The secularization of society in Malta has led to the increasingly accepted notion that the church should remain at the margins of public debate, alas, restricting itself only to faith and matters of conscience and morality. Whereas the (secular) trend is unlikely to be reversed, ostracizing the church from public discourse on issues such as the common good, environmental sustainability, citizens’ rights, welfare protection, and social justice (among others) – would be a grave ommission.
But a cursory look the last 150 years shows that these themes have not only been promulgated, but discerned and disseminated through what is referred to as Catholic Social Teaching – that went on to become the backbone of both centre right (christian democrats and conservatives) and centre left (social democracy) political parties.
what we need is “healthy politics… capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia”
Since his election to the Papacy in 2013, Francis has made it clear that he would not shy away from speaking his mind on politics. In his conversations with French journalist Dominque Wolton, Pope Francis spoke about the Church being a catalyst to bring about social and political engagement[i] and in Fratelli Tutti, he offers a prognosis or rather that, what we need is “healthy politics… capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia”.[ii] So it came as no surprise that in his visit of April 2022, in his address to the authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps in Malta, Pope Francis spoke unequivocally about the importance of good governance, as a conduit to the common good:
“To ensure a sound social coexistence, however, it is not enough to strengthen the sense of belonging; there is a need to shore up the foundations of life in society, which rests on law and legality. Honesty, justice, a sense of duty and transparency are the essential pillars of a mature civil society. May your commitment to eliminate illegality and corruption be strong, like the north wind that sweeps the coasts of this country. May you always cultivate legality and transparency, which will enable the eradication of corruption and criminality, neither of which acts openly and in broad daylight.”[iii]
The Church’s contribution on good governance is essential for many reasons. First and foremost there is an expectation that it practices what it preaches, and the Church fosters principles of accountability and transparency. Falling short of such expecations would dent its credibility, and diminish its legitimacy as an interlocutor around the world. Second, the Church is frowned upon for engaging in politics, but as Francis often reminds us, “politics remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good. “[iv]
In times where global peace is shattered by war, inequality, climate change, and instability, the need for humanity, reason and compassion is dire. But such ideals require leaders of vision who can offer a better kind of politics, one rooted in dialogue and understanding, empathy and unity, peace and fraternity.
[i] Wolton, D. (2018), Pope Francis: The Path to Change – Thoughts on Politics and Society, Bluebird.
[ii] Pope Francis, Encyclical: Fratelli Tutti, 3 Oct 2020. [Source] The Encyclical was released during the unfolding of Covid-19, to Francis levels a criticism towards the world’s “inability to work together” and the ” fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all”.
[iii] Pope Francis, Meeting with the Authorities, Civil Society and Diplomatic Corps, Malta, 2 Apr 2022, [Source].
[iv] Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation: Evangelii Gaudium, 24 Nov 2013. [Source] Pope Francis has made reference to politics as charity a number of times, but this was originally put forward by Pope Pius XI (1927).