Malta, The Catholic Church in
MALTA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The Republic of Malta is located 58 miles south of Sicily, in the central Mediterranean. The Maltese islands comprise Malta, Gozo (26 square miles), Comino (1 square mile) and a number of uninhabited rocky islets. Low, rocky plains characterize the region, which contains deposits of limestone, with cliffs edging the sea. With its Mediterranean climate, the region produces a variety of crops, including vegetables, grapes, wheat, barley, citrus and cut flowers, although the lack of fresh water continues to be problematic.
Allotted to Constantinople in a.d. 533, the islands fell to Saracens in the late 9th century, and with the Norman conquest in 1090 became a dependency of sicily. In 1530 charles v gave the region to the knights of malta, an equestrian order who were for the most part French. Under the Knights, Malta served as a Christian bulwark against the ottoman turks. Napoleon expelled the Knights in 1798 but, with the failure of his expedition to Egypt, could not hold Malta itself. A British protectorate from 1800 to 1964, Malta flourished but suffered heavily from Italian and German bombing in World WarII. Independent in the British Commonwealth after 1964, Malta became an independent republic in 1974 and by 2000 was debating a decision to join the European Union. The capital of Malta, Valletta, is named after Jean de lavalette, who led Malta's heroic defense against a siege of the Turks in 1565. By the late 20th century, Malta was the most densely populated country in Europe; more than half the population was under 40 years of age.
History. With large prehistoric monuments, Malta was held by Phoenicians from the 16th to 10th centuries b.c., and perhaps also by Greeks, before it came under the sway of carthage c. 480 b.c.. The region was conquered by Rome 200 years later and named Melita. In a.d. 60, after being shipwrecked, St. Paul stayed on Malta for three months and founded the region's first Christian community under Publius. Several early Christian catacombs and a few Christian inscriptions in Latin and Greek survive. Maltese Bishop Julianus (Lucianus) sided with Pope Vigilius in the three chapters Schism (553), bringing Malta to the Byzantine Church which controlled the region for the next 300 years; Lucillus was deposed by Pope Gregory the Great (598) and was succeeded by Trajanus, formerly the abbot of a monastery in Syracuse. In 870 the Ottoman Turks invaded the region. Manas (868–874) was imprisoned in Palermo, and no further bishops appear, for freedom of religion was restricted and church buildings were neglected.
Following the Norman conquest of the region in the 11th century, Malta was linked with Sicily and fell under
a series of rulers: Hohenstaufen from 1194, Angevins from 1266, Aragon from 1283, Castile from 1412 and the Hapsburg empire from 1516. In 1090 Roger I of Sicily initiated a Christian revival in the islands. The cathedral and its chapter became famous, and from Walter (1090), Malta's bishop list is nearly complete. At first immediately subject to the Holy See, the diocese became suffragan to Palermo in 1154. Maurus Calì (1393–1408) was a prominent jurist. Five mendicant orders founded houses in the 14th and 15th centuries, and two convents of Benedictine nuns were established.
The 1530 cession of Malta to the Knights and the 1575 apostolic visitation by Pietro Duzina opened a new era in the island's ecclesiastical, political and cultural history. Friction between the bishops and the Knights concerning jurisdiction, together with the spread of heresy and superstition, led to the establishment of the Inquisition (1574–1798). The reforms of trent, under resident bishops brought about general religious improvement. Baldassare Cagliares (1615–33) convoked three synods and performed five visitations. Priests were well trained in religious novitiates at the seminary (from 1617), and the Jesuit college (1592), which became the university (1769). Parishes and religious foundations increased in number. In 1797 Pius VI added the titular archbishopric of Rhodes to Malta but kept Malta suffragan to Palermo. In 1797 Czar Paul I of Russia asserted his protection of the Knights, of whom he was elected grand master in 1798. Napoleon, who promised to safeguard Malta's Catholicism, sanctioned the expulsion of foreign clerics and the closing of several monasteries, transferred marriages to the civil authorities, prohibited appeals to the pope and despoiled the churches of their riches. The angry Maltese, under Canon Francis X Caruana (who became bishop in 1831) and aided by British and Portuguese fleets, forced the surrender of the French in 1800.
In 1814 Malta formally came under the protection of British commissioners and governors, who maintained peaceful and amicable relations with the Church but occasionally encroached on its rights. When the king of Naples and the British disputed the right to appoint the bishop of Malta in 1829, Gregory XVI removed the see from the jurisdiction of Palermo and again made it immediately
subject to the Holy See. The British sanctioned laws contrary to Canon Law, which was observed in Malta. The rights of sanctuary and clerical immunity, except for bishops, were abolished; ecclesiastical jurisdiction was restricted to purely spiritual matters, and a law controlling mortmain was introduced. A political-religious clash in 1928 followed the appointment of Lord Strickland to office. Negotiations between the British and the Holy See failed, and the constitution was suspended (1930–32) and revoked (1933–36). A new constitution (1939–46) was followed by self-government in 1947. In 1944 the hierarchy was established. A political crisis in 1958 caused the revocation of the constitution a year later and the issuance of a new constitution in 1961. Malta became independent on Sept. 14, 1964.
Following independence, the new government adopted a more secular policy, which was reflected by the constitution promulgated on Dec. 13, 1974, when it became a republic. Under this constitution, Roman Catholicism was still declared the state religion, divorce continued to be banned and Catholic instruction in all schools was compulsory. While conflicts arose between the Church and the government over the funding of Catholic schools and the ownership of Church property, a 1985 commission was established that resolved many of these conflicts. While the state continued to subsidize Church schools, it did so through a foundation with contributions from both the state and the Church. Under the 1991 Ecclesiastical Entitles Act, the Church transferred ownership rights of its non-pastoral property to this foundation. By 2000 there were 80 parishes tended by 491 diocesan and 451 religious priests. Other religious included approximately 90 brothers and 1,310 sisters, who aided in the Church's educational programs. Estimates showed that in 2000, 65 percent of Maltese Catholics attended mass on a regular basis. In 1998 the Knights of Malta celebrated their 900th anniversary, which event was honored by the Vatican through a gift of fort St. Angelo, where Maltese hero La Valette repulsed a Turkish siege in 1565. The Order, founded in the 12th century to protect pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land, had 11,500 members worldwide and engaged in humanitarian efforts that included operating hospitals in the Middle East. Pope John Paul II visited the region for the second time in May of 2001, during a pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Paul.
Bibliography: a. bonnici, Church and State in Malta: 1800–50 (La Vallette 1958); Ecclesiastical History of Malta (Malta 1966). a. a. ferris, Storia ecclesiastica di Malta (Malta 1877). p. de bono, Sommario della storia della legislazione a Malta (Malta 1897). w. hardman, History of Malta: 1798–1815 (London 1909). a. v. laferla, The Story of Man in Malta (Malta 1935); British Malta, 2 v. (Malta 1938–47). h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, eds., f. cabrol, h. leclercq and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 1907–53) 10.1:1318–42. Bilan du Monde 2:590–593. Annuario Pontificio.