Updated 3.50pm with PBS comments

Claims by singer and TV personality Phyllisienne Brincat that illness and disabilities are the result of original sin have sparked a public backlash.

Brincat was a guest on the television show Popolin on TVM which discussed the topic of religion on Wednesday evening.  TV host Quinton Scerri asked Brincat, who is a self-proclaimed avid believer in God, about something she said earlier off-camera regarding a link between illness and original sin.  

Brincat nodded and repeated her argument: that according to the word of God, when Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, humanity became cursed. She said that illness was a result of that and went on to say she had a sister who had Down Syndrome.

“God created us perfect and not to die…. I had a sister who had Down Syndrome… from the sin of Adam,” she said.

When contacted by Times of Malta she stuck to her argument, insisting that she had to tell the truth according to the Bible.

It is the second time that Brincat has waded into controversy concerning disability. In 2019, she aired a video she claimed showed children with autism being "cured" through prayer.

Original sin is the Christian teaching of mankind’s sinfulness because of Adam’s fall from grace. According to the teaching, all people are corrupted by Adam’s sin through natural generation, which means all people enter the world guilty before God.

“God made us perfect. He created us in his own image. But when sin came in, he no longer did that,” she said.

When told that parents of children with disabilities might disagree and see their children differently, she replied: “I understand. We adored my sister. She meant the world to us. She is with God now. But I am telling the truth. It was of no fault of hers. It was because of original sin… And according to the Bible. we are all born sinners,” she said, insisting that she never said that disability and illness were the result of the direct sins of parents of specific individuals.

PBS dissociates as CPRD condemns 'hate speech'

Public Broadcasting Services, which aired the show that Brincat was a guest on, publicly dissociated itself from her comments on Thursday afternoon. 

"What Ms Brincat said goes against the values we promote as a national broadcaster," PBS said. 

The Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability, Rhoda Garland, strongly condemned the “appalling” comments adding that they lead to further stigmatisation.

“This is a blatant case of hate speech. The disability sector has come a long way from these antiquated ideas and these opinions are completely detrimental to the acknowledgement that persons with disability should be given the respect they are entitled to as equal citizens in Malta,” Garland said.

Former Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities Oliver Scicluna commented on social media saying: “I have no intention to attack Phyllisienne because I believe and want to keep believing she is a good woman, but I can not not comment… When we ridicule a person with a disability, especially when they do not always understand we are mocking them, according to many this is atrocious… Saying that someone with a disability is the fruit of sin is another atrocity,” he said, adding that such comments increased stigma.

Fr Martin Micallef, director of Dar Tal-Providenza, a home that offers support to people with severe disabilities wrote: “Such comments that people with disabilities are the fruit of sin… show a wrong and outdated mentality built on prejudice that is disrespectful towards the dignity of people with disabilities.”

Inclusion Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli described the statement as “disgusting” and stigma fuelled by "religious fanaticism".  

“You have no idea how many people you hurt,” she said, addressing Brincat. 

Others were also upset by the comments. 

One woman wrote: “God forbid my youngest daughter heard you as she would have been very upset to hear that her sister is the fruit of sin. She means the world to us.”

As backlash mounted, Brincat held a live stream on her Facebook page on Thursday morning. In it, Brincat insisted she was telling the truth and would continue to do so, quoting parts of the Bible's Book of Genesis to back her argument. 

She added that she forgave those who insulted her. 

This was not the first time that Brincat stepped into controversial waters. In July 2019, parents of children with autism were left aghast after she broadcast a video showing a child who was allegedly ‘cured’ from autism through prayer, during her show Il-Verita on F-Living.

The Autism Advisory Council retaliated by saying that autism is not a disease and certainly not something that can be ‘cured by prayer’.

Nationalist Party condemns remarks

In a statement, the Nationalist party also condemned the remarks and criticised PBS for poor editorial oversight. 

It said the remarks were insensitive and harmful to society.  

Public broadcasting had a duty to inform and educate by maintaining the highest standards of respect, inclusivity and accuracy, and this incident showed a worrying departure from them, the party said.  

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