The divorce referendum and the reactions to the pastoral letter on IVF have clearly revealed unease within the leadership of the Maltese Church to adapt to changes in society. The Bishops were only reiterating Catholic teaching that is proclaimed the world over, so why did the message create so much distance from the Maltese faithful?
Reality is that our society is undergoing rapid cultural change. We have become cosmopolitan, eager to embrace technology and welcome change. The mindset and the prevalent world-view are post-modern, and at times nihilistic. Contemporary society is allergic to certainties, dogma, and monolithic authority. In a democracy, authority is only delegated for a period of time under an agreed framework and with adequate checks on power.
Within such a context, the theological and doctrinal language seem out of touch with the mood of society and it is not seldom that the message is refuted in whole or in part. Does this entail that the Church should not proclaim its beliefs, and do its duty to teach and enlighten its members and society at large? Should it adapt its teachings to the current trends of society? Some suggest so. They argue that the Church should take account of the needs of society today and not teach perennial and millennial beliefs that could have been adequate in previous societies but not for contemporary society.
In my view, the question is not about beliefs but about the language used to communicate them. No one, who truly respects oneself, is untrue to his true beliefs and feelings. A self-respecting Church is true to herself and her identity. She would lose her soul if she were to accommodate herself to society’s clamors. Nonetheless, if she wants to communicate its beliefs to society at large, she is to be sensitive to the questions being raised by society, and assists society to arrive at an adequate answer to these questions not by throwing her beliefs at them but by walking the path along with them. I am deeply convinced that the Gospel is a liberating power and would be embraced were it to be presented as such.
This also puts a burden on the Church fellowship to undertake a continuous internal conversion so that the light of the Gospel first glows on the disciples of Christ. Who would believe us if we ourselves are not living up to the gospel ideals? People believe authentic persons, even if themselves weak and sinful just like the rest but are nevertheless striving to be better persons.
Is the Maltese Church at crossroads? Definite yes. Is she managing to find her feet? Not yet. We always look at the Bishops for guidance but leadership theories today emphasize that leadership is not exclusive to leadership positions but can come from different quarters within an organization. Hence any believer can exercise leadership through one’s gifts and personal qualities, first and foremost one’s holiness and prayerful life. This said, the leadership role of the Bishops remains a very important and fundamental one. The Maltese Church is in dire need of strong leadership, more so in a fast changing society. The temptation in such a situation is to adopt an authoritarian style. This would further alienate the rest of society. The leadership that is needed is one that is sensitive to the questions and moods of society; listens attentively; is lowly and humble; but caring and firm. The leadership we need is one that has elaborated within itself the questions and issues of society, pondered upon them in the light of the gospel and proposes in an authentic way its reflection. Mature grown ups can see through all this and it is my firm conviction that they will be able to choose.
We have been recently blessed with a new addition to our Church leadership with the ordination of Msgr Charles Scicluna as Auxiliary Bishop of Malta. The Maltese Episcopal Conference: Mons. Paul Cremona OP, Mons Mario Grech, Mons. Charles Scicluna at the helm of the Church at a point of transition have all the qualities to offer the Church in Malta and to Maltese society the leadership we need at the moment. The recent events show that they have not yet found the right formula. I, humbly suggest that they should take time to reflect on their strategic role and on the style of leadership they need to adopt. We, the Church, should also reflect on our being in contemporary society and offer our leadership too.