Evarist Bartolo | Sunday, 30 November 2008

Is freedom of thought and speech to become a mortal sin again?

Powerful personalities within the local Catholic Church have been warning politicians and voters that mortal sin will be imposed on them and they risk eternal damnation if they support the introduction of divorce in Malta. These people want to drag the church and the country back to the past.
“God is with us!” With these words in March 2004 Dr Lawrence Gonzi closed his first speech as the successor of Dr Eddie Fenech Adami as leader of the PN. He informed us that God is a card-carrying member of the PN in the same breath that he said that he wanted to do politics in a new way. Invoking God and claiming Him to be on your side is one of the oldest ways of doing politics.
The triumphal declaration of Dr Gonzi that God is with the PN reminded us of Malta and Gozo 40 years ago when the Church was ruled by his relative, Archbishop Michael Gonzi, and pulpits and political platforms were used to proclaim that God sided with the PN against the MLP. Labourites were denied sacraments. They were refused burial in consecrated grounds. Mortal sin was imposed on Labour politicians, activists and voters. Those who wrote, sold and read Labour newspapers were threatened with hell. Church bells were rung to drown the speeches of the Labour leaders. Priests used to mobilize God-fearing housewives to disinfect the squares where Labour mass meetings were held.
Labour Party supporters were treated as pariahs. In my village, Mellieha, ‘Dom’s Bar’, where the most daring local Labourites met, was referred to as the “maqjel” (the pigsty)!
The Nationalist Party, with God on its side, not only did not condemn this blatant breach of basic human rights and repressive process of dehumanizing Labourites, but also used this undemocratic politics to win two general elections in the Sixties. While Pope John XXIII was opening up the Catholic Church and refreshing it with a new spring, the PN in Malta and Gozo was using the local Church in its desperate and doomed fight to hold on to its medieval privileges and mindset.
The church has never recovered from that experience where it allowed itself to become a crutch that supported the PN but that crippled itself in the process.
Before trying to drag the Church and the country back to the past, our ‘divorce-only’ fundamentalist prelates might consider what has just happened in the American presidential election. Addressing those who voted for Obama, Catholic parish priest Jay Scott Newman wrote in a letter to parishioners at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville in South Carolina: “Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.” A ‘Washington Post’ commentary by David Waters states: “Newman is saying that thinking is now mortal sin. He’s saying that having an opinion is a mortal sin. He’s saying that freedom of speech and thought is a mortal sin.”
Several American Catholic Bishops also called on Catholic voters not to vote for Obama: Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Colorado; Archbishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pennsylvania and Bishop Rene Gracida. Bishop Joseph Finn of Kansas City, Missouri who is a member of Opus Dei was asked in a radio interview: “There are Catholics listening right now who are thinking strongly or are convinced that they will vote for Barack Obama. What would you say to them?” The bishop replied: “I would say, give consideration to your eternal salvation.” Bishop Finn had earlier compared the 2008 election to the naval battle of Lepanto, when a papal fleet overcame a Muslim fleet in 1571.
Michael Sean Winters writes in ‘The Tablet’, 15 November 2008, Catholic voters “considered their eternal salvation and voted for Barack Obama. The warnings of these Catholic bishops were not heeded and Catholics in their states and nationwide voted in their majority for Obama. These ‘abortion-only’ bishops ignored the pastoral letter ‘Faithful citizenship’ adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at its 2007 meeting to guide Catholic voters in forming their consciences on political matters.
“ ‘Faithful citizenship’ stresses: ‘In fulfilling these responsibilities (to help Catholics form their conscience), the Church’s leaders are to avoid endorsing or opposing candidates or telling people how to vote. As Pope Benedict XVI stated in Deus Caritas Est, ‘The Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice …The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible.’ ”
Michael Sean Winters reflects that “The ‘abortion-only’ approach also disparages the moral seriousness of many Catholics… The economy is a moral issue. For middle-class Americans, buying a house and making the mortgage payments are moral accomplishments… Greed was seen as the principal culprit in the troubles on Wall Street. President-elect Obama grasped the moral dimensions of the economic anxieties felt by so many Americans… His promise of a post-partisan approach to politics resonated with them…Catholics, at least most of them, wedded their hopes for America to his.”


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