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.