The Archbishop of Malta has reaffirmed the Church’s “duty” of “solidarity” with migrants days after receiving criticism from the country’s Prime Minister for not disciplining a racist priest.

Driving the news

In a Wednesday opinion piece in the Times of Malta, Archbishop Charles Scicluna decried the “ordeal” of migration, and recalled that migrants often undertake journeys to new lands “for the sake of survival”.

Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Scicluna said many migrants “are living at the margins, frequently exploited and deprived of their fundamental rights, or engaged in forms of behaviour harmful to their host society”.

Still quoting the Pope Emeritus, the archbishop said “the reality of solidarity, which is a benefit for us, also imposes a duty upon us as Christians”.

“This is a duty the Church takes very seriously”, Scicluna underlined.

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Go deeper

Scicluna appeared to responding to controversies over the priest David Muscat, who has frequently attracted criticism in Malta for his racist, xenophobic and homophobic views.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had taken Scicluna to task for his failure to discipline the priest.

But although Scicluna confirmed he had spoken to the PM, the archbishop preferred not to mention the controversial priest by name and to concentrate on his and the PM’s “common concern at negative attitudes of our fellow nationals towards the modern-day segregation of migrants in our country”.

“One inevitably encounters dissenting voices and errant actions in all walks of life and, as clergy, we must work harder to collectively espouse and defend the values we hold dear”, Scicluna wrote.

On the issue of solidarity with foreigners “we can say in good conscience that the Church has been active, vocal, unequivocal and clear”, the archbishop insisted.

He added that that was the case “even when those around us were not and even though we do not wield executive power to effect change or take action against certain behaviour”.

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Why it matters

“We believe that while violence is never justifiable, whether it is committed by the migrant community or ourselves as their hosts, exploitation is abhorrent and worse still is the proliferation of hate speech, which harms not only our neighbour but the person who makes it”, Scicluna explained.

He called on Maltese Catholics to sow seeds of “tolerance and dialogue, not hatred” that emerge “from a heart which is compassionate and caring towards our neighbour”.

“We are a hospitable people who have always welcomed strangers”, Scicluna recalled.

“My heartfelt appeal is for us to remain that way because by promoting hatred and division, we will only be precipitating our own undoing”.

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For the record

Scicluna has received praise from both Prime Minister Muscat and other prominent Maltese figures for his visit to a once-unconsecrated part of Addolorata Cemetery where Labour Party figures once excluded by the Church are buried.

Referring to that visit, Scicluna said he asked forgiveness for the Church punishment of Labour Party supporters because he has a “duty” and a “right” as Archbishop of Malta “to teach which principles are right and which are wrong”, as the Constitution says.

“I asked for forgiveness for the Church’s role half a century ago in segregating fellow countrymen and denying them a Christian burial because of their support for the Labour Party”, Scicluna explained.

The archbishop said that “in a sense”, those interdicted Labour politicians “died for us” as Maltese, “because as a country we have matured as a result of that painful experience”.

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