A top church official in Malta has instructed a priest to refrain from harmful remarks after the priest stated that being LGBTQ was worse than being possessed by the devil.
According to Malta Independent:
“Archbishop Charles Scicluna has issued a formal warning to controversial priest David Muscat, referred to in Canon Law as a penal precept, instructing the priest to cease making inflammatory and hurtful comments in public forums or face prohibition from exercising his ministry in public.
“Muscat raised ire yesterday after he said that if the person who is a suspect in the murder of a Polish woman last Sunday turns out to be gay or bisexual, this would be worse than him being possessed by the devil. The assertion was based on a picture showing the suspect, Abner Aquilina, wearing a shirt with a rainbow on it.
“The Archbishop instructed Fr David Muscat to delete the Facebook post, in which the priest claimed that being gay was worse than being possessed, and not to use insulting or hurtful language against any group or individual.”
Scicluna’s instruction to the priest followed a televised homily in which the archbishop condemned Muscat’s anti-gay comments and sought forgiveness from LGBTQ people and their families. The archbishop said the comments were “a stone thrown from a heart which needs to learn how to love God.” He added, “God loves you, whoever you are, however you are.”
Muscat’s words on Facebook about Aquilina, the alleged murderer, also included the following, per PinkNews:
“‘If [Aquilina] is gay or bisexual, then this must be added to his list of disorders which include schizophrenia and malice. . .He has a recipe of disorders all at once. Poor guy. . .Abner needs help. . .[I]t’s even worse than being possessed. Being gay is worse.”
Drachma LGBTI, a Catholic group in Malta, welcomed Scicluna’s words while simultaneously condemning the priest. The group said in a statement:
“‘By speaking out publicly against these comments, the archbishop and other courageous priests have taken up the moral responsibility to speak up for social justice and to stand out for the weak and vulnerable.'”
Drachma LGBTI expressed being “appalled” by the comments of “so-called Catholic ‘priest'” which “go against Christian charity. . .and are morally wrong and unacceptable.”
Christopher Vella, coordinator of Drachm and co-chair of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, wrote in a Newsbook commentary:
“One last word of gratitude goes to the Archbishop and other priests who spoke out against these obnoxious comments. . .We hope that this dreadful episode can remind our pastors that the only genuine true pastoral way is to take care of all the sheep. Let the Archbishop, and other leaders go one step further and ensure that such comments are not tolerated, and all steps are taken to unmask and stop the wolves who dress up as sheep, or worse still as shepherds.”
Malta Gay Rights Movement, the leading secular LGBTQ group on the island nation, said in a statement it was “satisfied that the sentiment of the community is shared by the Archbishop,” while noting this was not Muscat’s first time offending vulnerable communities. The group accused the priest of spreading “hate speech,” including against migrants. Malta Gay Rights Movement ended with an appeal to meet with Archbishop Scicluna.
The government is also becoming involved with the Muscat controversy. Malta Independent reported that, after two government officials encouraged them to do so, police are investigating whether the priest’s words are a criminal offense for inciting hatred.
Archbishop Scicluna’s response to the priest’s anti-gay comments is precisely what church leaders must do when instances of homophobia or transphobia occur. He not only apologizes for the harm done, but takes concrete steps to prevent further harm and makes clear such behavior is not tolerated. That Scicluna invoked canonical penalties is notable even among some positive steps other church leaders have taken in similar cases. Such a possibility will hopefully invite Fr. Muscat to reconsider his anti-gay views altogether.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, January 7, 2022