Raphael Vassallo | Sunday, 08 March 2009

And now, the Morality Police...

Thank heavens. For a second there I thought we were in serious danger of developing into a modern, pluralistic European democracy, in spite of all the present government’s efforts.
How silly of me. In a timely reminder that we are still stuck somewhere in 1962, the Malta Police Force has publicly admitted it takes its orders directly from the Archbishop’s Curia. And I suppose we should be thankful for the improvement: in the early 1990s, the Police Commissioner took his orders directly from the Prime Minister. (Ah, those were the days... when Eddie would contact George over the phone, and instruct him to stop investigating his own former bodyguard... because he wanted to conduct the investigation himself...)

My, how we’ve progressed in leaps and bounds since Independence. Year of our Lord 2009, and our police force still seems to think it exists only to buttress the country’s political and ecclesiastical authorities: arresting those whom the Bishops want arrested, and investigating crimes only when asked to do so by the Prime Minister or the Opposition leader.
So what happens? Nine men choose to dress up as Jesus Christ and his Apostles on the occasion of the Nadur Carnival – an event hardly renowned for its reverence; and which, last I looked, was not even a Catholic feast – and lo and behold: a week later they are hauled before a magistrate to account for their crime against humanity... and the entire trial lasts less than 12 seconds.

Personally I’m not sure what upsets me more in all this: that they were arrested at all (evidence of the astonishing anachronism that passes for a Criminal Code in this country); or the fact that nobody seems to have taken the sinister implications on board.
OK, let’s start with the arrest. Did it take place immediately? No. And yet there was no shortage of police officers present on the scene: there never is, when great crowds converge upon a single place with the apparent sole aim of getting pissed. Evidently, however, this particular crime was not deemed serious enough by patrolling police officers to take action on the spot. Nor were the arrests made the following day, or the day after that... by which time the photos of their foul deed had been uploaded onto the Internet.

No. Judging by the sequence of events, it is clear as daylight that the police would not have lifted a single, solitary finger to apprehend these people... were it not for a proclamation last Thursday (almost a week after the event) by the Bishops of Malta and Gozo, who took time out of their busy, secularist-bashing schedule to comment on the issue.
And, oh look! The same Malta Police Force that treats serious, hardened criminals with kid-gloves – and whose assistant commissioners have testified under oath to being “too afraid” to even approach notorious gangsters in Paceville, still less to arrest them – suddenly moves with astonishing speed and deadly efficiency to home in on the evil culprits and bring them all to justice.
How utterly marvellous. I imagine the brave officers involved will one day describe to their wide-eyed grandchildren how they single-handedly rescued Christianity from the clutches of Hell... Perhaps they can already see themselves being canonised by Pope Benedict, in appreciation of their valiant efforts to maintain our country’s reputation as the last bastion of religious intolerance in Europe.
Whatever they are now thinking, it is unlikely they will ever appreciate or understand how gravely they have undermined public faith in the Police Force... which has now been publicly reduced to nothing but the unofficial, temporal arm of the Archbishop’s Curia.

Can anyone therefore be surprised that the same Malta Police Force so rarely takes the initiative to investigate (for instance) government corruption? Or for that matter, crimes allegedly committed by the clergy?
But then, no sooner does a politician or bishop demand an arrest, then: swoosh! Down they swoop on the chosen culprit, in accordance with their masters’ wishes.

A few examples. Some months ago, a photographer was taken in for questioning for the grave crime of having photographed Robert Musumeci – the Nationalist mayor of Siggiewi – outside Mepa’s offices in Floriana. Personally I would like an explanation for this extraordinary turn of events. Is there a law against taking photographs of political personalities in public places? Or was it simply that the complaint came from a politician on the government’s side... in which case, it doesn’t really matter if a crime was committed or not?

Elsewhere, some of you might remember a child-abuse scandal that had erupted around 2003, when a number of former residents of the St Joseph Home for Boys in Santa Venera had accused four of the institute’s clergymen of having sexually molested them throughout their childhood.
It later transpired that the Canadian police had already issued an arrest warrant for one of the suspects, over similar allegations dating back to 1993 – and that these allegations were known to the Curia, when it appointed him spiritual director of a home for boys.

Well, needless to add the inevitable went on to happen – as could and should have been predicted, all things considered – but who cares? This was child molestation, not Jesus impersonation; and as child molestation is not a serious offence in ths country, the Church saw no need to involve the police.
Instead, Archbishop Mercieca appointed his own, private “court”, presided over by a retired judge, to “investigate” the allegations.

Exactly what it is that enables the Church to dispense its own, private justice, while the rest of us have to make do with the Law Courts, is at best unclear. What if it was not a priest but a schoolteacher at the centre of the scandal? Would the school have been allowed to simply carry out its own internal investigations, and then try the suspect according to its own laws?
I somehow doubt it. And yet, the Church did exactly that, and everyone at the time seemed this to think this was perfectly normal. (And indeed it would be perfectly normal... if we were living before the reign of Henry II in the 12th century AD.)
Again, it is clear as daylight that the Malta Police Force would never have dreamed of getting involved with something as trivial as child abuse at Dar San Guzepp... had the issue not been given enormous prominence by the media (including some rather graphic footage on TV – for which, of course, all the usual Church apologists railed in unison against the freedom of the press).
Under pressure, the police reluctantly pressed charges against the four suspects. But does anyone remember how the case panned out in the end? No? Well, neither do I.

Odd, isn’t it? The arraignment of a man dressed up as Jesus makes headline news and prompts nationwide scandal... but the case of four Catholic priests, accused of sexually molesting little boys over a period of several years, not only takes ages to get to court: it also gets to be heard behind closed doors. Six years have since gone by, and what do you know? We never heard anything about the whole shabby business again. In fact, I can’t even say for certain whether the court case has even been concluded.
It is as though the various “autonomous” branches of the state’s judicial system thought their job was not to administer justice equally to all – victims and suspects alike – but rather, to spare the Archbishop’s blushes and to defend his Curia from attack. And what else can we expect, when the Government behaves like a Church, and the Church clearly thinks of itself as a Government?

Back to the Jesus impersonators, and... whoa, what a difference. Even as I write this article on a cold and wet Friday evening, the news has just come in that they have already been arraigned, and not only that; one among their number has even been tried and convicted, and sentenced to a month in prison, suspended for 18 months.
Amazing, how quickly the mills of God suddenly begin to grind, when Archbishop Paul Cremona makes his wishes known.


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