The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

Long memories in the Vatican

Noel Grima Sunday, 10 October 2021, 07:30 Last update: about 5 days ago

There are people in the Vatican with long memories, I am driven to conclude.

With a cardinal, no less than three papal nuncios, and even a recently retired cardinal who was left carrying the can (and even had a bomb wreck his window across Santa Katerina) in the most trying times for democracy in Malta, there is no dearth of people who can speak about how the church could risk getting involved in Malta’s politics which at times becomes incandescent.

Take 1981, for instance, another election year. Around a month before the poll, Dom Mintoff went to see the Pope. Whatever the conflicts here between church and state, Mintoff always ensured that Malta remained very friendly with the Vatican on the international level. The Vatican, or rather the Holy See, always lacked friends on the international level and Mintoff’s Malta was always ready to oblige.

So Mintoff went to see the Pope. But the Pope had another idea. The Mintoff entourage later said that at the end the Pope got out a paper and began reading from it, to the total surprise of the Dom. Later I came to realise this was all damage control.  The Pope always reads a prepared speech at the end of the audience.

This speech was a hard-hitting condemnation of the Mintoff government track record. It must be still accessible somewhere.

Mintoff submitted to the rebuff but the speech never made it to Malta. All that the Maltese people learned, with State broadcasting as censorious as today’s 'current events a fortnight later’ was that Mintoff met the Pope and nothing else.

To add insult to injury, thousands of leaflets were printed showing Mintoff with the Pope, thus persuading the church- going part of the Labour electorate that all was well between church and state.

The church in Malta, led by Archbishop Mercieca still trying to establish his authority after the long reign of Archbishop Gonzi, did not even try to counter the government spin.

At the end, as we all know, all these manoeuvres did not give Mintoff the absolute majority he wanted and the country had to suffer great uncertainty for the next five years.

So when with the election approaching there was talk about the Pope coming to visit some of us began having visions of déjà vu.

The reports this week that the visit has been postponed to next year because the Vatican’s policy of avoiding papal trips on either side of an election showed, to me at least, that saner minds, at the Vatican at least, had prevailed.

I still cannot understand the keenness of the current build-up. The polls are all predicting a huge win for Labour but the government and the party are behaving as if this is a knife-edge election. Not even if all those who are telling the pollsters they don’t know were to vote PN will this government lose. So why all this aggression?

It is as if all the sections of government are engaged in a race to, as the saying goes, make hay while the sun shines. All is spin and window-dressing, nothing bad must trouble the people, nobody seems to plan long-term (except the rather improbable metro, despite the big tent that disturbs the City-gate) and so long-term solutions are not undertaken. What a difference from PN administrations and their expensive drainage clean-up campaigns!

This country has three imperative needs:-

-         To save the beleaguered environment, by moderating if not banning outright further depredations and working to improve the quality of the environment;

-         To save the economy from its present high inflation rate and its worse deficit situation; and

-         To rescue the country’s bad international name on money-laundering and corruption issues.

No Pope can help on these three matters.

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