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Malta’s gay-activist priest ‘blesses’ rings for same-sex ceremony, gets a pass from archbishop

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VALLETTA, Malta, April 15, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Following a public scandal in Malta in which a priest “blessed” the rings of two homosexual men who were undertaking a civil unions ceremony, the newly appointed leader of the Maltese Catholic Church has encouraged the priest to continue his “pastoral outreach” to active homosexuals.

Far from a reprimand, Dominican priest Mark Montebello was told by Archbishop Charles Scicluna to continue his “outreach” to active homosexuals. The Malta Independent reported that Archbishop Scicluna had called an “urgent” meeting with the priest and there was expectation that he would be ordered to clarify the ring blessing.

Archbishop Scicluna, however, has not stepped up to defend Catholic teaching, but in comments on the national broadcaster RTK, said only that the ritual of the blessing of rings in engagement and wedding ceremonies were reserved for couples formed by a man and a woman. He added that he had encouraged Fr. Montebello to continue his “pastoral” work with homosexuals and that the priest had agreed to “respect the church practices and discipline.”

A spokesman for the archdiocese of Malta issued a statement saying that the meeting between the priest and the archbishop was “cordial” and the archbishop “encouraged Fr. Mark to continue his outreach to gay people, and asked that he continue to follow Church practice and discipline in his ministry, especially in the celebration of sacred rites and Church rituals.”

Fr. Mark Montebello is an old hand with using the media and has made his fame as an activist publicly opposing Catholic teaching on moral issues. The Malta Independent noted that the priest’s action “goes against the guidelines” of the Church “and could be interpreted as being yet another incident in which Fr. Montebello openly causes embarrassment to the Church.”

The Independent quotes Montebello from an interview in 2005 when he said, “There needs to be a change of vision” in the Church regarding sexual issues. “The arguments against gays were used against women in the past.”

“I would bless them. Of course I can’t celebrate a gay marriage as that is against Church rules, but I would give them a blessing,” the priest said.

Activists have taken up Fr. Montebello’s “cause” on social media. A Facebook group promoting the normalization of homosexuality, Support Gay Love Malta, posted photos of Pope Francis in “support of Fr. Mark Montebello for Blessing a Gay Engagement,” with the caption that quoted the pope’s now-infamous off-the-cuff remark, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has a good will, who am I to judge him?”

Maltese political and social institutions are changing with lightning speed to become more in line with the EU’s aggressively secularist trends from having, only a short time ago since the start of the Christian era, been strongly identified with the Catholic Church. Privately, some in Malta’s small but burgeoning pro-life and pro-family movement have laid the blame squarely on the Church leadership in the last four decades for failing to unequivocally defend Catholic teaching. 

Indeed, in a country that is 95-98 percent Catholic on paper, regular Mass attendance is steadily falling and the younger generations are moving away even faster. A survey taken in 2005 found only 51 percent of those in the main island of Malta attended weekly, and 72.7 percent in the smaller island of Gozo and 52.6 percent for Malta and Gozo together. This contrasts with a 1982 church attendance census that showed weekly Mass attendance in both islands combined was 75.1 percent. The same surveys show that attendance is even lower for younger age groups.

Fr. Mark Montebello is a case in point: he’s a well known Maltese left-leaning activist priest who said in an interview in 2012, that he feels himself justified in being at doctrinal odds with the Church on sexual issues. 

“We have different ecclesiologies – we understand the Church differently,” he said.

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“The authorities in Malta project a monolithic Church – there is one way of being Catholic; anything else is heresy or apostasy. I say that this is not true; for example, the recent manifesto of [Malta’s Green Party] Alternattiva Demokratika, called for those who co-habit to be given certain rights. The Church said this should not be. As if this is the only opinion of the Church!”

“Abroad the Church has certain pastoral attitudes to people who live like this. In Malta the monolithic Church is somewhat intolerant. Another example would be the Church’s attitude towards homosexuals. It is not a question of doctrine but of politics. It is not a question of doctrine.”

Montebello, who was criticized by the Church leadership for his book on “Maltese philosophy,” said with its “monolithic” attitude, the Church is “making itself irrelevant,” because of its “monolithic structure and understanding of itself it actually decides to exile itself.”

“The Church still projects herself as the conscience of the people, which is absurd. Society has changed but the Church has failed to adapt. I think the Church in Malta still has not come to terms with the Vatican Council. Its mentality is still Tridentine, after the Council of Trent model.”

In a lengthy reflection on his blog, Fr. Montebello wrote on Easter Sunday: “[In the] minds of many of us [we] have this idea that the truth can be one and only one. Everything that does not agree with [it] is wrong.”

This idea comes from “Catholic training” that is “often presented as dogmatic, monolithic and exclusive.” The result is the idea that “the truth is one and that there can be no other…” and that “everything that does not agree with is necessarily wrong.” 

“But this is only a false idea. Because the absolute truth exists nowhere. There [are] interpretations. There are views. There [are] impressions. There are points of view. There perspectives.” The idea that truth is immutable, he added, leads to “intransigence” and “intolerance.”

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