The unpleasant news of the Catholic defeat in the Maltese divorce referendum moves me to some reflection as to what has happened, and what the future might bring.
It is clear that the Maltese society is still remarkably Catholic. That almost 48% of the voters have decided to upheld one of the strictest, most difficult to digest rules of Christianity (so much so, that the Protestants have already decided that they do not want to have anything to do with it) is a powerful witness to what proper instruction can do. That it was not enough in this instance does not negate the importance of properly taught, insisted, vocally defended Catholic values in the least.
The question arises now about what will the future generations of Maltese think. What has been decided yesterday is that a rather illusory quest for individual happiness is more important than a society founded on Catholic values. This is not a good sign, as once this “principle” has been accepted other mainstays of Maltese Catholic legislation will be attacked. It seems for example difficult to see how a country accepting divorce may continue to ban the sale of condoms, or the cremation of the dead. If the accepted principle is that what is convenient to the individual is paramount, the rest (from homosexual “partnerships” to abortion) might well, in time, follow.
On the other hand, the demolition of a Catholic society is something that can’t be done so easily; not even then, when the clergy utterly fails the faithful. As an Italian I can bring excellent examples of this: when the Italian clergy was awaken even most Communists insisted on marrying in the church, having their children baptised, and so on. What may smack of hypocrisy (and was certainly, from their perspective, contradiction) still shows the huge power a solid Catholic thinking exercised even in those who would have seemed most allergic to its teaching. Even after the Italian clergy went to sleep (from the middle of the Sixties, with slow signs of awakening showing only now, and only at times) the Italian society remained surprisingly resilient to the assault of the new paganism: not in the sense that modern abominations haven’t paved their way into the Italian society (we have many of them: abortion, though not on demand; divorce, though not on demand; a certain promiscuity, though not even remotely comparable to the mass sluttiness to be found in England), but that their impact has been, even in the almost total absence of serious opposition from the clergy, remarkably low. Last time I looked – and forty years after the introduction of divorce – the divorce rate was around ten percent outside of the big cities, and my foreign friends living in Italy never cease to be amazed at “how seriously Italians take relationships”. If we look at abortion, whilst the situation remains very serious the numbers are stable or decreasing and, most importantly, the opposition to abortion remains rather strong. Furthermore, Italy still has no legalised poofdom, no euthanasia laws, and even the attempt of chasing the crucifix away from schools and law courts has been defeated twice.
All this – let me stress it once again because it is important – after an almost total absence of fighting spirit from those who should be its very embodiment, the clergy.
I look at Italy as it is now – still deeply rooted in Catholicism after 50 years of neglect from the clergy – and wonder what would have happened if the Italian clergy had decided that the lost referendums on divorce (1974, if memory serves) and abortion (1978, ditto) were not the end of the battle, but its very beginning. Methinks, we would have now a certainly more polarised society, but also a more sanely Catholic one. One, most importantly, where the vast majority of people – decent, loving, honest people wanting to do good, and to live rightly – is constantly reminded that there can be no individual metre of what is right. I think it absolutely not improbable (though of course we’ll never have the answer) that if the work of Catholic reconstruction had been begun forty years ago and had been aggressively pursued we might now already have – after only one generation of reconstruction – a different country, where Catholic values are not left confined to the undercurrent moral fabric of the land, but are openly professed and bravely defended.
This is now the choice the Maltese clergy have: to consider defeat inevitable and the march of irreligious thinking unstoppable, or to start a very hard, very long fight to take the lost terrain again. If they do, chances are that in only one or two generations the situation will be under control again. If they don’t, we’ll probably see an Italian situation: certainly not the disintegration of family like in protestant/atheist/muslim England (for this, the Maltese society is still far too Catholic), but a slow descent into the slippery slope of secular thinking.
Best luck to the Maltese people. At least to those who have voted properly.