Monday, 31 August 2009

Times: Pro-Vicar [Mgr Gouder] criticises Mgr Vella on divorce

Monsignors at odds over divorce

Sunday, 30th August 2009

Pro-Vicar General Anton Gouder has openly criticised Mgr Charles Vella, saying he made a number of "contradictory" statements about divorce in an interview with The Sunday Times earlier this month.

Writing in The Sunday Times today Mgr Gouder [Read article below] hits back at comments by the Cana Movement founder which many believe were directed at the senior Curia official.

Mgr Gouder says: "Does it not occur to him that once divorce legislation is introduced (which means therefore that marriage does not remain a lifelong commitment), couples would take their marriage preparation more lightly? This is worrying because of the negative effect it would have on the family and on society."

In the interview, Milan-based Mgr Vella had said he was not scared of divorce, provided marriages were built on rock. While warning against "crusades", he insisted the Church should focus on preparing couples better for marriages.

And writing in The Sunday Times today, Mgr Vella says that some have misinterpreted his comments because he does not support the "havoc and problems" created by divorce. "I would not like to see divorce introduced, but as a priest and as a human being I cannot be blind to the existence of the problem. I wish that, like me, others would stop seeing things in black or white, but also see the different shades of grey."

But Mgr Gouder says that contrary to Mgr Vella's claims, his comparisons with Milan clearly showed a disintegration of marriage. Statistics show the rate of divorce in Italy is far from levelling out - from 1995 to 2005 legal separations in Italy increased by 57.3 per cent and divorces increased by 74 per cent, he says.

Mgr Gouder says it is incorrect to say that children of cohabiting couples have no identity, since the law has always catered for the status of children born outside marriage.

He also refutes Mgr Vella's statement that very often the first marriage of cohabiting couples is a mistake and that many yearn for a happy second marriage.

He says social sciences prove that second marriages are less stable than the first.

Despite the criticism he has received from his colleagues within the Church, Mgr Vella makes it clear he has no regrets over the interview.

On the contrary, he says he was moved by the letters and comments posted on the forum as well as the contacts it created on a pastoral level. He says he was impressed by the constructive dialogue provoked by the interview, which in the vast majority of cases were in his favour.

Mgr Vella says this is part of his pastoral and social mission of nearly 60 years 'with' families in many countries, especially as the voice of those whose marriage is in crisis.

Mgr Vella reiterates that the State should base any divorce legislation on European Christian traditional values, and says he hopes Malta will never have a so-called 'easy divorce' like many countries. "I do not enter into the technical aspect of the legislation, but I have confidence in the social and ethical conscience of our legislators.

"I repeat that divorce legislation does not scare me, if it comes in a democratic, scientific (even with statistics) and genuine manner. I do not believe these ethical values are the monopoly of a few, who seem to believe they are the lords of truth."

Mgr Gouder is not the only member of the clergy to criticise the Milan-based priest.

Writing in Catholic Action's newspaper Lehen is-Sewwa last week, Fr Paul Camilleri compared a number of Mgr Vella's former writings with his recent comments, before concluding:

"I thank Fr Charles for all he has written and done for the family in the past. When I was still a youngster (1956) I remember him defending Bishop Pietro Fiordelli of Prato, who suffered so much because of his opposition to divorce in his country, while becoming very popular in Malta for his defence of marriage.

Ironically, he died on December 23, 2004 - two weeks before Fr Charles marked his 50 years as a priest. Let's pray for both of them."

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

Times: Divorce affects family, society
Sunday, 30th August 2009 by Mgr Anton Gouder

Iwish to refer to the comments made by Mgr Charles Vella in his interview with The Sunday Times on August 16. I write with all due respect since he is my senior in many respects. I shall restrict my comments to the sections concerning family, marriage and divorce.

I am puzzled by a number of statements made by Mgr Vella. This is not because his views differ from mine, or because, in my opinion, some of these statements are not in conformity with the Gospel, but mostly because I perceive a number of contradictions.

At one point he stated, "I keep reading that marriages in Malta will disintegrate if there is divorce, but it didn't happen in Italy". A few paragraphs later, he admits: "In Milan nowadays, there are more civil marriages than religious marriages and more cohabiting couples than families." Isn't his description of the situation in Milan indicative of a disintegration of marriage? Further on, he says "that he opposed cohabitation", which is the prevailing situation in Milan following the introduction of divorce. In the interview, Mgr Vella also explains that "in the first couple of years, the divorce rate (in Italy) rose because there were people waiting for years to get it. But now the figures have levelled out. It's not increasing." Yet he himself contradicts this in his description of the situation in Milan nowadays, decades after the introduction of divorce.

Permit me to quote just one statistic, because statistics show that the rate of divorce in Italy is far from levelling out. Mgr Vella says "It's not increasing", while, on the contrary, statistics prove otherwise. From 1995 to 2005 in Italy, legal separation increased by 57.3 per cent and divorces increased by 74 per cent.

Another confusing statement is: "As a founder of the Cana Movement, he would not like to see divorce introduced, but as a priest and as a human being, he cannot close his eyes..." I cannot understand this self-inflicted separation of roles.

How is it possible to be a founder and not to be human? How can it be possible to disapprove of divorce in his role as founder while at the same time have a different opinion as a human? And is the introduction of divorce just a matter of liking it or not?

At this point, I am not even taking into consideration his role as "the priest" even though Cana Movement is a Catholic organisation.

The matter becomes more complicated when a bit further on he declares: "Divorce legislation doesn't solve the needs of the people." Why, then, did he feel the need to distinguish between the founder, the human and the priest?

Mgr Vella addresses the State saying: "The State has to come to grips with the problem of divorce." In concrete terms, what is he proposing to the State while keeping in mind his statement that "divorce legislation doesn't solve the needs of the people"?

He is against holding a referendum. He is against crusading. His suggestion is to "sit at table and discuss". To whom is he referring when he says "we"? And should the "we" impose the outcome of their discussion on the whole nation"? I am by no means inferring that the results of a referendum would automatically present us with the right solution.

Three paragraphs later, Mgr Vella tells the State "to face it in the tradition of democracy". Again, the obvious question crops up: How? Is not a referendum in the tradition of democracy?

In Mgr Vella's opinion, what qualifies as a "crusade"? Does imparting formation and information constitute a crusade? Mgr Vella himself, in an article in Il-Gens (February 21, 1997, and as published in his book Minn Milan Ghal Malta, 2004) informs us that "in Italy, well prior to the referendum, public opinion was through the media very much influenced in favour of divorce. A media conscience was formed, instead of a Christian ethical conscience that considers marriage as indissoluble".

I would appreciate an evaluation of whether a similar danger exists in our country.
Mgr Vella "asks whether it is justified that children (of cohabiting couples) have no identity". Is he worried about these children, or is he accepting the situation in Milan where cohabitation is prevalent nothwithstanding that divorce legislation has been in force for decades? He says, "it's better for their parents to marry than cohabit". But in actual fact, even with divorce on the statute books, more and more prefer to cohabit, as they do in Milan.

Besides, it is not correct to say that these children have no identity. Basically, the law has always catered for the status of children born outside marriage. As time went by, the legislator granted more and more rights to these children, and indeed there now exists a situation where such children can be legitimised or acknowledged and given extensive rights akin to those of children born within marriage.

It is a pity that the pain and negative long-term effects suffered by children of divorced parents is not even mentioned in the interview.

Mgr Vella expresses another opinion in this way: "Very often their first marriage is a mistake; they want a more stable and happy second marriage." Let us once again put 'the priest' aside and look at this statement from the human point of view. To begin with, such a blanket statement that most first marriages are invalid, is akin to creating social chaos. But, worse than that, social sciences prove that second marriages are less stable than the first. This contradicts Mgr Vella's opinion.

Another question that arises is the following: Is Mgr Vella proposing divorce only for a second chance, and no further chances?

"Divorce does not scare me" is the quote used as the heading to Mgr Vella's interview. Later he continues: "If we prepare couples well for marriage, then we shouldn't be afraid." Does it not occur to him that once divorce legislation is introduced (which means therefore that marriage does not remain a lifelong commitment), couples would take their marriage preparation more lightly? This is worrying because of the negative effect it would have on the family and society.

I would like to conclude with another excerpt from the writings of Mgr Vella in the above-mentioned book. In an article dated February 9, 2002, he refers to an address of Pope Paul John II, saying: "The strongest part of the Pope's address was when he said, 'Today we have a diffused mentality, a social custom and civil legislation in favour of divorce.' At this point the Pope lists the moral and social damage that divorce brings upon society. It is 'a fester that influences negatively future generations'. This is a fact and many scholars through their research, found out that divorce brings about negative effects and trauma to the couple, their children and to society itself."

To my bewilderment, I can only say that something, somewhere, somehow is amiss.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

Times: Mgr Vella's inconsistencies (1)
Sunday, 30th August 2009 by David Torpiano, Floriana

In the light of Mgr Charles Vella's controversial interview (The Sunday Times, August 16), I would like to comment on a more recent article of his entitled 'Skomunika ghal min juza l-pillola RU 486' (Excommunication for those who use the RU 486 pill), carried in Lehen is-Sewwa on August 22. Using some principles Mgr Vella himself set in the interview he gave to Herman Grech as a hermeneutical key to his recent article on Lehen, one is able to encounter various inconsistencies in Mgr Vella's thought.

In his Lehen is-Sewwa article Mgr Vella gives an array of facts and figures regarding abortions in Italy in the last three years. In the interview Herman Grech states that "Mgr Vella insists that the Church should avoid quoting certain statistics in a bid to water down alarming marriage breakdowns." This is the first inconsistency of Mgr Vella - he quotes statistics while telling the Church not to do the same.

Mgr Vella in his article says that Archbishop Rino Fisichella's reaction in Corriere della Sera (July 31) to the green light given in Italy to the abortion pill RU 486, was somewhat mild. While Mgr Fisichella acknowledged that the use of the RU 486 is prohibited by the Code of Canon Law as in the case of a surgical abortion, he stopped short of saying that this Church prohibition is on pain of excommunication latae sententiae.

Mgr Fisichella said that he did not wish to make further declarations. Mgr Vella disagreed with this, saying that "we know what the Church teaches". Mgr Vella is right but he should have known that on divorce the Church's teaching is similarly clear and unequivocal.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paras 2382-2386) affirms that the Church is against divorce and that Jesus Christ himself abrogated the accommodations that had slipped into the Old Law (cf. Mt 19, 7-9) regarding divorce. Moreover divorce is "a grave act against the natural law, a law which possesses a universal appeal". Are not these declarations of the Church clear enough for Mgr Vella?

Mgr Vella is again inconsistent when he states that he does not fear contraceptive vending machines at the University campus if students have a well formed and informed Christian conscience. Firstly, he should know that not all University students are Christians. What about non-Christians? Moreover, if contraception is intrinsically evil, as the Church teaches in Humanae Vitae, is Mgr Vella able to judge whether the conscience of non-Christian students is formed enough to prevail upon a constant peril to body and soul? Is he in a position to conclude whether Christian students are formed enough to withstand the same peril?

If he discovers that there is lack of formation of conscience among students, will he come on campus to stop students from using the vending machines till they have formed and informed their consciences in a Christian way? If, as Mgr Vella rightly seems to fear, there is a lack of formation among youngsters, why should they be tested before they are prepared?

Mgr Vella ends his article by rightly expressing his hope that RU 486 will never be sold legally in Malta. Had he developed the same line of thought coherently, he would have said, as in the case of the vending machines on campus, that the abortive pill would not trouble him if the Maltese would have a conscience formed according to Christian truths and principles.

I only ask Mgr Vella to return to his old good self. Everybody makes mistakes. We only ought to be sorry and apologise if we acknowledge we did so.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

Times: Mgr Vella's inconsistencies (2)
Sunday, 30th August 2009 by Rev. Dr Joseph Mizzi, Director, Cana Movement, Floriana

"There is a great charisma within the Cana Movement to proclaim, protect and spread the teachings of the Church regarding marriage. For this reason, whenever the values of marriage, the family and life are threatened, the Cana Movement cannot keep silent, it is in duty bound to lead in a constructive way, in order to preserve these values" (Mgr Charles Vella, Minn Milan ghal Malta, Media Centre Print 2004, 45).

With reference to what is being published and said in the media, the Cana Movement would like to reiterate that its ideals, beliefs and responsibilities are still as quoted above.

The Cana Movement publicly confirms the principles which have motivated it since its inception; that of promoting and working in favour of healthy marriages; meaning the formal union of love between a man and a woman, open to life, till death do them part. Such union is the foundation of every family and the fundamental ingredient necessary for the good and prosperity of every society.

This work is carried out by the Cana Movement as in- spired by the Word of God and explained to us by the Magis-terium of the Church. For this reason, anyone who opposes these fundamental teachings is not only going against Christ's teachings but also against the common good.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

Times: Mgr Vella's inconsistencies (3)
Sunday, 30th August 2009 by Fr Paul Camilleri, Floriana

According to Divorcerate ( ),in America, 50 per cent of first marriages end in divorce, while the figure goes up to 67 per cent in the case of second marriages, and 74 per cent in the case of third marriages. These figures were given by Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri. And this increase takes place after the trauma and hassle of the first and second marriage breakdown. Yet one would have expected the divorce rate to go down in subsequent marriages.

On June 12, I asked Totaldivorce whether this is a universal tendency, i.e. whether second and third marriages are everywhere more fragile than the first. Their response was: "After a first marriage has ended, people think they have figured it out. They now know what they want in their next partner, and have learned from all the mistakes. However, research shows just the opposite. Psychology Today reported that the rate of divorce in subsequent marriage is over 60 per cent. According to sociologists Frank Furstenberg and Andrew Cherlin, about one quarter of second marriages end within the first five years."

Who said divorce is the solution to family breakdown?

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

Times: Mgr Vella's inconsistencies (4)
Sunday, 30th August 2009 by Laurence Mizzi, Bugibba

Having worked very closely with Fr Charles, as Mgr Charles Vella is popularly known, particularly in the field of radio and TV (remember Djalogu?), I was not at all surprised by the way he expressed himself on so many topics in the interview. I have always admired him not only for his creative mind and energy but also his great sincerity.

However, I must say that I could not agree with him on the question of divorce. As Fr Charles knows far better than I do, the question of divorce is a social as well as a moral issue and therefore citizens - common citizens - have a right to be consulted on such a vital issue as the "dissolution" of marriage by the State.

If the majority feel that divorce will threaten (not to say destroy) marriage as God wanted it to be "from the beginning", people should be given the opportunity to express their disapproval or otherwise of its introduction. Referendums are held on matters of far less importance to the well-being of society, so why shouldn't a referendum be held on an issue which is bound to have a long-lasting effect on Maltese society?

I share with Mgr Vella his sympathy and support for cohabiting couples who cannot enter into a second marriage after realising that they had made a mistake when they entered the first one. But will divorce solve their problem? Has divorce eradicated cohabitation? Mgr Vella himself said that in Milan "there are more civil marriages and more cohabiting couples than families..." The same can be said for the rest of the world where divorce has been legalised for many decades, if not centuries.

Therefore, how can the introduction of divorce in Malta eliminate cohabitation? It may solve the problem of those (not all) who are at present cohabiting and who sincerely want to be given a second chance, but it will definitely not eliminate cohabitation. The opposite will happen.

Les us all - Church and State - by all means do all we can to improve the preparation courses for marriage (we can start at primary school level). But let us learn from the rest of the world what divorce has done to the family and to society in general. We would indeed be foolish if we did not.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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