A trans prisoner in Malta is appealing to Pope Francis for mercy after allegedly being subjected to derogatory slurs by a Catholic chaplain.
In a January 7th letter, Raquela Richards Spiteri told the pontiff that Capuchin Fr. Franco Fenech used the Maltese slurs bewwiela and imnittna against her. Spiteri further claimed the friar had acknowledged using such words in a meeting with the prison’s director but never apologized.
Fenech responded to the claim by saying, “I deny categorically using these words, but I cannot comment.” He also speculated about how such a letter could have left the prison.
Spiteri also wrote to Pope Francis about inaction by Fenech’s religious superior, as TVM reported:
“The prisoner wrote that a Provincial of the Franciscan Capuchins, Dr Martin Micallef, chose to postpone this problem to the coming June, when the Order’s General Chapter is held in Malta. She further alleged, however, that the Provincial is abdicating his responsibility, as she will have left the Prison by June.”
Spiteri, a Catholic, also mentioned in the letter that a priest had sexually abused her when she was younger. She seeks a resolution in the church before exploring her legal options against Fr. Fenech. In an aside, she also mentioned how she is being improperly housed in Malta’s prisons which have failed to respect her gender identity.
In the first year of his papacy, Francis made repeated headlines for his handwritten notes to people of all kinds, including a note to a group for LGBT Catholics in Italy. I called it a “letter writing revolution” at the time and, despite his negative remarks on marriage equality more recently, something revolutionary remains about Pope Francis’ preference for personal and intimate encounter. This revolutionary aspect was present, too, when the pope dined last March with gay and transgender inmates at an Italian prison.
While the details of the situation are sparse, one thing we know is that a person is claiming they were hurt by one of the church’s ministers. Especially in this Year of Mercy, it is necessary for church officials at least to investigate the matter and pursue justice, if necessary, and then reconciliation in this matter. Since the pope is open to personal encounter, I hope Spiteri’s letter finds its way to him. His involvement on behalf of one of God’s most marginalized people would certainly advance justice and reconciliation in this pastoral matter.
But if all that does not happen, Spiteri can take advantage of improved legal rights in Malta. Last spring, legislators in the heavily Catholic nation passed a transgender rights law that is considered the “gold standard” in Europe.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry