The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

Make me a channel of your peace

Saturday, 8 January 2022, 07:54 Last update: about 5 months ago

Chris Vella

Much has been written on the horrendous and brutal rape and murder of Paulina Dembska at the beginning of this year. Maybe too much has been written by those who shouldn’t have written, and too little by those who should have and have a moral responsibility to do so. For, expressing certain comments at a time such as this, while important, need be respectful and sensitive. To be silent, where injustice is perpetuated, is akin to complacency and complicity. But unreflective comments spewing with hate or blabbering sheer nonsense or unfounded hypotheses, are better not said, better not seen, ever.

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Several individuals on social media have quickly sprinted up to point fingers, level accusations against individuals or entities or link the crime to one or other cause. I am wary of making or accepting such hasty conclusions. We all know the Maltese idiom roughly translated as ‘the hasty cat breeds blind offspring’. This may also be true in this case. Let us allow some time for the investigation to be completed before we jump to conclusions.

The murder was horrific and brutal. Any murder is equally appalling, irrespective of who the victim and perpetrator are. Femicide is a terrible scourge too. The misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia and the us-and-them divide are true plagues of our country. Equally worrying is the rising challenge of mental health, that has been pejorated by the pandemic, the shrinking natural landscape, and the ‘uglification of Malta’. It is still too early to know the true motive behind the appalling crime. It may be connected to all or none of the above social indicators.

That, on the other hand, should not stop us from reflecting and speaking out against other ‘crimes’ committed in the wake of this murder. One appreciates and praises the huge outflow of solidarity, love and human closeness shown very clearly to Paulina and her family. That was genuine and beautiful, and I am sure it gave solace to a family that has lost a beautiful person, so innocently and so unjustly.

On the other side, we have seen the social media exploding with comments, hypotheses, half-truths, suspicions, and accusations being levelled against one side of the other. Many took the opportunity to turn this horrendous crime into a battleground for Malta’s culture wars. One comment, in particular, written by a local Catholic ‘priest’, even went as far as spewing hatred against LGBTIQ people, calling gay intimacy as ‘cancer’ and worse than demonic possession.

I will not go into the discussion of whether the alleged rapist and murdered had any connections with one or other evangelical group, or whether he was a repressed gay person. It is too early to reach any conclusions.

Yet, how can one justify such horrendous comments? Was it just in response to some media reports that this comment was made? Was it motivated by reaction to the Mapping the Rainbow Report that was issued earlier in the day? Was it done intentionally to create a controversy, to ensure that his comments go viral and so spin more hate for other fellow human beings? Was it done, intentionally, so that upon backlash, he could become a self-proclaimed martyr of ‘free speech’ and ‘truth’, however twisted this may be?

To me, this whole issue boils down to a question of Christian charity. The solidarity and love and affection for Paulina is evidence of much needed charity. On the other hand, this obscene comment pointed to a complete absence of charity. While one recognises the right of people to voice different opinions, however unacceptable they may be to most of society, comments that evidence contempt for human dignity, are not acceptable, not by democratic standards, and even more by the standards of Christian charity. ‘If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen’ (1 Jn 4: 19).

Let us be animated by solidarity and by a genuine yearning to build a better and more socially just society, that is welcoming to all people, whatever their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, colour, and ability/ disability.

Let us avoid the easy game of blame, especially when investigations into a crime are still ongoing.

Let us not exploit the horror of an abominable crime to seek easy revenge, or to make political capital out of human misery and tragedy and get a few cheap points in the endless and tragic culture wars.

One last word of gratitude goes to the Archbishop and other priests who spoke out against these obnoxious comments. By speaking out publicly against these comments, you have taken up the moral responsibility to speak for social justice and to stand out for the weak and vulnerable.

We hope that this dreadful episode can remind our pastors that the only genuine true pastoral way is to take care of all the sheep. Let the Archbishop, and other leaders go one step further and ensure that such comments are not tolerated, and all steps are taken to unmask and stop the wolves who dress up as sheep, or worse still as shepherds.

 

Chris Vella is Coordinator of Drachma LGBTI and Co-Chair of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics

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