Jaguar/Land Rover is struggling from a 30 per cent slump due to UK government’s crackdown on diesel engines. As 90 per cent of Jaguar/Land Rover cars sold last year in the UK were diesels, it is very exposed to this crackdown. To this huge headache, one must add a weak demand in China and the uncertainty caused by Brexit.
Meanwhile, Apple is having its worst year since the financial crisis because its products are expensive and due to harsh competition from China’s Huawei. And eBay’s shares fell and are about 29 per cent off from their high a year ago. The amber light is flashing for these industries.
The amber light has also been flashing in the face of Malta’s Church. Last week, Discern’s Sunday Mass Attendance Census confirmed the consistent fall in Mass attendance, which is now down to 36.1 per cent of the Catholic population. Some were shocked at this percentage and felt demoralised; others anticipated this drop and are insisting on a way forward. Others took it as an occasion to give the Church another slap in the face. But the greatest harm comes from those who try to look the other way or blame ‘the world’.
In the same week, another negative indicator came to the fore, presenting a huge challenge to the Maltese Church on the sacramental level. An answer to a Parliamentary Question revealed that the number of marriage separations last year outnumbered Church marriages. There were 1,423 civil marriages, 294 more than sacramental marriages. The number of civil marriages has exceeded sacramental ones since at least 2016.
Definitely the umpteenth wake-up call to change
Though the reply must be interpreted with caution as it includes both local and foreign non-Catholics, it confirms the rising recognition of civil marriages. Moreover, last year there were 1,311 separations, that is, an average of 3.6 cases per day started in Malta and one a week in Gozo.
There was yet another indicator of the Maltese Church’s diminishing influence on the country’s moral values. According to Transparency International’s Annual Corruption Perception Index, Malta has fallen to a record low of 51st place on the annual graft indicator. Our score has plunged six points in the past three years, from 60/100 in 2015 to 54/100 in 2018. The EU average is 66/100.
Painful as the figures are, the Gospel likens faith to a mustard seed and the little leaven in bread. But it is definitely the umpteenth wake-up call to change route.
One indicator, which escaped the attention of many, is the serious threat faced by an internal Church structure, namely, the territorial parish. A third of parishioners (35.2 per cent) of those who participated in Mass did so outside their parish territory. The Maltese people are following a trend that Putnam calls “bowling alone”, that is, we are progressively becoming disconnected from the town or village where we “sleep”, from our family, friends and neighbours.
Churchgoers are bypassing their territorial parish in favour of other Catholic and other faith communities where they find what they are seeking. Thus, the territorial parish is becoming less a community and more a local religious registry office. For decades, geography facilitated interaction, socialisation and community building. Now what cements communities is not immediate vicinity but interests, tastes and values.
When faced with their crises, Jaguar/Land Rover, Apple and eBay shifted their robust R&D departments into top gear. The Maltese Church must do likewise.
We must change the paradigm of our pastoral ministry without further delay and reinvent it based on Pope Francis’ example, that is, a stronger Christian witness by priests, bishops and laity, and the elimination of counter-witness caused, among others, by hypocritical Catholics.
Fr Joe Inguanez, a sociologist, is executive director of Discern.
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