Thursday, 24 May 2012

Malta Today: Gozo Bishop’s freedom of expression
Raphael Vassallo, Monday, May 21, 2012

Yes, Mgr Grech has a 'right to an opinion'. Doesn't mean his opinion is right…

Gozo Bishop Mario Grech invited a storm of protestation with his remarks last Saturday, and I somehow suspect that was all part of his Divine Plan.

Broadly speaking, Grech's pastoral letter can be reduced to a single equation: 'Family = man plus woman plus children'. And having redefined the 'family' within the context of his own ideological bias; the Gozo Bishop now expects the State to tailor its national legislation to his own, entirely arbitrary definition of that word.

I won't bother grappling with his argument, because even a five-year-old child will immediately spot the flaw. But to strip it down to the basics: the Maltese State has an obligation to legislate on behalf of ALL its citizens... not just the ones that fit into the Gozo Bishop's 'shiny happy family' mould.

That alone should suffice for now; but of course there is much more... starting with the definition itself, which totally excludes married couples without children. Not just the ones with medical issues: also married couples who simply do not want to have children, or who get married in later life, at a time when it is no longer possible without medical intervention (or divine intervention, in the case of Biblical couples like Sarah and Abraham, or Elizabeth and Zachary).

Ironically it also makes mincemeat of the Catholic Church's claims to be a 'family' itself. By Grech's own definition, that's one heck of a dysfunctional family he suddenly belongs to... dominated by unmarried, childless men, several of whom live together in extended units called 'monasteries', 'convents', 'priories', etc.

Meanwhile it has been pointed out elsewhere, but worth repeating: Mgr Grech's simplified family template would exclude even the 'Holy Family' that the same Church venerates so earnestly (unless I missed the part about 'unmarried couples fostering semi-divine children who were conceived without sexual intercourse', etc). 

And that's not to mention single parents, same-sex relationships and all sorts of other less traditional family models. But let's leave others to argue these points.

What interests me here is the general reaction, which panned out in a cacophony of the usual knee-jerk (and utterly irrelevant) reminders that... "Mgr Grech has a right to an opinion". This is the sort of thing I have only ever heard in Malta, and I think it tells us much more about how little we understand such rights and freedoms, than anything connected to Grech's sermon.

In most other countries (well, democratic ones, anyway) "the right to an opinion" is taken completely or granted: so much so, that it only ever becomes an issue when that right is actively denied. In fact I see no other reason to even mention it otherwise; least of all in a case like Mgr Grech's, where the same right has very manifestly been exercised in full. (In other words: of course Mgr Grech has a 'right to an opinion'. We all just heard him express one...)

The real trouble, however, is that people who utter platitudes like "everyone has the right to an opinion" nearly always follow them through with the non sequitur that "all opinions are therefore equally valid".

But nothing could be further from the truth. Having the "right to an opinion" does not mean that one's "opinion is automatically right". I've already indicated where I think Mgr Grech is wrong with his definition of the family. I think he is wrong, too, regarding the obligations of the State. But at no point have I (or anyone else I know of) argued that Mgr Grech should not be allowed to express an opinion at all.

That would defeat the entire purpose: you're entitled to freedom of expression, even if you use it to express an appalling load of nonsense.

So when people step in to defend the Gozo bishop on the grounds that 'he has a right to an opinion' - along the lines of: "Oh, look at all those nasty secularists, trying to shut him up", etc. - all they are really doing is illustrating that there is no logical line of defence... forcing them all to resort to irrationality.

Oh and one last thing: it is certainly NOT in any secularist's interest to 'silence' Mgr Mario Grech. On the contrary: the more Mgr Grech exercises his freedom of expression, the more he will convince a growing number of people that secularism - i.e., a clear distinction between Church and State - is the way to go.

So keep them coming, Mgr Grech. The secularist cause needs people like you...

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