THE present conversations between Mr. Mintoff, the Prime Minister of Malta, and the British Government over the form which " integration " would take have once again created doubts and difficulties about the future of the Church in Malta. But the emphasis now seems to have subtly changed.
Whereas two years ago Maltese Catholic fears — about education, marriage, birth control and so on — arose because of the thought that Catholic Malta would become one with a non-Catholic country, today, they proceed, rather more realistically, from the fact that Malta will, in fact, become virtually detached from this non-Catholic country.
Britain will retain its sovereignty in matters of defence and foreign affairs, and agreement will doubtless be reached about the ways and means relating Malta's economy to the British economy so that they will come to grow into a single economy, thus immensely raising the standard of living in Malta.
Success in all this — still dependent on agreement between the British Government and the present Maltese Government, and then further dependent on the final consent of the people of Malta in fresh elections — will make Malta's position approximate very closely to that of Northern Ireland.
THE natural result of all this will, in fact, be, that Malta will become in effect constitutionally and culturally wholly cut off from Britain.
At first sight one would have thought that this position would be welcomed by the Church in Malta. On paper it seems much better for a Catholic people to be autonomous than to be a colony of a non-Catholic and largely secularist Power.
But the Maltese Catholics are not seeing it this way. Thus a writer in the " Bulletin" of Malta argues: " Left to ourselves, perhaps with a larger Amount of political autonomy, it is possible that a majority government, deriving its mandate from an insufficiently educated people (illiteracy and semi-illiteracy are still the hall mark of our people), we may head for a type of government more in line with the type of government familiar in the East than with the ideals of British democracy." The writer further says that he is not thinking especially of Mr. Mintoff and the Maltese Labour Party. "I make no distinction between one political party and another."
In other words, the Catholic fear in Malta today, in so far as the above writer is representative, is that the Maltese people, left to themselves, might well be induced to support political leaders capable of imposing a dictatorship which would hardly be a Catholic one. Short of this consummation, they could pass legislation which, for example, would deprive education, at university as well as at primary levels, of its autonomy and the traditional Christian values of the island. Thus the Times of Malta writes: " The Catholic Church is fully justified and correct in requiring constitutional guarantees to maintain legally the historic position of the Church in Malta especially in regard to such matters as family life and education."
IT • is a curiously paradoxical
position. Maltese Catholics, it appears, have a greater trust in Britain than in their own people where the protection of the Church and basic democratic freedoms are cocerned.
It is extraordinarily difficult to see how the British Government could give constitutional guarantees to the Maltese which, in fact, the British people themselves do not possess. In this country, Parliament is sovereign and there is nothing which a Parliamentary majority cannot legally do, if it so wills. Our constitutional guarantees lie in the long political tradition of the British people. And if, in fact, the Maltese people were to give electoral support to an antiCatholic leader, would it be thinkable that the British Government should resist what, in fact, would be called " the will of the people of Malta?"
In the long run, the fact must be faced that it is on the Catholics of Malta, and on the Catholics of Malta alone, that the future of the Church in Malta must rest. Equally on them will largely rest the preservation in Malta of the autonomies and freedoms which • mark true democracy.
The truth is that this is the case, whatever the future of the Island and of its relations with this country, Constitutions and guarantees can make it more difficult for a party to effect a revolution; but they cannot prevent the so-called will of the people prevailing in the end.
LAST week we referred in this column to " a streak of anti-Semitism which, not unnaturally, is to be found somewhere deep down in most Catholics ".
This phrase seems to have been misunderstood, as though it were an unwarranted reflection on Catholics.
We should have thought that it was natural for Catholics, brought up from earliest youth on the Gospels, to have an instinct of aversion from those who reviled and condemned Our Lord, demanding that the blood of the innocent prisoner be on their own heads and on those of their children.
Education and the increased moral sensitivity which comes with age causes us to realise that Our Lord Himself gave us the solution in His own example of love and forgiveness for those who knew not what they were doing. But earliest impressions are not necessarily entirely eliminated by later understanding; and it is surely all the more to the Catholic credit that the streak of anti-Semitism deep down is, in most cases, repressed by the growing understanding of what Our Lord's example implies. But not, alas, always.