is a significant difference between sin and scientific truth. The problem is that where sexuality is concerned, sin and scientific truth are being equated on the same plane. The Church needs to return to basics. In this Pope Francis is correct. He is facing new historical realities by stripping the Church of these 19th Century concepts while re-proposing Church teachings on sin and the sacrament of reconciliation or better still forgiveness.

Foucault reminds his readers that sex is power. Therefore, to dismantle the powerful discourse linked to sexuality, one needs either to undertake the use of sexual discourse or shift the public debate to other matters. Pope Francis is doing both. In the field of sexuality, the Church appeared cynical, in particular, after the Curia was  caught in a number of sexual scandals.

This explains why our arcbishop, Charles J. Scicluna has been promoted to the Congregation of the Faith. At the moment, the Church does not need theologians, as was the case in the 1970s when Ratzinger fought tooth and nail the theology of liberation.

Perhaps, one would think that the person to be appointed to this job should be a theologian. The pope seems to have a different view. He thinks that the best person would be a priest trained in law. While Pope Francis made a number of statements condemning the excessive legal attitude expressed by the Church faced with social problems, he knows very well that certain internal problems, which may appear to be theological, are in reality administrative in character. This explains Scicluna’s appointment.

I don’t think that Scicluna is a man of controversy. He is clearly a man of principle. This does not mean that all his actions and decisions are good or will bring benefit to the church. But I am sure that they haveall been taken in good faith. I am sure that certain decisions will return to haunt the Church. These decisions are not related to the position of principle but more to the choice of people.

I am mentioning these facts for one simple reason. If one thinks that the controversies about this archbishop in the local media are something peripheral, one is definitely wrong. It is a known fact that the relationship between Archbishop Scicluna and Prime Minister Muscat is not oneof the best. The attacks on the archbishop from the Labour front confirmthis. These are prompted by certain comments that the archbishop makes about current situations.

I believe that comments being madeby Archbishop Scicluna are not specifically against Labour. He would speak irrespective of who is in government. He is condemning or disagreeing with actions rather than with individuals.

His comments falls within the current church agenda as being expressed by the pope who wants his bishops to be committed to the Green Agenda, the reduction of global warming and world governance. The affirmations that Scicluna is making in this regard, in particular his past statements regarding the environment in Malta, should be read within this Green Agenda.

I was one of those who, in 2015, enjoyed the spectacle of fiat lux inspired by the Pope’s encyclical Laudatio Si: On care for our Common Home. This encyclical created a controversy. Even the fiat lux became a controversy. One needs to remember that when St. Peter’s Basilica was built, it brought a schism within the Church. Today, there is consensus that Pope Julius II had great vision. This is another reason, why bishops should not shy away from controversies.  They should be bold and stand for what they believe in.

Then, there is the element of internal controversy. Scicluna’s last appointment to the Congregation of the Faith led to statements that this archbishop now has a part-time job in Malta. I do not agree with this statement. It is not factual. On the contrary, this dual appointment enters within the new type of bishops that this current pope wants for the Church. Pope Francis does not want bishops who are simply bureaucrats working in some office in the Vatican. He also wants them to keep uptheir pastoral work.

In the Middle Ages this led to abuse. In olden days, due to issues of transportation, these  dual appointments led to bishops to be absent from their diocesefor months, if not years, on end. Modern means of transportation has made this double role a factual reality.

But there is even more to this appointment. Normally, these appointments led to pastoral retreats. It was these pastoral retreats that have led to internal abuses within the church. Pastoral retreats have led the Vatican to make the wrong political alliances. 

Pope Frances has also opened to Islam, migration and the persecuted Christians in the East. Perhaps, on the latter point, the Church and Vatican diplomacy need to do more.The perceived reality is that the Church is not doing enough, or at best, little in this sphere.But even speechesby Scicluna on these points should be seen within the context.  Even here, Scicluna has followed suit. One needs to read his declaration with regards to Islam in this perspective.

This explains Scicluna’s pragmatic approach to current Church problems. Iam convinced that Scicluna is authentic and definitely not cynical in his approach. Cynicism is the real opposite of authenticity. I believe that Scicluna is fighting modernism with its own tool. He is fighting cynicism with reason. He is following Francis’ example. But instead on focusing on sexuality, Scicluna too is trying toshift the Church agendain Malta ontothose who are suffering.

By shifting the debate tosocial outcasts, the Church is putting at the centre of her agenda a category of people that the Radical Chic and the Liberal Left have abandoned to their fate. In so doing, Pope Francis is dismantling the Liberal agenda which is appearing to be more and more cynical, counter-productive and devoid of any political sense.

In reality, it is not only the Church that is now in crisis but also all those political parties that to the eyes of the electorate appear to have reduced democracy to a system that is more totalitarian in content. This is the crux.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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