How on earth has it come to this? I mean, me being driven by rage bordering on incandescent to defend David Muscat, the priest who courts controversy with almost every uttered syllable?
Despite never having spoken to him, I seem to disagree with Muscat on almost everything. I cannot even fathom why he became, or chooses to remain, a priest. As for his latest gem – that being gay is a disorder which, to boot, is worse than being possessed – I can only say that such a statement reflects more on the maker than whoever has chosen to be offended by it.
But that’s where my criticism of him, here and now at least, is going to end – and this because two government ministers and a Labour MEP have used the might of their positions to pile undue pressure on the Police Commissioner to prosecute the priest for his vile remark.
“The laws on homophobic hate speech are clear”, Inclusivity Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli proclaimed. Not to be outdone, Equality Minister Owen Bonnici waded in with “one cannot make remarks which incite hatred or negative sentiment against a section of society” and MEP Cyrus Engerer, of all people, pontificated that “it is now time for police action”.
First things first: are Malta’s laws on homophobic hate speech really that clear? Well, the relevant section of the Criminal Code states: “Whosoever uses any threatening, abusive or insulting words… with intent… to stir up violence or racial or religious hatred against another person or group on the grounds of… sexual orientation… or whereby such… hatred is likely… shall be liable… to imprisonment.”
Sorry to be a fly in the ointment dear politicians, but that terminology doesn’t seem very unambiguous to me – because it contains nasty words that defence lawyers rather like, such as “intent”, “stir up” and “likely”. In other words, for a crime to be committed the words used must go beyond being merely offensive. This is where things may get tricky.
It may come as a surprise to some that the priest did not pluck the offending expression from thin air. He was employing terminology, presumably knowingly, still present in the official doctrine of the Catholic Church stating that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered”. While this sentiment has been discarded by many prelates, and Muscat would be better advised to heed the more modern tone advanced by Pope Francis – who only a few days ago heaped praise on a nun who has been an advocate LGBT Catholics, and had been ostracised because of it, for 50 years – the fact it exists might provide us with a better insight into his motivations.
This priest has made more racist comments than Owen Bonnici has celebrated Mother’s Days and not one minister saw fit for him to be prosecuted- Steve Mallia
Secondly, it is worth noting that the priest was probably not expecting his comments to gain such notoriety because they were made in a somewhat (misplaced) empathetic tone as part of a discussion with a colleague on another subject. The ‘publish and be damned’ maxim still applies, of course, but this may be another pointer as to the priest’s state of mind.
Yet beyond all that, the biggest concern is that we are facing a situation whereby it is heavyweight politicians – as opposed to affected individuals – that get to decide who and what should be prosecuted.
This state of affairs is intolerable not just because it allows them to lean on the police but also because they will inevitably be selective. One example will suffice: This priest has made more racist comments than Owen Bonnici has celebrated Mother’s Days and not one minister saw fit to call for him to be prosecuted. Would it be cynical to suggest this is because it would not please their voter base?
Browse social media and one will be sickened on a daily basis by so many comments made by the rent-a-troll brigade – and others – that, to my mind at least, are intended to stir up hatred or, worse, violence against various individuals. And yet nothing ever happens.
Just in case these politicians are suffering from acute myopia, I will leave one here for their perusal: “Go f*** your ancestors you antichrist! You Satanist!” This pearl of wisdom was directed against the Archbishop of Malta and, last time I looked, “religious hatred” also formed part of the law they seek to invoke against Muscat.
Perhaps our ministerial hate speech guardians will therefore be kind enough to take it upon themselves to also report this guy to the police (feel free to get in touch for his name) so they can build on the precedent they have ingloriously set. Or maybe they won’t.
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