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VALLETTA, Malta (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Maltese Catholic lay organization Pro Malta Christiana published a full-page, paid manifesto in the June 21 edition of the weekly Malta Independent on Sunday.
The article denounced state and Church-imposed restrictions on the reception of the sacraments in Malta (that were in place for a three-month period, beginning March 12), which were lifted by the Maltese bishops recently, on June 14.
Whilst rendering thanks to God, the Catholic lay group posed a number of questions concerning the necessity of depriving Catholics in the Maltese islands of the graces of the sacraments.
The group questioned why church services were not deemed "essential" by either church or state in Malta, especially when Catholic teaching is clear that the health of the soul takes precedence over the health of the body.
The reason proffered by Malta's archbishop Charles Scicluna for the nationwide church closures was a terse "charity." But Pro Malta Christiana's manifesto aptly points out that charity primarily consists of ensuring access to the sacraments — particularly in times of crisis.
The group pointed to the proactive attitude of a renowned cardinal archbishop of Milan — St. Charles Borromeo — when plague broke out in the city in 1576, juxtaposing it with that of contemporary, local ecclesiastical authorities. Despite the virulence and ubiquity of the plague, the great saint insisted on public religious ceremonies and penitential processions, a stark contrast with the attitude adopted by the ecclesiastical authorities in most countries (Malta included) during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Noting that Malta is officially a secular nation with complete separation of Church and State, the manifesto probes why the Maltese Church accepted the Maltese socialist government's diktat forcing church closures when the Church is supposedly "free" in all matters over which she has exclusive competence.
In the article, Pro Malta Christiana opines that Church-State separation has proven to be a sham in Malta, merely serving to empower an omnipotent state at the expense of the freedom of the Church.
Indeed, according to the group, lived experience belies the constant assertions of Maltese politicians that Malta is a country with a free Church. The manifesto explicitly asks why the Maltese bishops did not take more modest, health-safety measures during the previous three months, and instead resorted to the "drastic decision" to close down the churches of Malta and her sister island, Gozo — a decision that was accepted with "resignation" by Maltese Catholics.
The manifesto, while respectful, has placed Maltese bishops in a difficult position. It solicits answers about the lockdown by the nation's ecclesiastical authorities in light of the "prudential" health restrictions (e.g., face masks, use of sanitizers, temperature monitoring and other steps imposed on all Maltese Catholic places of worship) that have been rolled out with the lifting of the ban on public worship on June 14.
In response to the ongoing confusion and crisis-atmosphere caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pro Malta Christiana manifesto concludes with a "filial and reverent" plea to the Maltese episcopacy to publicly consecrate the Maltese Islands to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary — in the presence of the faithful — this month, the month of the Sacred Heart.