Relations between Church and State in Malta have suddenly taken a turn for the worse. Recriminatory attacks that had appeared in the organ of the Labour Party had indeed diminished while negotiations were going on to lessen misunderstanding between Church and State, resulting from the Referendum held in February 1956.
The offensive has now been renewed by the Labour Party, and unless Malta's Prime Minister, Mr. Mintoff, attempts a conciliatory note, he and his cause will head straight into trouble.
OUR MALTA CORRESPONDENT SENDS US THE FOLLOWING COMMENT:— TO the dual personality of Malta's Premier Mintoff is attributable the beginning of the present rift between Church and State in that Island. He is a man of constructive ideas. and of difficult temper as well. Not always having enough respect for other people's feelings, he is emboldened to continue in this strain through the apparent passive subjection of his Archbishop. The latter is a very unhappy man, yet, as the Secretary of State for the Colonies stated in the Commons on May 8, his "high standing in the Island is well known and well deserved."
Now Mintoff's own friends, who wish him well in his strivings for integration with Britain. are worried. " There is something wrong with him," they openly say in Malta.
HOW did the latest trouble start?
It is the story of two paintings by Caravaggio, ahich had once hung in St. John's Co-Cathedral, Malta.
It is the story of — WHO OWNS THE CATHEDRAL? The Church, or the Government ?
Mintoff. without asking the Archbishop. took the pictures away and hung them in an improvised national museum. His Grace, maintaining the Cathedral is Church properly, and not Government. as others say. objected.
Mintoff later began to have qualms, submitted the matter to the Holy Sec.
On Ma Day, he addressed a large crowd in the open, abused his political oponents, said they e.cre using the Church to further their ends. He also said that religion was one's own private business. a statement which his critics were quick to qualify as heretical.
1 quote: " Religion is nobody's monopoly, as it belongs to Our Lord only, and when one is certain that one is following in His footsteps. nobody need be afraid of what people of this world may say."
People here took this as meant for His Grace.
Again I quote: " Nobody has a monopoly of religion, much less so if one is a procurator who battens on Church affairs, and later joins the Nationalist Party, and on every occasion makes use c religion, not to benefit religion, but to frighten workers away from it."
And this people here took as meant for Dr. Herbert
Ganado, lately President of Catholic Action.
HIS irresponsibility was particu
larly shown in his statement to the crowd that " the British Government has given the absolute guarantees required by the Vatican," reference being to safeguarding of Christian morals in the event of integration materialising.
It brought questions in Parliament in London. Was Mintoff telling the truth? Said Mr. Lennox-Boyd: "No formal agreement has yet been reached (between Her Majesty's Government and the Vatican in regard to religious minorities), but I do not believe it will prove difficult to do so when the time seems opportune."
Pressed further, he added: "There had not been discussions between the Archbishop and myself, or the Archbishop and Her Majesty's Government."
The man in Malta's streets even members of Mintoff's own Labour Party — feel that Mintoff should not have aggravated relations with the Archbishop just when delicate negotiations may he about to start on Church-State relations, which everybody on the Island wants to see succeed.
AND now there are two schools of thought in Malta. Some feel that further negotiations with the Prime Minister to bring about peace while insults aimed at the Archbishop continue to he uttered in public and written in the Malta Labour Party Press are not only fruitless• but dangerous, because they lull the people into a state of self-complacency and imperil the loyalty and spiritual duty of the people politically and religiously confused by disrespectful and very crude articles which are appearing in Is-Sebh. the organ of the Malta Labour Party.
There are others who believe that an open religious conflict can still he avoided if the Prime Minister will decide seriously to remove all obstacles in the way of understanding and mutual trust. What will happen in the near future depends on Mr. Mintoff. but there is no doubt that if the religious conflict is pushed still further and continued. the ecclesiastical authorities will no longer be in a position to allow the situation to degenerate further.
Overriding spiritual considerations will inevitably require spiritual sanctions at a crucial point where it will clearly be scandalous to tolerate further scandal.