by Peter Stanford VATICAN officials held two days of discussions with the Maltese Prime Minister and his advisers last month over the vexed question of the future of the island's Catholic schools. No details of the meeting between Archbishop Achille Silvestrini, the Secrerary of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church and the Maltese ministers were released, but a spokesman for Archbishop Joseph Mercieca of Malta confirmed that the schools' dispute figured high on the agenda.
The discussions, which took place from March 20 to 22, came as the Maltese government prevented a group of Catholic scouts from travelling to the Vatican to take part in the celebrations to mark International Youth Year last Sunday. The scouts had received a personal invitation from the Pope, and a delegation of 14 was selected to journey to Rome to join 200,000 other young people in celebrations organised by the Church. The state-controlled Maltese banks refused to change local Maltese currency into Italian lira for the scouts, and state sponsorship was withdrawn.
For some time now the Maltese government has refused to convert domestic currency into Italian lira without the approval of government officials. Italy and Malta are
locked in a disagreement over aid which the Italians have promised to the Maltese, but have failed to deliver.
Because of the bank's refusal, the scouts were unable to make their planned trip.
Those participating in the Vatican-Malta talks included the Maltese Foreign Minister, Alex Sceberras Trigona, and The Ambassador to the Holy See, Paul Farrugia, and on the Vatican side, Archbishop Mercieca and the charge d'affairs in Malta, Mgr Francesco Can alini.
In November, the church in Malta and the goverment came to a temporary agreement over the running of the island's Catholic private schools. The state had demanded that the church cease to charge fees in their schools, but the church refused, saying that while it considered free education a desireable concept in theory, in practice it could not afford such a policy. The dispute continued over the summer and rose to a peak of violence when the curial offices in Valetta were sacked by a pro-government mob.