I HAVE just returned from a 1most enjoyable visit to Malta, where I was invited by Fr. Charles Vella, director of the Cana movement on the island, to take part in the tenth anniversary celebrations.
My part in the proceedings was not dramatic, addressing with Bishop Canestre, Auxiliary Bishop of Rome, the mass rally at the Catholic institute at the end of the celebrations.
Maltese in their hundreds were packed into the auditorium and I was able to tell them that Malta had an importance for the Catholic Church out of all proportion to its size.
The reason is that the Church as a whole is judged by what goes on in. Catholic countries and the three countries which are today identified with the Church in the world's eyes, are Malta, Ireland and Spain. Religious liberty is guaranteed in Malta by the constitution and it is up to the present and future generations of Maltese to put it into practice.
There has never been any doubt of the Maltese to their traditional faith, but today a tenacious and devout Catholicism is not enough; it has also to be liberal, tolerant and intelligent.
The Cana movement has all these characteristics to a marked degree. It is the most positive response the island has yet produced to bring Catholicism into relation with the modern world.
Its purpose is really marriage guidance and marriage coun• selling. It gives guidance on family planning (rhythm only) and helps young couples with all the problems which beset them as they set up house and start to raise a family.
The movement owes much to the help of Archbishop
Gonzi, who is not at all the 19th century clericalist dragon of the popular English press. Archbishop Gonzi is not a progressive as such and would not thank anyone who conferred the title upon him,. but compared with many of his. clergy he is positively jetpropelled. He has done much to move the Church in Malta forward and I believe is genuinely anxious to reach a settlement with the Labour Party.
His great antagonist is. of course, Mr. Mintoff whom I also had the pleasure of meeting during my visit. Mr. Mintoff is clearly a man of great energy and capability, who has much to contribute to Maltese life, but unhappily he is not a diplomatist.
Like an Englishman on the Continent, he seems impelled by some inner mechanism to blow up from time to time. The chief casualty is the relationship between Church and State in Malta. From my talk with Mr. Mintoff 1 am convinced that he too is anxious for a settlement of outstanding problems between his party and the Church.
Negotiations have in fact been going on between the Labour Party and the Vatican and there are really only three outstanding points Of disagreement—those over civil marriage, education and clerical immunities.
Given goodwill—and there is plenty of that—and a skilful mediator, a settlement could be reached. Here is the rub. The only man who has succeeded in bringing these two proud and able men together in the past has been Archbishop Cardinale. Unfortunately (and both Archbishop Gonzi and Mr. Mintoff regret it) he is not now Nuncio in Malta and the personal link is missing.
From both Mr. Mintoff s and the Archbishop's view a settlement of outstanding differences is desirable. A general election is only a few months or weeks away and it clearly could be an advantage to the Labour Party to be rid of clerical opposition in the island, In the long run, in any case, the Labour Party can only be weakened by being anti-clerical in such an overwhelmingly Catholic country. The Church also has much to gain by corning to terms with Labour.
In itself, it is bad for the Church to become identified with any one party since the inevitable failures of politicians are then attributed to the Church. In other countries the alliance between conservative and clerical forces has proved of permanent damage to the Church's mission.
Malta's real problems are not religious, but economic. The Gonzi-Mintoff rift is an artificial irrelevancy and I am convinced that there is no problem that cannot be resolved between them given a little common sense. Alas, in Malta as elsewhere, this is a precious commodity in very rare supply,