It is indeed regrettable that the sale of a plot of land in Għargħur by the Church has been hijacked and exploited to such an extent that some have gone so far as to accuse Archbishop Charles Scicluna of naivety and, worse, of hypocrisy.
This is because the Archbishop had the courage to call out the culture of greed and because he made a sincere appeal to everyone to think more carefully about the kind of development we are enabling in our towns and villages.
At no point did the Archbishop say in his Independence Day homily that development in Malta should not take place – as some have sought to describe to achieve their own ends. What he said, rightly, is that a culture of greed has allowed unbridled and ugly development that has ravaged our island.
Yet, as often happens in these cases, the facts surrounding the sale of land in Għargħur six months ago and what the Archbishop said a few weeks ago have been the victims of instinctive condemnation and political points.
It should be noted, first of all, that the Church in Malta has transferred or sold property for decades. Much of this amount was actually transferred to the state in 1991, alongside an agreement governing the funding of Church schools. Meanwhile, small portions of land in the developable areas have been retained for potential future purposes.
In the case of the Għargħur land, in accordance with established policies, the Archbishop’s Curia first launched an internal call for expressions of interest from the diocesan entities, offering them the possibility of acquiring this land for pastoral purposes. at a considerably reduced rate. As no one felt able to come forward, a public appeal was launched.
The local council of Għargħur initially expressed interest in converting the site into a parking lot, day center and night shelter, but did not follow up on its proposal.
The Church has transferred or sold property for decades– Michael Pace Ross
A group of residents also indicated that they wanted to collectively buy the land, but then curtly rejected the Curia’s invitation to meet as a waste of time.
Efforts to cede the land therefore continued and an agreement was finally reached with a buyer.
Some may legitimately wonder if the Church could not have sold this parcel of arid land. In an ideal world, maybe. But the Church of today also faces the realities of today which afflict her parishes and her entities. These include severe constraints on its income – made worse by the COVID pandemic – and overwhelming demands to ensure, for example, the well-being of families and individuals, the conservation of its heritage and the maintenance of its properties, some of which have been overlooked. for decades.
The Church is also fully committed to fulfilling her mission of making a positive contribution to society. Among many other projects, the Curia recently transferred the Adelaide Cini Institute from Santa Venera to Hospice Malta for palliative care services and offers financial support to a wide range of individuals and organizations – including homes for children and homes for the aged, among others. – who do valuable work for those who need it.
It is clear that these pastoral initiatives and demands require financial resources. Unlike businesses or individuals, who sell land for their own profit, the sale of property by church entities, which is only used occasionally, is purely for the benefit of those who need it most.
This is why the Church has exercised its legitimate right to sell this land – which is well in the development zone and already surrounded by large-scale development – in Għargħur.
This is why the Church calls, and will continue to do so, for the authorities to ensure that only necessary, proportionate and aesthetic development takes place in our towns and villages. This is why it is not only for the Church, or for anyone else to be, to be a scapegoat in the event that harm is allowed to occur on land sold to third.
Such public authorities exist specifically to control construction and should not be relieved of their responsibilities to ensure decent and sustainable development in our towns and villages.
In the future, the time may also have come for our policymakers to lower the height restrictions in certain areas, in particular village cores.
Michael Pace Ross is the Administrative Secretary of the Archdiocese of Malta.
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