Archbishop Charles Scicluna has said he was not informed beforehand of a decision by the Maltese Dominican Province to impose a media blackout on outspoken priest Fr. Mark Montebello.
“The bishop did not censor Fr Montebello, and he wasn’t even informed about what has been reported in It-Torca,” a Curia spokesperson told Lovin Malta.
The Dominican Provincial informed Montebello he has been banned from publishing articles and comments and from giving interviews to the press until 2021. The Provincial’s decision came after Montebello penned an opinion piece criticising the Church’s strategy in opposing the proposed IVF law as one that gives off the impression that it is a retrograde institution which is against minority rights.
The decision was announced today in the It-Torca newspaper, which published the word ‘censored’ in place of Montebello’s weekly column piece.
Following the decision, the Archbishop and the Church faced severe flak from Labour officials and activists, with the Prime Minister’s spokesperson Kurt Farrugia claiming the decision shows how freedom of speech in Malta is “a privilege only afforded to conservatives”.
Valletta 2018 chairman Jason Micallef accused the Church of adopting double standards with Montebello and RTK editor Fr Joe Borg.
“Joe Borg engages in daily propaganda against the government with harsh, and often partisan, words in his political arguments,” Micallef said. “This is the worst example the Church could possibly give to its servants – blatant discrimination within its own members, something that goes against the Church’s fundamental beliefs.”
However, while the Dominican Order forms part of the Catholic Church, the Order is responsible for its own day-to-day operations and discipline of its own members. It is therefore logistically plausible that the Provincial had imposed a media blackout on Montebello without informing Scicluna beforehand.