The fact that I am a hardliner when it comes to secularism does not mean I’m anticlerical. Yes, the Catholic Church does anger me when it expresses itself in ways that can (and do) harm minorities especially, but not exclusively homosexuals. However I also appreciate that on many things the Catholic Church has a positive impact on Maltese society.

Some 10 years ago I had the opportunity to work with the Sisters of Mother Theresa. I was already agnostic back then, but it didn’t seem to bother them at all. These amazing women dedicate literally their whole lives to others (as well as to God), especially the poor and the most vulnerable. They help the people in every sense of the word – spiritually, emotionally and also practically. I’ve seen them carrying boxes of vegetables to distribute them to the most needy, preparing meals for the homeless, helping kids with homework. They did anything possible that could help these people, both by giving them the fish to eat, as well as teaching them how to fish.

Then came the sex scandals. Probably the heaviest blow the Catholic Church has had to deal with in the last century. Needless to say, all the cases that came to light as well as the fact that many had been covered up, is shocking to say the least. However, I believe there is another reason why this blow was so heavy. A reason the Church seems to ignore.

There are many reasons why the Catholic Church (and other religious movements) maintains respect and power. One of them is fear of hell. Thankfully this is losing its effect. Another reason, probably the most important, is the fact that the church was (in some aspects it still is) near to the people, and not only the faithful. The sisters of Mother Theresa are a case in point. I am sure that in the communities they are present there are many devout Catholics who wouldn’t be as such hadn’t it been for these sisters. Fear of hell and dogmas do not attract many people nowadays. Unconditional love does.

Fr. Mark Montebello is controversial and in many communities also popular. However, except for a couple of radicals, I don’t think Fr Mark’s popularity is due to the fact that he is controversial. In ways similar to the Sisters of Mother Theresa Fr Mark has always been there for those who are really in need in our society. Especially those whom parts of our society has refused, especially prisoners. Giving a voice to these people is sometimes considered controversial. I consider it Christian.

Fr Mark Montebello has been deemed controversial, and subsequently reported to Ecclesiastical Authorities, because he spoke our for paedophiles and migrants. All that he said is that these are human beings and their rights and dignity should be respected. That, in the case of paedophiles, there are more effective ways to deal with this crime than to keep a register of whoever committed such a crime. Or that, in the case of a Nigerian person, if this person claims he was unjustifiably arrested, it does not mean he is lying, just because he’s an African. Or maybe some took offence when he said that the crucifix, a reminder of the person whose path he tries to follow, should not be flaunted and used as a means of dividing people.

I have met people from the clergy that have beliefs similar to Fr Mark’s. They do not say them in public (I definitely don’t blame them) but live them. Those who refuse to put people into categories, judge others and go about throwing stones forgetting that they too have sinned.

Whether as outspoken as Fr Mark or not, these are the members of the clergy that attract people towards the Catholic Church. At the rsk of sounding controversial, I think that what makes such people different from others in the clergy is that they consider Christ at their true leader, rather than the Pope.

The way this is written I might have given the impression that such priests and nuns are a minority. In reality, I believe that they are actually the silent majority.

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Regarding the racially related violence that spread in Rosarno yesterday 8th January, all that Interior Minister Roberto Maroni did was condemn immigration, stating that violence by migrants had been ‘tolerated all these years’. Unfortunately Maroni is (partially) succeeding in fuelling hatred between the people of Rosarno and immigrants. Thanks to this, the attention is taken away from the real cause of the history of violence in Calabria – the N’drangheta – an organisation larger and more brutal than the Sicilian Mafia, that unlike the latter prefers to keep a low profile.

Once again a right-wing leader is using the tactic of divide and rule. Let the oppressed African workers fight with the oppressed, albeit less severely, people of Rosarno. Most of the people in Rosarno support the N’dangreta. What the immigrants do not know is that most of these people, otherwise honest men and women, do so out of fear of this deadly organisation.

Maroni’s words were condemned by the Italian left as xenophobic and racist. However what I find really worrying is not the words he said, but those he didn’t. If one relies on the Interior Minister’s condemnations, the N’drangeta barely exists. Unlike the violence of the immigrants, that of this criminal organisation is never mentioned.

The extreme violence of the N’drangheta is not mainly targeted at African immigrants, but rich Italians living in the North, ironically the core voters of Maroni’s party. In fact, the organisation got its financial boost to make itself on the same level or even better than the Sicilian Mafia and the Camorra, by kidnapping children and relatives of millionaires from the North for huge ransom sums of money. Most of these victims just ‘vanished’ either because their families failed to pay the ransom, or because they happened to see something they shouldn’t. A few were given back to their families after the ransom was paid. All of these had been severely physically abused and psychologically traumatised for life. In the last three decades only one person managed to escape. Unfortunately, probably out of fear, he was captured and sent back to the criminals by the people of Rosarno themselves.

The ransom money was in turn invested in massive drug trafficking where a kilogram of Cocaine is bought for €20 and sold more than douple that price for every single gramme. Most of these drugs were sold to rich adoloscents in the North, the same people Maroni claims to defend.

The ‘caccia al negro’ serves well for duping the people of Rosarno and let them vent their rage. A ‘caccia al Mafioso’ would not only be more horrible, but might also be the beginning of the fight against the N’drangheta.

In an intercepted conversation between two N’drangheta leaders one says “noi siamo il passato, il presente e il futuro” (we are the past, the present and the future). However, the other voice shows concern for the organisation “se la gente si ribella, noi siamo finiti” (if people revolt, it’s the end of us).

The words Maroni said show him as a racist. However, the words he failed to mention show an even more sinister side.