VALETTA, Malta — A priest representing Pope Francis’ point man on sexual abuse in the Church, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, spoke approvingly of homosexuality as created by God and “part of his plan” to a talk show audience last week.
Appearing March 8 on the show, called Xarabank, Father Kevin Schembri, who teaches canon law at the University of Malta, also told the show’s host, Peppi Azzopardi, that God created people with “difference sexual orientations,” and that being homosexual “cannot be something bad, because he created it.”
According to an English translation of his interview transcript provided to the Register, Father Schembri, who is the archdiocesan defender of the bond, went on to say that if a person recognizes he is “a gay person as created by God, he does not need to change,” and he would actually be “harming himself” if he did not accept himself “as a gay person.”
He also said a sincere “relationship of love” between homosexuals is as “good” as a relationship of “love between heterosexual couples.”
“Where love is, there is God,” said Father Schembri, who is known for his ministry to same-sex attracted Catholics, adding that homosexual love is simply a “variant” created by God. In the TV interview, he also rejected reparative, or conversion, therapy, and said Archbishop Scicluna had also spoken against it. The archbishop spoke publicly against reparative therapy in 2015 and 2016.
Father Schembri’s comments caused considerable anger and frustration among Maltese faithful and clergy who contacted the Register to express their concern.
Sources told the Register that the archdiocese has been “inundated” with complaints. Medical doctor and Maltese politician Herman Farrugia wrote an open letter on Facebook accusing Father Schembri of committing “five doctrinal errors.”
He told the Register March 17 that the priest’s comments, which he said were “tantamount” to justifying homosexual activity if the relationships are “loyal and genuine,” were “bitterly received” by large sections of Malta’s Catholic population, “both young and old alike.” Farrugia also said the “LGBTIQ lobby” were reportedly triumphant “as soon as the interview was broadcast.”
Another layman, Benjamin Camilleri, said the priest only quoted half of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. He gave a “terribly false impression of the truth,” he wrote.
Writing in the Times of Malta March 18, Father David Muscat said Father Schembri’s views certainly were not an authentic development of doctrine, recalled how the Church has always viewed the grave sin of sodomy, and prayed for the conversion of priests like Father Schembri.
A priest in Malta, who requested anonymity, told the Register March 14 he had been “overwhelmed” by members of the Maltese faithful hoping that Father Schembri’s comments were not true, and wondering if the archbishop would issue a clarification.
In response to questions from concerned members of the public, representatives from Xarabank issued a statement after the interview saying they had initially invited Archbishop Scicluna, not Father Schembri, to the show, but the archbishop sent Father Schembri instead, saying he was “very good at answering the questions that you wish to ask.”
Other sources have confirmed to the Register that Archbishop Scicluna was well aware of Father Schembri’s views, and gave his appearance on the program his full backing.
A week later, Archbishop Scicluna — the head of the bishops’ conference of Malta and handpicked by Pope Francis to investigate sexual abuse by clergy in Chile and elsewhere — has not responded to the public concern generated by Father Schembri’s comments .
Neither Archbishop Scicluna nor Father Schembri responded to Register questions about the matter. The archbishop has also said nothing elsewhere to dissociate himself from Father Schembri’s remarks.
“So far there is only a deafening sound of silence,” said a Maltese priest speaking on condition of anonymity. “Is this a sign of good leadership?”
But others have also been supportive. Carmelite Father Charlo Camilleri defended Father Schembri by criticizing Farrugia, saying those who confuse the People of God are people who “think that having read a bit of Aquinas, think they are theologians.”
The talk show was just the latest example of what critics say is a disturbing level of tolerance of homosexual behavior on the once deeply Catholic Mediterranean islands, especially among clergy.
Unease is being especially directed at Archbishop Scicluna, who is perceived by many Maltese Catholics as excessively tolerant of such acts — and because of his soft stance on homosexuality at the recent Vatican summit of bishops on sexual abuse and the protection of minors.
This is of particular concern as he is also adjunct secretary at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with a respected history of investigating abuse cases, and now holding the key responsibility of leading the Church’s response to clerical sex abuse crisis.
At last month’s summit, the archbishop played a leading role and was a member of the summit’s four-member preparatory committee.
Asked why the word homosexuality was totally absent on the summit’s first day, Archbishop Scicluna said it was “never legitimate” to “generalize about categories of persons.” He said homosexuality was one of a number of human conditions but was not something that “really predisposes to sin.” He added: “I would never dare point to a category as one that has the propensity to sin. We all have the same propensity.”
In comments to reporters the following day, he said homosexual abuse of seminarians was separate to the sexual abuse of minors, despite more than 80% of all abuse cases being male on male, according to the 2004 John Jay report into the U.S. clerical sex abuse crisis. A similarly strong correlation was found in a study of clergy abuse in Belgium released last month.
“You cannot not address misconduct of that nature, which is sinful,” Archbishop Scicluna said, “but this is not about the sexual abuse of minors.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue involved, multiple sources in Malta, along with a same-sex attracted Catholic, expressed their concern to the Register this week over the archbishop’s approach, and the remarks of Father Schembri (see full texts of their remarks here).
One priest said he had the impression that Archbishop Scicluna had “fallen in line with Rome’s newly-adopted LGBT agenda” and is now applying that “in his diocese.” He said there was “no question” the archbishop, “like practically every other priest in Malta, knew what Father Kevin’s ideas and beliefs have always been.”
Another priest acknowledged the gospel requirement to welcome everyone, but also noted the need to accompany others in making “difficult choices.” The homosexual agenda is driven by feelings, not objective truth, he said, and complained that “we are being terrorized by a small but vocal group of ‘Catholics’ who definitely have the backing of the archbishop to bend us to their idea of ministering pastorally to LGBT people.”
But that approach is “not challenging them to live their lives coherently according to the beliefs they claim to possess,” the priest added.
Despite long being a bastion of Catholic values, the Maltese government has swiftly adopted the “LGBT” agenda, legalizing civil unions in 2014 and same-sex “marriage” in 2017.
Maltese layman Philip Beattie, the president of the Catholic society, Pro Malta Christiana, told the Register that Church officials in Malta had “denounced” faithful Catholics who prayed the Rosary in reparation for Malta’s annual “Gay Pride” parade last September. The archdiocesan curia said the initiative, organized by Pro Malta Christiana, “did not form part of the Church in Malta” and that the Church “respects people of all sexual orientations and recognizes the dignity of each and every one.”
“Double standards favoring the homosexual agenda are at work in the archdiocese,” Beattie said.
He added that Archbishop Scicluna gave “formal permission” for a group called Drachma, which campaigns for acceptance of same-sex “marriage” in the Church, to hold meetings.
Beattie said that in 2014, Archbishop Scicluna presided at a Eucharistic celebration put on by Drachma aimed at ending “homophobia,” with a homosexual rainbow flag draped over the altar. He also received a Drachma delegation in 2016.
Same-Sex Attracted Catholic’s Perspective
Additional scandal has been caused by the archbishop’s tolerant treatment of some prominent openly homosexual persons. In April 2017, Vanni Xuereb, a former priest not yet laicized but serving as Malta’s ambassador to Spain, boasted in an article in the Times of Malta of receiving a special blessing from Archbishop Scicluna while processing before or after Mass. Xuereb is reportedly “married” to another man.
“The archbishop is allowing people to mock the Gospel,” a same-sex attracted Maltese Catholic trying to live according to the Church’s teaching, told the Register March 15. He said he is “wondering whether my sacrifices have been all in vain,” and that he would “like my archbishop to tell me that this is not the case.”
After speaking once with Archbishop Scicluna, he said the archbishop tried to “brush off” his struggle, saying the Church loves him just as he is and “we don’t judge you.” Father Schembri’s remarks sounded “remarkably similar,” he said
“It looks lovely on paper but I wasn't convinced,” he said, and so he continued to receive different counsel from his confessor. “Had I not had the grace to be in a long and fruitful dialogue with my confessor, I would have seen nothing wrong with what the archbishop told me and with Father Kevin's words.”
But those words, he said, “are not useful for believers who are gay because they conform to the dictates of society. They are not based on the words of Christ and the teachings of his Church, but rather they are the words of the LGBT propaganda.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Editor's note: The article was amended to remove references to Father Claude Portelli after he contested the Register's characterization of his support for Father Schembri. Originally the Register reported that Father Portelli expressed that it was right to be “proud of him.” According to verified screenshots, his comment was made on Facebook, under a post of the interview with Father Schembri, but has subsequently been removed. We sought further comment from Father Portelli by email but only received it after the article was published.