The Malta Humanist Association wishes to convey its disappointment and consternation at remarks made by the President of the Republic, HE Dr George Abela, during his address welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to Malta on Saturday.
“We were surprised and alarmed by the apparent aggression with which our President rejected the secular principles upon which so many modern European democracies are founded,” MHA spokesman Raphael Vassallo said on Monday. “Dr Abela at one point stressed that Malta ‘is not a confessional state’. Sadly, however, it seems the rest of his speech was devoted to flatly contradicting this very message.”
In a televised address watched by thousands, Dr Abela made various attempts to forge a direct link between Catholicism and Maltese identity, and at one point even appeared to directly challenge the notion that Church and State should be kept separate: “... the moral foundations of a society as a whole, comprising believers, agnostics or atheists, are better served not with the falling away from religion but with the reinvigoration of the moral consciousness of the State,” Dr Abela said.
The Malta Humanist Association strongly rebuts this inference.
“As an association representing the interests of both atheists and agnostics in Malta, we feel we have a duty to correct the President on this particular detail,” Vassallo said. “How can an atheist’s interests be best served when his or her own country’s President publicly dissociates himself from atheism, and even talks of secular humanism in terms of a threat to the nation’s moral and ethical fibre?”
The MHA wishes to stress also that the President manifestly overstepped his Constitutional remit by confusing the disparate roles of Church and State. Even before his televised address on Saturday, the sheer extent of his involvement in preparations for the Pope’s visit – going so far as to appear on national TV, and call on the Maltese to attend High Mass at the Granaries – served only to erode any distinction between secular and ecclesiastic authorities.
“Dr Abela would be well advised to bear in mind that he is the President of all the Maltese, including a substantial minority who are not Catholics,” Vassallo added. “He himself may not be aware of this, but his choice of words last Saturday was deeply offensive to thousands of Maltese citizens, and could conceivably also be dangerous. It is after all not the President’s job to foster a climate of intolerance directed towards adherents of faiths other than his own, or for that matter those who espouse no religion at all.”
On another level, the MHA notes with concern that the President may have unwittingly also insulted other EU member states, especially those with a long and proud history of secularism, in the presence of their diplomatic missions in Malta.
“By referring to secular Europe as ‘profane’, and by disparaging European secularism in no uncertain terms in front of EU ambassadors, we feel that Dr Abela may have undone decades of good work by Maltese diplomats – including his own predecessor, President Emeritus Guido Demarco – in establishing Malta’s credentials as a modern European democracy. Moreover, one would have expected Dr Abela to buttress such controversial statements with serious and well-researched references. Disappointingly, however, the President chose to limit himself to quoting a single article in an Italian daily newspaper...”
The newly formed humanist organisation will shortly be writing to request a formal audience with Dr Abela, in the hope of clarifying a few important issues before any future misunderstandings arise.
“Clearly, the President has not understood the core values and principles of secular humanism,” Vassallo said. “We trust this is a genuine oversight on Dr Abela’s part, and not part of a strategy to misrepresent secular humanists, and force them, along with other minorities, into a position of social and cultural exclusion.”
Further information about humanism in general and the MHA in particular can be found on www.maltahumanist.org.