Archive for April 2012

Which are the real Six Points?


I am not a historian and I have neither studied this matter academically nor professionally. To this extent I cannot claim any authority over the subject, yet the beauty of history is that it is always written. 

Neither is it my intention to criticise the documentary Dear Dom or its producers and director for the simple reasons that: (1) I have not yet seen it; and (2) I vehemently disagree with that species of ignorant criticism born out of pure political fanaticism.

My intention is simply to examine the historical basis of the Malta Labour Party's infamous 'Six Points' on Church-State relations with the sources that I have at my disposal, given to me by my father, Philip, who lived those days (the 1960s) and followed politics with keen interest in his youth. 

The Six Points

In the trailer to the recently released controversial documentary, Dear Dom, it has been asserted that last of the Malta Labour Party's "Six Points" (Is-Sitt Punti) called for violence in certain instances:

To be fair, when I first saw the trailer, I did not really digest this point. It grabbed my attention, incidentally, from a readers' debate following a scathing criticism by Fr. Mark Montebello of the documentary. Some asserted that this point was the pretext for violence that many associate with Malta Labour Party, whilst others denied that the 'Six Points' made any reference to violence. Whether the former case was established in the documentary, I do not know. Lino Spiteri apparently explains that this point was intended to mean violence against the British colonial regime (e.g., the struggle of April 1958). To be precise, the list of points as drawn out in the trailer read as follows:

  1. The separation of Church and State
  2. A secular state
  3. Civil marriage
  4. Limit privilegum fori so bishops will no longer remain above the law
  5. Censorship without Church interference; and
  6. In certain instances, violence. 
Yet I have in my possession a document published by Kummissjoni Centrali Stampa ta' l-Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija (Empire Press, Istitut Kattoliku, Floriana) entitled 'l-emendi mressqa mill-malta labour party' which tells quite a different tale. In this short pamphlet these six points are listed as follows (in brackets is the how the Azzjoni Kattolika named them):

  1. The introduction of civil marriage and divorce (Żwieġ Ċivili u Divorzju);
  2. The right of parents to exempt their children from religious education in State Schools (Nuqqas ta' tagħlim reliġjuż obbligatorju fl-iskejjel);
  3. The right to be buried in cemeteries wholly or partially built or maintained by the Government of Malta  (Profanazzjoni taċ-Ċimiterju Kattoliku);
  4. A State power to halt religious functions aimed at disturbing public meetings or demonstrations (Tfixkil ta' funzjonijiet reliġjużi);
  5. A concept of public morality and decency that is based on Western European, not Catholic, standards (Moralita akattolika); and
  6. The removal of the privilegum fori and the introduction of spiritual/religious threats as a corrupt practice (Tneħijja tal-"Privilegium Fori" u l-Liġi tal-"Corrupt Practices"). 
The pamphlet places these points under the heading "IS-SITT PUNTI TA' LONDRA" (The Six Points of London). The reference to London is quite straightforward: the six points were legislative amendments that the Malta Labour Party wanted to introduce to the Independence Constitution during the Malta Independence Conference held in London in August 1963. These amendments can be corroborated by the Malta Independence Conference Report presented to the British Parliament by the Secretary of State for the Colonies in August 1963 (Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, Cmnd 2121).

The Constitutional Amendments on Church-State Relations proposed in 1963 by the Malta Labour Party

1. Civil Marriage and the Principle of Divorce

In clause 4F(4) it was stated that law will provide for marriages celebrated before a public registrar or before a recognised minister of another religion . In these cases, such marriages are not subject to the Canon law. In the following subsection it was stated that marriages celebrated according to Canon law or where either of the parties is Catholic cannot be dissolved by divorce. It follows that divorce should be allowed in case of marriages not celebrated by the Canon law or where both parties are not Catholic:

4F. (4) Il-Liġi taħseb ukoll għal żweġijiet li jiġu ċelebrati quddiem reġistratur pubbliku jew ministru rikonoxxut ta' xi reliġjon oħra u f'dan il-każ ma humiex soġġetti għal-Liġi Kanonika.
(5) Żweġijiet ċelebrati skond il-Liġi Kanonika jew fejn waħda mill-partijiet hi kattolika ma jistgħux jinħallu bid-divorzju.

2. The Removal of Obligatory Religious Education in State Schools

The second law that the Labour Party wanted to introduce in the new Constitution was based on the removal of obligatory religious education. Clause 4L stated that whereas the religious education pertaining to the Catholic faith was to be provided in State schools, parents may exempt their children from such teaching and from the obligation to sit for the religion exam:

4L. It-tagħlim reliġjuż tal-Fidi Kattolika jingħata fl-iskejjel ta' l-Istat. It-tfal ta' dawk il-ġenituri li ma jridux, jiġu eżentati minn dan l-obbligu u mill-obbligu li jersqu għall-eżami tar-Reliġjon.

3. The Right to be Buried in State Cemeteries 

Another law that the Labour Party wanted to enshrine in the Constitution was that no person, either for political or religious reasons, can be denied a burial in cemeteries built or maintained, wholly or partially, by the Government of Malta. This formed part of that Chapter of the Constitution pertaining to fundamental human rights (ancillary to the  right not to be subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment). 

19. (2) Ebda persuna għal raġunijiet politiċi jew reliġjużi ma tiġi mċaħħda mid-dfin fiċ-ċimiterji mibnija jew mantenuti għal kollox jew f'parti mill-Gvern ta' Malta.

4. A right of the State to Halt Religious Functions Aimed at Political Interference

The fourth point or law regarded an inherent State power to halt religious functions aimed at political disturbance or interference. The ringing of Church bells, whistles and heckling by Catholic activists was customary during Labour Party public meetings in the 60s. The law stated that sacred ceremonies in churches adjacent to places where public meetings or demonstrations are held cannot serve as a pretext to prohibit such meetings or demonstrations. The Police have the power to enter Churches during celebrations of sacred functions to halt the ringing of bells or other nuisances that can disturb public order during public meetings (this was an amendment to the fundamental right to freedom of assembly and association). 

25. (4)...Ċerimonji sagri fi knejjes qrib ta' postijiet fejn ikunu ser isiru meetings jew dimostrazzjonijiet pubbliċi ma jistgħux iservu bħala pretest għall-Awtoritajiet biex jipprojibixxu l-meeting jew id-dimostrazzjonijiet.
(5) Il-pulizija jkollha s-setgħa li tidħol fi knejjes waqt iċ-ċelebrazzjonijiet ta' funzjonijiet sagri biex iżżom id-daqq ta' qniepen jew tfixkil ieħor li jista' jiddisturba l-ordni pubbliku waqt meetings pubbliliċi. 

5. A Western European Morality (The Separation of Religion (Church) and State)

The fifth point was, in my opinion, the most crucial and the most far reaching, largely because from all the Six Points made by the Labour Party, it is still not universally applied to this day. It held that the terms 'public morality, decency and public order' should be interpreted according to the principles generally accepted by Western Europe. Morality and public decency should not be interpreted as being exclusively equivalent to the sense of morality or decency as understood by a particular faith (this was a clause pertaining to the interpretation of Chapter III on fundamental rights and freedoms, specifically to those limitations of such rights in the interests of the protection of public order, public morality and decency). 

28. (4A) F'dan il-Kapitlu, moralita pubblika, deċenza u ordni pubbliku għandhom jiġu interpretati skond il-prinċipji ġeneralment aċċettati mill-pajjiżi ta' l-Ewropa tal-Punent. Il-moralita u d-deċenza m'għandhomx jiġu interpretati bħala esklussivament ekwivalenti għall-moralita jew deċenza kif jifimhom xi twemmin partikolari.

6. The Removal of the Privilegum Fori and the Introduction of Spiritual Threats or Harm as a Corrupt Practice

Finally, the last point was that pertaining to the removal of the privilegum fori of Maltese and Gozitan Bishops (which effectively put such Bishops above the law and prohibited any legal scrutiny of their actions by the Courts) and the introduction of a clause which considered, as a corrupt practice, spiritual threats or harm aimed at swaying persons to vote against their political convictions or to refrain from voting:
37A. Tiġi konsidrata bħala prattika ta' korruzzjoni li tolqot il-liberta tal-votazzjoni u li għandha tiġi kastigata bil-Liġi bħal kull prattika oħra ta' korruzzjoni minn kull persuna waħedha jew ma' kull persuna oħra li tagħti jew thedded li tagħti xi inġurja spiritwali-reliġjuża lil xi persuna biex tħajjar jew iġġiegħel lil din il-persuna li tivvota kontra l-konvinzjoni politika tagħha jew ma tivvotax (added to the section on 'Voting at Elections' in Chapter V - Parliament) 
I could not find any specific provision pertaining to the removal of the privilegum fori of the Bishops however consider the following clause that the MLP wanted to introduce into the Constitution:
4D. (1) All citizens are invested with equal social dignity and are equal before the law, the Administration and justice, without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinions and personal or social conditions. 

Decried as a true and proper Socialist and Secularist program, which the Catholic Church can neither approve nor accept, these proposals were rejected in their totality.

The 1963 MLP-Church Peace Talks in Rome: An Alternative 6 Points?

However, there is another set of 'Six Points' which apparently emanated from private discussions between Mintoff and the Church/Holy See in Rome (IS-SITT PUNTI TA' RUMA). These discussions were aimed at establishing peace between the Church and the Malta Labour Party following the turbulent 1962 elections. In an announcement made by Mgr. E. Galea, Bishop of Tralles and Vicar-General on behalf of the local Curia, dated May 22 1963 (a couple of months before the Independence Conference), the latter lists these six MLP demands for peace as follows:

  1. Separation of Church and State;
  2. The State should be "secularist" and should treat all religions equally;
  3. Acceptance of Civil Marriage;
  4. "Privilegum fori" should be limited;
  5. Censorship of films and books should be carried out exclusively by the Government; and the Church should be unable to interfere;
  6. In certain cases violence is admissible
They bear a striking similarity to the Six Points mentioned in Dear Dom; in fact, they are so similar, that it is reasonable to assume that these are the very same Six Points that the documentary mentioned/was based upon.

The 1965 MLP-Vatican Correspondence

Dom Mintoff documents in his treatise 'Malta: Church, State, Labour' the correspondence between the MLP and the Vatican (a set of discussions held in London, 20 February 1965) which regarded the MLP's Policies and Principles on Church-State relations. The Vatican wanted the MLP to water down the original 1963 proposals to a level it deemed acceptable. However, the MLP did not relent save on the point, it seems, concerning the interpretation of public morality. These points are once again listed as:

  1. Marriage: the MLP wanted to introduce Civil Marriage for all, irrespective of religious creed whereas the Vatican wanted it to apply in the case of non-Catholics only;
  2. Religious Instruction in State Schools: the MLP still wanted to apply a general right for parents to exempt their children from religious education whereas the Vatican wanted this right to apply solely in 'very special cases';
  3. Corrupt Practices: the MLP wanted to retain spiritual threats during elections as a corrupt practice whereas the Vatican originally wanted it removed until it settled for a compromise (it is noted that 'H.E. Mons. Cardinale (unnamed) not only disagreed with the imposition of mortal sin by the Maltese Bishops in 1962 but had stated quite categorically that the Labour Party would not be hampered by this spiritual impediment in future elections').
  4. Right of Burial: on this point both parties agreed that there should be no interference in the burying of persons in State-owned cemeteries;
  5. Definition of Public Morality and Public Decency: A watered down version was adopted, basing the interpretation of these concepts on 'generally accepted Christian principles';
  6. Public Demonstrations and Public Meetings: The MLP wanted to retain the spirit of the original proposals on this point (religious functions are not a pretext to prohibit public meetings and any disturbance breaking public order and peace during said meetings is a criminal offence). Whereas the Vatican agreed, it wanted abuse to be dealt with by the 'appropriate civil and ecclesiastical authorities'. 
Once again, these points do not make any mention of 'violence' or that violence be acceptable in certain circumstances. 

Questions, Comments and Observations: 

  1. In both instances, be it the six points mentioned by the Azzjoni Kattolika concerning the Constitution proposals or those mentioned by Bishop Galea concerning the MLP-Church peace talks, the 'Six Points' are attributed to Church documents. Were the 'Six Points', therefore, a creation of the Catholic Church alone? 
  2. Which are the real Six Points? The Independence Constitution Proposals or the MLP-Church peace demands? To be fair, there were several other amendments that the MLP wanted to introduce to the Independence Constitution. They were not, strictly speaking, just six (which reinforces the first observation made above) - but they were the six amendments/proposals that struck at the heart of the Church's spiritual and political supremacy (that is why they are termed by the Azzjoni Kattolika as: 'L-Emendi tal-M.L.P. li jolqtu l-Knisja'). 
  3. If the answer is that there are two different sets of 'Six Points' (The Rome/Peace set and the London/Independence Constitution set) which is the official one? Were the London/Independence Constitution proposals omitted from the documentary? If so, why? 
  4. Is it scientifically sound to base the 'Six Points' on those merely mentioned in the Bishop's missive concerning the abortive peace talks in Rome?

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