A critic of “closed doors” migrant policies in Europe, a defender of divorced and remarried Catholics who want to take communion, and a supporter of the civil recognition of same-sex partnerships.

Mario Grech, the new pro-secretary general of the Vatican Synod of Bishops, is all of these things, and more.

Driving the news

The present Synod secretary general, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, announced Wednesday that Pope Francis had named Grech to “walk alongside” him from here on in the role.

Baldisseri, 79, said Grech will take over as secretary general when his own mandate “expires”, but gave no indication as to when that might be.

The 62-year-old Grech has been Bishop of Gozo, in Malta, since 2005.

According to Maltese news reports, the Pope hand-picked him for his new role.

Baldisseri said the Maltese bishop will shadow him for a time in order to get first-hand knowledge of the workings of the Synod of Bishops, one of the Vatican’s most important institutions.

Grech’s first assignment will be to participate as a member of the Synod for the Amazon that gets under way Sunday in Rome.

Go deeper

But who is the new pro-secretary, and what does he stand for?

In the first place, he’s a staunch defender of an “open doors” policy for migrants and refugees in Europe.

“There is a false populism in today’s society”, Grech declared in a Vatican News interview in January this year.

“Why is society so insensitive to the defence of fundamental human rights?”, he added.

“I understand that the question of immigrants is complex. It is a subject that must be approached and followed up on with great calm, with great prudence, but also with great responsibility.

“We cannot stamp out human life.

“We are talking about Europe, of a Christian continent: but where are the Christian values?”, Grech asked.


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Between the lines

Grech was also the author, along with Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, of controversial 2017 guidelines to priests in the country on divorced and remarried Catholics.

Those guidelines stipulated that separated faithful in new relationships “cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist” if they “are at peace with God”.

The Maltese bishops’ turn-around on traditional Church discipline made it all the way to the pages of Vatican paper L’Osservatore Romano.

The break with tradition was made possible by Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris laetitia.

For the record

In 2018, in an interview with Television Malta, Grech furthermore expressed his “satisfaction” at the passage in 2017 of same-sex marriage legislation in the country.

Same-sex couples, Grech argued, “have the right not to be judged”, just like everyone else.

In their “faithfulness”, “they have a right to be respected as a couple”, the bishop added.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.