The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

TMIS Editorial: When a priest preaches hate

Sunday, 9 January 2022, 11:00 Last update: about 8 months ago

When a priest preaches hate, you know that there’s something very, very wrong.

When a priest says that being gay is worse than being possessed by a demon, you know that we still have a long way to go as a country, as far as tolerance goes.

Towards the beginning of this week, Malta was speaking about one of the most horrific crimes ever committed in this country – the rape and murder of a young Polish woman by a man who claims he was possessed by the devil.

ADVERTISEMENT

But, overnight, the conversation changed subject to a firebrand priest who, for reasons known only to him, linked the murder to homosexuality and said appalling things about gay persons.

At a time when Malta was speaking about misogyny, violence against women and the need to ditch the patriarchal society, someone who is supposed to preach love and respect, someone who people should look up to as their spiritual leader, made the situation worse by conjuring up anti-gay sentiment – something which really has nothing to do with what happened on Sunday morning.

Fr David Muscat first alluded that the alleged perpetrator, Abner Aquilina, is gay. He then went on to say that being gay is even worse than being possessed by the devil.

We have no idea how the “gayyagni” argument came about in the first place.

Fr Muscat posted an old photo of Aquilina wearing a colourful T-shirt and said it looked like a rainbow, and that Aquilina looked like he had just come from the Gay Pride parade.

First of all, that was not a rainbow T-shirt. Secondly, there’s nothing wrong if it was. Thirdly, there’s still nothing wrong if Aquilina was gay and had gone to Gay Pride.

Fr Muscat has every right to disagree with gay people. He has every right to disagree with same-sex marriage or with gay adoptions. That is his opinion.

But he has absolutely no right to vilify LGBTIQ+ persons and incite hatred against them, telling his flock that being gay is worse than being possessed by the devil, therefore someone to avoid and be scared of, something evil.

The Church has already lost a lot of popularity over the years, even if it has tried to keep up with the times as of late, including on LGBTIQ+ issues.

But the attitude of Fr David and people like him, who harbour mentalities that were more fitting during the times of the Inquisition, will only harm the Church and serve to push more people away. 

But this goes way beyond the Church attendance issue. What Muscat said constitutes hate speech, which is a serious crime. In fact, Muscat has been questioned by the police and is set to be arraigned in court later on this month.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna has apologised to the gay community and has also issued a formal warning to Muscat, instructing him to remove his hurtful comments. But some have rightly argued that this is not enough.

Other people who use hate speech have not been so “lucky”. They weren’t told to “remove the Facebook post and never do it again”. Many people would lose their jobs there and then over something like this. So why is a priest being treated differently?

After all, this was not Fr Muscat’s first controversy.

This is a priest who spoke at the birthday party of well-known far-right extremist Norman Lowell. His videos, in fact, are uploaded on a YouTube channel that hosts several Imperium Europa videos.

We are speaking here about a priest who uploads regular video blogs discussing partisan politics. He invited people to join him to sing the Te Deum when Malta was greylisted by the FATF. He recently said he sang the Te Deum again when Roberta Metsola was nominated EPP candidate for President of the European Parliament.

While Muscat has the right to support any political party he wants, he should not be making such politically charged comments. If he wants to do politics, perhaps he should become a politician and stand for election.

Many Maltese expect the Curia to be more forceful against Fr Muscat this time round, having closed an eye to his appalling behaviour on several other occasions. They are right. This time, the priest has truly crossed the line. While political comments can be forgiven, hate speech cannot.

After all, aren’t priests supposed to preach love, respect and tolerance? Isn’t that the true word of God?

Another point that must be made is that the Church seems to be using a different yardstick in this case. A few years back, Fr Mark Montebello was banned from writing a newspaper column after he criticised the Church’s view on IVF. He was also reportedly threatened with being defrocked.

In the case of Fr Muscat, who most likely committed a crime, the Church has simply issued a formal warning.

One must now wait and see what the Church will do if Muscat is convicted of hate speech in a few weeks’ time.

If the Church expects its followers to abide by its rules, it must also enforce the laws governing its own people and it must lead by example.

There is no place for homophobia, hate speech and racism in our society, including within the Church and on the social media pages of its priests.

 

 

  • don't miss