Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Archbishop Paul Cremona: The unpleasant Truth is that the Archbishop’s time is Over !

The leadership vacuum within the local Church was evident as early as three years ago when Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna was flown down from Rome to help revitalise an ailing Church.

The unfortunate thing about the current tension in the local Church is that instead of being embraced to help the Church grow, it is being met with deafening silence [read resistance] from the Church’s hierarchy. The problem boils down to Archbishop Paul Cremona and his leadership team. They are afraid of internal dissent because they are reluctant to change. Cremona and his men at the Curia need to grasp the following, unpleasant truth – their time is over.

There is no point trying to fix the situation, the only solution is a clean sweep at the top. Before anyone accuses me of seeking to ‘crucify’ the Archbishop by seeking to pull the Church closer to the Nationalist Party, I’ll put my cards on the table:

1. I strongly believe that the Church ought to be outside party politics;

2. I support the separation of church and state;

3. Untold harm was done to the PN when some of its members, including MPs, tried to pull closer to the Church and ‘fight’ the introduction [another huge mistake] of divorce, together;

4. I am sure that if the PN wants to be destined to a very long period in opposition it should seek to pull closer to the Church. The PN is [or should be] a secular party and it should make this unequivocally clear in its statute. So far it has failed to do so, which is a pity, and a mistake;

5. I am not the Churchy type;

6. I have nothing personal against Archbishop Cremona – he is a good pastor, but an ineffectual leader;

7. I am not rallying for either Bishop Mario Grech or Mgr Charles Scicluna to be appointed Archbishop in his stead – as people who criticise the Cremona leadership are often accused of doing; I have utmost respect for both – but, frankly, I don’t see either of them as Cremona’s successor.

I am very uncomfortable with a defunct Church, as much as I would be uncomfortable with defunct trade unions, and a defunct civil society. The Church is a very important pillar of our society. It is indeed ironic that while the Catholic Church in Malta is very present through its numerous churches and institutions, it is very absent from what is happening in society.

Prolonged absence

The Church’s presbyterial council met recently, and discussed the lack of direction in the Church. The presbyterial council is tasked to discuss issues related to the Church and advise the Archbishop. According to media reports Mgr Cremona was indisposed for the meeting, which was chaired by Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna.

I have it from reliable sources in the Church that when the Curia discussed the Church’s position on civil unions Archbishop Cremona was absent, too. This is, absolutely, not on. If His Grace is unable, for whatever reasons, to preside, and contribute to such important meetings he is, unwittingly of course, doing a huge disservice to the Church.

An ineffectual leader

This week the Curia’s communication office released a statement: “His Grace remains committed to serve the Church to the best of his abilities”; but the problem with Archbishop Cremona is, precisely, his abilities. There is no doubt that Cremona is a good priest, a pastor with his heart in the right place, but he is a poor administrator and an ineffectual leader without much authority.

Cremona has lost control of his Church – he has receded from the public eye and is conspicuously absent from a number of public, and internal debates. Parish priests complain of a lack of pastoral directions from the Curia, that the Church lacks vision and direction while others argue that it is Cremona’s character to avoid clashes. His health problems, which the Curia’s communication office prefers to keep under wraps, is widely believed to have exacerbated this situation. Modern society, however, thrives on openness – yet the Curia prefers to treat the Archbishop’s ailing health as the elephant in the room; which is wrong.

The Scicluna factor

The leadership vacuum within the local Church was evident as early as three years ago when Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna was flown down from Rome to help revitalise an ailing Church.

Scicluna spent the last three years promising a change for the better and many parish priests believed him. Now they complain that they’ve been let down. Perhaps Scicluna failed to manage expectations, or as Auxiliary Bishop he does not have the power to change things. Whatever is the case, he has, at least so far, failed to cut ice.

The Curia has been ‘hijacked’

Times have changed and the arrival of Pope Francis marks the end of a triumphal Church. Pope Benedict XVI stepped down to make place for someone more suited to handle the situation, and I am sure that Archbishop Paul Cremona would love to follow suit. So what’s keeping him at the helm of a defunct Church? An attempted guess would be that a handful of senior clerics won’t let him go; they are shielding the Archbishop and in so doing, protecting their turf.

The Curia has been ‘hijacked’ and fingers have been pointed towards the likes of Pro-Vicar Anton Gouder, Mgr Charles Cordina and Mgr Joseph Said Pullicino. They are thought to be the ‘old guard’ of the Maltese Church – the inward looking traditionalists associated with ritual and tradition – accusations that may be a bit overdone, but perception is king.

The way forward

The Church needs a regeneration of ideas, it needs to find the right balance between its teachings and today’s reality and it badly needs to bring itself closer to an ever-changing society. It is a given that Archbishop Cremona is unable to bring this change – but so is his leadership team.

What the Church needs is a clean sweep at the Curia and the appointment of a new Archbishop, and a new leadership team that speaks from a position of humility rather than a position of power. When the time comes, hopefully soon, the Church would do well to think outside the box. The local Church needs a forward looking Archbishop who is not afraid of change, a visionary – an assertive priest who is his own man.

It’s time for the Vatican to let Cremona, and his men go. One thing is certain: the status quo is not an option.


Malta Today

Frank Psaila 27 August 2014

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