The Malta Independent 21 May 2019, Tuesday

The mirror does not lie

Charles Flores Sunday, 10 March 2019, 11:11 Last update: about 3 months ago

At long last and thanks only to the goodness of the present Pope, the Catholic Church is seeking a tough way out of the child abuse nightmare its own clergy has put it through over the centuries. For both practitioners and non-practitioners, it was good to watch Church dignitaries, including headlining Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, publicly going in front of a mirror to carry out a self-assessment exercise which the “Summit for Protection of Minors” after all was.

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The mirror does not lie and the warts and wrinkles of time can hardly be overlooked. With Cardinal George Pell, former Vatican treasurer, getting his just deserts in Australia, there is genuine hope of a new beginning for a Church that has been under siege for so long, with the myriad victims of clerical abuse and their families finally being heard and shown, not pity, but the respect they deserve. There have been too many instances of bishops and cardinals as well as popes adopting a strategy for nuns, monks and priests accused of child sexual abuse inside schools, convents and even churches by shifting them from one diocese to another. 

The damage caused to the Church worldwide loses significance when compared to the physical and psychological harm caused to the thousands of child victims all over the globe. One hopes this priority focus is the same with the Vatican bodies created or being created for the “all-out battle”, as Pope Francis called it, against sexual abuse which, he stressed, must be eradicated. While insisting that where even one case of abuse should emerge, “it would be treated with the utmost seriousness”, he vehemently denounced cover-up.

The same tone and timbre prevailed during the summit and media conferences surrounding it, with most speakers underlining the need for the Church to cleanse itself from the disease by setting up a proper “high-level office in the Vatican” to tackle abuse and roots of clerical culture. All nice-sounding declarations, of course, most of which have been heard before.

But it was all mostly introverted and internal, alas, when the very nature of child sexual abuse by the clergy, whenever it occurred and wherever it occurs, is criminal. It may be a sin by Church reckoning, but no amount of Hail Marys can suffice in such cases. Nor are diocesan translocations and disrobing a purifying solution. For civil society it is a crime which needs to be accorded the swift justice it deserves. However, the role of the State on this issue of clerical sexual abuse was hardly mentioned during the summit, again causing some consternation among victims of abuse, their families and civil society in general. There has been a more amenable attitude on the part of Anglo-Saxon Church hierarchies, in places like Australia, Canada and the US, in reaction to Pope Francis’ 2016 call for zero tolerance of sexual abuse of minors and negligence of bishops with his “Motu Proprio – Like a Loving Mother”. But that is already three years ago.

One other aspect that was sidelined is that of celibacy. Sexual frustration hits a peak with early middle age among members of the clergy too, but the Church, even under this progressive Pope, continues to resist considering its rescission. Sexual abuse of children is not, of course, specifically a clerical abyss. Paedophilia is a universal malady, alas, that has seen married men and women, mothers and fathers, even grandparents, being prosecuted and sent to jail, but an end to celibacy would certainly help where the clergy is concerned.

As it backs away from the mirror, the Catholic Church would do well to open better and more efficient avenues for the State to intervene on cases of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy. Straightforward Church-State cooperation on this most grievious of crimes is all-important if we want the rest of us, law-abiding citizens, to believe this new chapter is not, again, all clerical hogwash.

 

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Tech giants and women

Like the Catholic Church, tech giants Google and Apple too need to go in front of a mirror for some serious self-reflection. Most people were outraged the other week when it was revealed that Google admitted to a US congresswoman that a Saudi government app that allows men to keep tabs on women and bar them from leaving the country “is in compliance with its guidelines”.

The IT giant has been rightly accused of becoming “an accomplice in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women and migrant workers”. Both Apple and Google actually missed the deadline to remove the app by the end of last month.

To their credit, during that same month European MPs called on the oil-rich kingdom to abolish its archaic male guardianship system and specifically referred to a government web service that is part of a system aimed at putting restrictions on the everyday life of Saudi women. While people celebrated last year’s concession making women eligible for driving licences, few realised they still needed to ask a guardian’s permission to get it! Women also cannot marry, get a divorce or open a bank account without a guardian’s permission, while their testimony in court is worth only half that of a man. I hope no one tries to justify this as culture.

If such global organisations cannot come to terms with these realities and do something about them, including the payment of just taxes in the countries where they operate, there is really no hope for the ordinary man and woman who thought they had found, in them, their liberalising elixir.

 

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A man for all seasons

I do not hesitate using such a cliché’ for a title, for there really are no better words to describe Dr George Vella who has been nominated for the post of President of the Republic. He has shown to be a man for all seasons not only within the political confines of these islands but also on the world stage where, as Malta’s Minister for Foreign Affairs during different administrations, he won so huge a respect that it is disproportionate to our nation’s size and clout in international affairs.

Whatever motivates some half-hearted, politically loaded opposition to his nomination, Dr Vella has a reputation for fairness, commitment and genuine concern. His has always been a voice for moderation, for compromise, and for unity, even when caught in awkward situations as when he found himself in the confounding, squabbling triumvirate of a Labour Party leadership that, in the late 90s, won and lost power with the metaphorical blink of an eye. He also turned down the offer of automatic leadership, though I have since never been able to define whether it was offered to him on a silver platter or as a poisoned chalice.

Malta has been lucky with her presidents since the inception of the Republic in 1974. They all rose to the occasion and subsequently left an indelible legacy. Dr Vella will no doubt retain and further embellish this elevated status of the nation’s top post.

 

 

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