In his first press interview, new anti-money laundering chief Sandro Camilleri was quoted as saying: “It’s not an easy task, but I’ll do my best as always and I hope God will guide me,” Camilleri said .
He’s right about the former… his job won’t be easy; not on this island where everyone seems to be trying to launder money.
And well, the statement that he would “do his best” was perhaps just a figure of speech. After all, this isn’t an exam paper where you may or may not get all the answers right, but hey, you did your best. This is a top post that requires full dedication and commitment with no margin for error. But let’s let that slide.
However, the last part of the quote was what really got to me. “I hope God will guide me.” Hmm, that’s a pretty problematic statement in my opinion. It’s as if Camilleri pins all his hopes of doing his job well on some divine intervention or being sanctified by God each morning as he faces yet another new case. Surely what should really guide him are simply two things: his own conscience and his integrity. You either have them or you don’t and it doesn’t depend on any other variable.
These may seem like obvious qualities for someone in his position, but from the daily headlines we are subjected to, these are precisely the qualities that are so necessary for all people in high positions, but which also seem to be in terrible short supply. The reason I find it uncomfortable when people in authority bring God into the conversation like this is because it always makes me wonder what they mean by it. Taken to its logical conclusion, it can be taken to mean that if Camilleri makes wrong decisions and/or takes no action on certain cases, he can “blame” God for giving him wrong directions. I realize how frivolous this sounds, but it is precisely for this reason that religious references should be excluded from such interviews.
Camilleri has a tough job ahead of him and he will definitely step on toes, maybe even people he knows (which in Malta is very likely). All he really needs to do is ensure that he always does the right thing, without fear or favor, no matter who is involved. The buck stops with him. I’m afraid God has nothing to do with it.
The reason I say this is because we have all seen senior officials and MPs acting holier than thou, signaling to the public that they are ‘good’ church Catholics, like the charades we often see when shady politicians are present at mass on special occasions, as if butter did not melt in their mouths. When elected, they all kiss the cross as they take the oath, even those who were ultimately forced to leave in disgrace. So, excuse me for not being too impressed with this pose. Either way, we desperately need people of integrity in these high offices who have strong moral convictions because public trust in our institutions is fading at breakneck speed. However, they must demonstrate their integrity by their actions, not their words, as this will be the only way to save what little faith we have left.
Can a priest receive personal donations or does the money belong to the Church?
This week the Court decided there was enough evidence to indict Father Luke Seguna, the parish priest in Marsaxlokk, on charges of embezzlement, fraud, forgery and money laundering (although it is still unclear why the latter charge should apply in this case).
This case divided public opinion primarily because while there are those who agree that he was brought to justice, others (quite rightly) want to know why corrupt politicians were not charged as quickly as this (allegedly corrupt) priest . Many anti-Church sentiments were also brought to the surface.
The general opinion of those who continue to defend Father Seguna is that he has done a lot of good in his parish, they donated the money to him voluntarily, so why should the Church interfere in how it is spent? In their eyes, the Church as an institution is a money-grabbing organization that wants the money that Father Seguna received directly from the parishioners who believed in him (and still do).
However, there is one important detail that is at the heart of the matter: he was apparently spending the endowments intended for the parish to lead a lifestyle that was contrary to what one would expect of a priest. The court was told that over a 10-year period he spent €500,000 on motorbikes, cars and porn websites. The money he had hidden in over ten different bank accounts did not match his modest salary as a priest. The Curia, which is parte civile in the case, claims that Father Seguna did not follow church protocol in opening these personal accounts.
The administrative secretary of the Curia testified that a parish priest can open a bank account only with the permission of the Curia. Donations for the liturgy must be deposited in a parish bank account, not a personal account, and the priest has the right to call for donations for a specific project, but only after obtaining permission from the archbishop. However, parishioners who were called to testify seemed to see things differently, talking about personal donations given to the priest to help their family in one way or another. Most of them emphasized that they wanted the money to go to Father Seguna personally, “not to the church.” A few even said they didn’t care how he spent them.
There is no doubt that the parish priest in Marsachlok, despite what appear to be serious financial crimes, still has a staunch, loyal following. Without going into the merits of this case, as it is for the courts to decide, I couldn’t help asking myself what this blind loyalty reminds me of.
Then it hit me: those who were vociferously advocating for Father Seguna sounded a lot like supporters of politicians who believe in them no matter what they do.
Even when presented with clear examples of bad behavior, unethical or even criminal behavior, there are people who will be adamant that their idol has done nothing wrong.
While I can completely understand the horror and disappointment of realizing that someone you’ve trusted has human frailties after all, I’m afraid my motto these days is the Maltese proverb “ma tista’ taħlef għal ħads” (you can’t vouch for no one). This mindset is not one I welcome because I am not naturally a cynical person and I still like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but too many people in this country who started out so promising have simply let us down.
Even more troubling, however, is that as a country too many people continue to excuse or justify the misconduct of those in power, whoever they may be.