Thursday, 5 November 2009

Sunday Circle: Let's get excommunicated

8.3.9 by Jo Caruana
The rights of gay people is a hot topic right now. The Sunday Circle speaks to Dr Ing. Patrick Attard, Malta’s first openly gay politician, about his recent excommunication from the Catholic Church and the events that led up to it.

Belief systems are complicated things, and the one aspect that becomes apparent from researching them is that they are also innately personal – you are unlikely to understand my belief system, and I am unlikely to be wholly at home with yours.

Increasingly, Malta seems to be losing its solely catholic shine. And, while still strong, these days many are questioning the church’s systems and beliefs more and more, creating a huge divide between religious stalwarts and those willing to think outside the catholic box to become accepting of more modern day practices such as co-habitation, euthanasia, the use of condoms, divorce and same-sex partnerships.

Dr Patrick Attard slots neatly into the latter category, and his recent choice to excommunicate himself from the Catholic Church started with his desire to live as an openly gay man. In fact, he recently ran in the local general election as Malta’s first candidly gay politician.

Although there are no statistics to shed light on exact facts and figures, it is assumed that locally excommunication from the church is relatively rare. For various reasons this fact is not the same in other parts of Europe. “As an engineer I spent time working in Germany where excommunication from the Catholic Church is something that happens regularly,” explains Dr Attard, pointing to some past German payslips of his that explain this fact. “Contrary to my reasons, there excommunication is popular because along with baptism comes a tax for all employed people; up to 9% of your gross income is subtracted as ‘church tax’ and for many people this is enough to encourage them to officially walk away from the church.”

For Dr Attard though, his choice to excommunicate himself was a far more personal one, hinged on the fact that he feels vilified and unaccepted by the church within which he was baptised as a baby.

“If you look at the teachings of the church,” he explains, “it accepts gay people as long as they don’t perform sexual acts, which is like saying you accept left handed people so long as they don’t write with their left hand. If one looks at these teachings, homosexual acts are referred to as evil, intrinsically disordered and acts of grave depravity. As a gay man, these teaching quickly made me think about whether I could live my life tied to them.

“Then, at the beginning of December 2008, the Vatican opposed a United Nations resolution for the universal decriminalisation of gay relationships. This was unbelievable, as in countries where you are hung, shot or imprisoned if you are gay, this would have offered so much help and relief. But the Vatican turned it down stating that it would lead to civil partnerships around the world... In reality that had nothing to do with the resolution itself but was simply another way of sticking the knife in. Thankfully, the resolution later passed regardless.

“Then came Pope Benedict’s now infamous speech on 22 December, within which he effectively slammed gay people and their rights, and sparked huge debates the world over. That was the cherry on the cake for me, I decided enough was enough and began the process towards my public excommunication.”

The process itself has to begin at the parish church where you were baptised. “I need my baptism certificate and then made an appointment with the Chancellor at the Curia. During the meeting you have to hand-copy and sign a template that details the situation, and which is then signed by the Chancellor on the church’s behalf. A note is then added to your baptism certificate stating that you are no longer a part of the Catholic Church, and that is that.”

Asked whether, despite his excommunication, Dr Attard still feels any connection to God or religion in general he explains: “I personally believe that spirituality is something intrinsically individual. And just as we all need to wear different shoe sizes because while one size fits me it could hurt you, one should not impose one’s belief on others. Beliefs should be able to live in harmony together, which sounds straightforward but is anything but.

“The church is so powerful that no political party dares to criticise it. It is therefore in a position to bully the government – as happens in Italy, Spain, Argentina, Columbia, Chile and, of course, here in Malta. The church bullies politicians by threatening to withhold communion or excommunicate them if they votedin favour of something the church is against in order to humiliate them publicly. This is completely unacceptable.

“It is also unbelievable that the church refuses to accept the need for condoms as an effective guard against killer diseases. Why are we still battling as to whether a condom machine is needed at the university, when condoms can save millions of people (gay or straight) from becoming infected with HIV? (See pyramid)

“I recently went on to the Church’s local MediaCentre website and came across the book that they were heavily promoting, The Catholic Church & Homosexuality by Atila Sinke Guinares. I bought and was horrified by what I found. The opening quote states: ‘If any one lie with a man as wit a woman, both have committed an abomination, let them be put to death: their blood be upon them.’ The book also states that AIDS is punishment to sodomites and goes on to called homosexuality diabolic. This is what the Maltese Catcholic Church are encouraging people to read – I really feel, for instance, for the mother who turns to the church for advice on how to deal with the news that her son is gay and finds this as her only means for education. It was so vile and hateful that I couldn’t stand to read the majority of it. And as there is no law against the incitement of hatred based on sexual orientation and thus no protection, I will go continue on fighting in the way I know how – sending press releases that no one publishes and writing letters that people don’t get to read. But the fight is worth it.

“My standpoint and reasons don’t just fight for the right of gay people but about the need for divorce for people with failed marriages and who want a second chance. It is also about the need for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in Malta, the question why topless bathing is an offence for which women can be arrested, and the reasons why we have no crematoriums on the island. The church has caused a lot of suffering through ignorance, especially for illegitimate children. This step is important for me to regularise my position vis-a-vis the Catholic Church and consolidate my position with my conscience. The Church only accepts gays as long as they are celibate, invoking feelings which destroy the self-respect of the individual. It always tries to keep the gay love as dirty and illegitimate since it gets its power from the sense of guilt and shame it tries to instil in its followers. Since I believe it is possible to love another adult man, then my position with the Church is irreconcilable.

Once baptised into the Catholic Church, you are a catholic until the day you die, or until you take an official stand to state otherwise. Simply deciding that you are an ‘atheist’, for instance, just doesn’t cut it, and to officially back yourself, and your beliefs, up you will need to go through the process of excommunication. The word ‘excommunication’ literally means ‘putting someone out of communion’.


  1. Nice interview.

    Thumbs up man!

  2. Can any guide me about the process of excommunication in Malta?

  3. For more information on the process of excommunication, take a look here: