It is customary, on religious occasions marking our national and historical events, that the leader of the Church in Malta takes the golden opportunity to draw the attention of the powers of the land to the moral challenges we face.
This year, on the occasion of the pontificial Mass on Independence Day, Archbishop Charles Scicluna addressed the topic of the common good. This message is underpinned by the rich contribution of the social doctrine of the Church that came to the fore with the landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 which had condemned the negative impact unleashed by the Industrial Revolution while warning us of the flawed reaction of socialist ideology.
In his homily, the Archbishop explained the essential criteria of the common good, stressing that upholding and promoting this ideal is the raison d’être of civil authority. He stressed that the crucial principle of subsidiarity also entails the safeguarding of the family. He pointed out that social policy should above all target the needs of the weaker and poorer segments of society and questioned whether “the wealth being generated in our society is creating new forms of economic disparity”.
History should have made us aware that short-sighted policies have unintentional and unexpected adverse consequences. Goodwill is too often clouded by short-term political convenience and even outright greed. Despite economic growth and increased consumption, Malta is witnessing a dysfunctional result that is placing the vulnerable at risk and seriously damaging the environment.
Despite his subdued and diplomatic tone, the Archbishop is prodding the authorities and people of influence to take a critical look at what the real present and future consequences of current policies are. For instance, one does not need too much social awareness to notice that the unbridled construction boom is already having long-term negative environmental consequences and that the rewards are being enjoyed disproportionately.
Political incompetence and corruption can further contribute to flawed decisions, sapping our nation’s well-being.
After all, there is much more to welfare policies than the provision of social housing, health services and the dishing out of meaningless government jobs.
Distributive justice lies at the heart of Catholic social doctrine. It translates itself into a philosophy of empowerment through meaningful employment, sharing of rights and responsibility in economic endeavour. It is not a recipe for either uncontrolled capitalism or socialism.
It is distressing that these principles, which had fired the imagination and conversion of such people as G. K. Chesterton, E. F. Schumacher and Joseph Pearce, seem unfamiliar to, and are ignored by, our political class.
No doubt, there is room for debate in the application of such values according to the times and local situation of each country.
One hopes that the appeal of our Archbishop will not fall on deaf ears or be reduced to an opportunity for partisan mudslinging. If goodwill prevails, the choice and implementation of economic and social policies will have a more sustainable and positive outcome on our country’s future.
These principles are as relevant today as they ever were before, especially in the light of the financial, economic and environmental crises we face which will eventually have such a negative effect on so many families and society in general.
Klaus Vella Bardon is deputy chairman of Life Network Foundation Malta.