Left: Dominican priest Mark Montebello, Right: Dominican Provincial Frans Micallef
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson has denounced as “outrageous” an ultimatum by the Maltese Dominican Provincial to outspoken priest Mark Montebello that he will be defrocked if he continues speaking out in the media.
“The Church censors one of its most progressive thinkers,” Kurt Farrugia tweeted. “I had the privilege to work with Fr Mark as deputy editor of It-Torċa…it seems freedom of speech in Malta is a privilege only afforded to conservatives. Outrageous.”
The Church censors one of its most progressive thinkers. I had the privilege to work with Fr Mark as deputy editor of it-Torca years ago. Freedom of speech in #Malta seems a privilege only afforded to conservatives. Outrageous. https://t.co/fceEmuNxMc
— Kurt Farrugia (@KurtFarrugia) May 20, 2018
Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar accused the Church of double standards, arguing that RTK editor Fr Joe Borg – a harsh critic of the government – has not been given the same silencing treatment.
“Fr Joe Borg can say what he wants, but it seems that Fr Montebelllo cannot,” she said. “Freedom of speech is not a right of the chosen few.”
National Book Council Chairman Mark Camilleri, an activist in the Front Against Censorship, accused Archbishop Charles Scicluna of treating his internal critics as “rubbish”.
“If he treats his own people as rubbish, let alone what he will be capable of to people not within the Church,” he said cryptically.
Valletta 2018 chairman Jason Micallef said the Church’s censorship of Montebello represents a “black day” for all Maltese writers and thinkers.
“Fr Mark is a personal friend of mine and I know what a kind heart he has, how he has spent his priesthood caring for people and households who have fallen behind, and how he has patiently worked with prisoners and their relatives,” he said. “For those who call themselves Christians, Fr Mark’s pastoral work makes him a true witness of Christ.”
Scicluna said he was not informed beforehand about the Dominican Provincial’s decision to impose a media blackout on Montebello.
Fr Montebello’s liberal stances on topics such as gay marriage and divorce and his no-hold-barred criticism of the Church have long placed him at odds with his employers. In 2005, he was banned from speaking publicly after claiming Pope Benedict’s appointment was a “sick joke” and in 2010 he was temporarily exiled to Mexico.
His latest offence was a harsh criticism of the Church’s strategy in opposing the proposed new IVF laws – which will introduce gamete donation and make embryo freezing more widespread.
“Each and every time, repeatedly, the campaign strategy of the Church ended up giving the impression that it stood against minority rights,” Montebello had written. “This time around, we are already witnessing the soaring of hysterics, the simplistic arguments, the scare tactics, the crusading, the apocalyptic scenarios and the banal catchphrases. With all of this hullabaloo, the Church is again appearing to be retrograde, irrational, intolerant, intransigent and insensitive.”
The It-Torċa newspaper today printed the word ‘Censored’ in place of Montebello’s weekly column. The newspaper said that the Dominican Province of which Montebello forms part of reacted to his comments on the IVF law by banning him entirely from speaking or writing publicly.