Sunday, 19 January 2014

Malta Today: Bishop Scicluna calls for secret ballot on civil union bill

Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna calls on MPs to hold a secret and free vote on the forthcoming civil union law.
Tuesday 14 January 2014 - 11:46 by Jurgen Balzan

Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna has called on MPs to hold a "free and secret" vote on the civil union bill to ensure that they vote "conscientiously" and honour the oath of allegiance.

Writing on the Church news portal newsbook, Scicluna said that faced by fundamental legislation which will legally recognise new forms of families, "all MPs, whoever they are and whichever party they represent, should be given a free vote and the possibility to express themselves in a secret manner."

However, Scicluna overlooked one important factor. MPs cannot cast a secret ballot according to the House of Representatives' standing orders, which clearly says that "Votes shall be taken openly and entered in the minutes of the proceedings of the House."

Moreover, the Constitution stipulates that the Speaker has the right to exercise a casting vote if the votes are equally divided. Allowing a secret vote would defeat the purpose of this Constitutional article because as confirmed in a ruling given by former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi in 1994, when he was Speaker of the House, it would make little sense to hold a secret ballot while allowing the Speaker to cast his vote in the eventuality of a tie.

In his blog post, Scicluna argued that in their oath of allegiance, MPs "call on God to be a witness of their personal loyalty towards the people and the Republic."

In the first sitting of each legislature, MPs solemnly swear that they will "bear true faith and allegiance to the people and the Republic of Malta and its Constitution. (So help me God)."

According to the Auxiliary Bishop, this oath is "not only a civil act, but above all a religious act, because to swear means calling on God to be a witness to your commitment. This commitment is guaranteed by what is good and what is right, which is God."

He went on to compare the oath taken by MPs to the one taken in Court, which if broken, would result in a felony.

Scicluna wrote that the fact that MPs take an oath invoking God, when they have the choice to make a secular oath, meant that their commitment is "guaranteed by their faith in god and his presence."

Moreover, Scicluna told MPs that "God is witness to their every action," and warned them that they cannot divest themselves of their faith when performing Parliamentary duties, "but their faith guides them to ensure that their decisions are enlightened by God's scriptures and law."

In recent weeks, Scicluna has been in the limelight for a series of bold statements he made on the civil union bill which if approved by Parliament would also allow same-sex couples to apply for adoption.

In a recent interview with Avvenire, the Italian daily newspaper owned by the Italian Episcopal Conference, Scicluna said that a Catholic MP who supports the Civil Union Bill and the right for same-sex couples to adopt would be committing "a gravely immoral act."

This interview provoked firm reactions by both Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who reaffirmed the separation between State and Church affairs and PN deputy leader Mario de Marco who retracted “One could indeed argue whether it would be immoral to vote against [the bill]."

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