Why the church keeps shooting itself in the foot

a bunch of euro

Where Caesar and the Church should part ways.

Rather mysteriously, the tide of public opinion seems to have temporarily turned against the victims of the sex abuse scandal the publicity of which rocked Malta throughout last year. And Lawrence Grech and the rest of them don’t seem to be helping their cause much at the moment. When requests for monetary compensation are bandied about so blatantly, credibility is unfortunately put at stake.

Why unfortunately? Because many seem to equate an interest in money to dubious motives. Such is human nature: people are a suspicious bunch and most will always look for an ulterior motive. Because the victims are putting themselves in the news on a sporadic basis, their appeal is starting to sound like a desperate plea for attention. I’m not saying that this is so: I’m merely saying that this is how many are perceiving it to be.

Still,  it won’t take too long for public opinion to start favouring them once again. The Church seems to be doing a great job of shooting itself in the foot in what I can only term as one massive public relations disaster.  I find it utterly incredible the way the Church is taking the “we are not responsible for the wrong doings of individual members” road just so as to avoid parting with some cash, Scrooge style.

To justify its decision, the Church is choosing to quote “legal advice”. At this stage, it’s not legal advice that the Church is in dire need of. No one is suggesting that the archbishop, as head of the organization, went out and carried out the odd spot of abuse himself. So why is the Church seeking legal advice in what is essentially a moral issue –  especially given the fact that it’s supposed to be the expert in this area?

If the Church really can’t find the moral backbone to do the right thing, then it is not legal advice that it should be seeking but good, old-fashioned public relations advice. A firm that has the nous to point out that the current strategy is nothing less than political suicide.

To get out of actually forking out the dough, the Church uses the analogy that a club is not responsible for the behaviour of its members. I have always believed that this “club” analogy is a rather good one in the broader sense. From an objective point of view, the Church is indeed one big club –  if you want to be a member you have to obey the rules, it is as simple as that. This is why I never criticized the Church for campaigning against the introduction of divorce, or for carrying out a fire-and-brimstone strategy from the pulpit in the months preceding the referendum. FFS, what did you naive lot expect? A full papal blessing to go forth and fornicate? You can’t have your cake and eat it. As with every club, you are either in or out. If you are pro-divorce, you are out. Simple as that.

The club analogy applies even in this whole sorry mess that the Lawrence Grech et al story has become. Most organizations associated with a scandal of these proportions – including religious structures abroad – have always had the good sense to offer financial compensation to the victims of said scandal even when they were not legally obliged to. This is viewed more as a good public relations move than an admission of guilt. The supposed shepherds of our souls can’t be perceived to be in a position where they place more importance on money as opposed to the well-being of said souls. And no, a vague offer to pay for psychiatric care does not cut it. It’s patronizing, paternalistic and sends out all the wrong messages.

And this is why the Church can never win this one in the court of public opinion. It might win it in a court of law. But then again, I would have thought that the responsibilities of a spiritual leader are not limited to abiding by the dicta of a court of law.

Because if this is the case, any law-abiding atheist will make an excellent spiritual leader, don’t you think?



  1. William Calleja says:

    The Church should be analogous not to a club but a Consultancy Firm. Their ‘business model’ equates that to a consultancy firm complete with customers, employees and payment model. Their individual members have an advisor’s authority over their own customers, and with this authority comes a responsibility. The authority is being granted by the organization at large and the organizations employees are providing the consultancy services in the name of the company. When the individual employees performed the abuse of the company’s customers, they did it while fulfilling their duties (albeit incorrectly) in the name of the company and indeed its with the company’s granted authority that they were capable of not only inflicting the abuse but also to escape proper legal ramifications. All other organizations with the exception of religious institutions, would sack the employee and provide the individual with no support not to mention pay damages to the customers for the abuse. Hiding behind an analogy of a ‘CLUB’ is an incorrect statement since not every member in their club is equal and there is a clear disparity between the ministers of the church and the flock.