A number of priests refused to read the Bishops’ controversial pastoral letter on IVF last Sunday, The Times has learnt.
This was not the way to transmit the Church’s doctrine
Church sources also confirmed that “many priests” are opposed to the “spirit” and the “wording” of the pastoral letter released just one day before the government published the long-awaited IVF Bill on July 26.
However, the pastoral letter, which was signed by Archbishop Paul Cremona and Gozo Bishop Mario Grech and describes IVF as “morally wrong”, was only read out in Maltese churches last weekend. It was read in all of Gozo’s parishes a week before Malta.
Among the parts deemed insensitive by priests were the paragraphs saying “the Church holds close to her heart all those born as a result of IVF and confirms that they are still children of God”, and “the Church steadfastly encourages couples not to concede to the temptation of taking easy solutions” by resorting to IVF.
The letter was not read out during a number of masses across Malta including the parishes of Luqa and Attard, although the initiative was not a coordinated one and was mostly taken by individual priests.
Fr Rene Camilleri, a prominent theologian and the Archbishop’s delegate on catechesis, confirmed he was one of the priests who chose not to read this letter.
“I know many priests who took this decision but once you’ve asked I confirm I was one of them,” he said.
Asked to explain his position, which goes against a directive issued by the Curia last week, Fr Camilleri said he felt some of the language used in the letter was offensive and lacked sensitivity.
“This was not the way to transmit the Church’s doctrine. The letter had no pastoral sensibility and it lacked compassion especially towards parents who use IVF to have children,” Fr Camilleri, a lecturer at the University’s department of fundamental and dogmatic theology, said.
“I also think it was incorrect on the Church’s part to publish such a sensitive letter on the eve of the government’s announcement of this legislative proposal. These things should not be done,” he insisted.
The Times is informed that during informal preparatory meetings held at the Curia a few months ago, Mgr Grech had disagreed with two theologians acting as consultants to the Archbishop recommending a softer approach on the matter.
Fr Emanuel Agius, dean at the Faculty of Theology, who was one of the Archbishop’s consultants, refused to give any comments on the issue and said that “what was discussed must be kept confidential”.
Asked for his opinion on the pastoral letter, Fr Agius – who is also a member of the European Commission’s ethics group – said he had not yet had the time to see the details of the pastoral letter as he was working on an important European document.
The style and timing of the Bishop’s letter was also publicly criticised by the Church’s media guru, Fr Joe Borg.
“Many people felt offended by the reference to IVF children as ‘children of God’. Stating of something which is manifestly so obvious gave the wrong impression about the bishops’ intentions,” he wrote in The Sunday Times.
Asked yesterday whether he had read the letter during his Mass, Fr Borg said: “No, but the deacon accompanying me did.”