A group of disaffected Catholics in Malta have been forced to resort to civil law after they were unable to terminate their membership of the Church earlier this year. They join a string of organisations set up in recent years to push for the right to formally defect from the Catholicism.
Not In Our Name was founded earlier this year as a response to the abysmal behaviour of the Maltese Church during the referendum campaign to introduce divorce, which included refusing absolution to parishioners intending to vote for divorce and pressurising the elderly and vulnerable to vote against it.
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Crowds gather outside a church during the festival of Santa Marija in Malta. The Church's influence on the island is one of the main reasons for divorce remaining unavailable. Photo by Julien Lozelli
On Sunday, Malta Labour party MP Adrian Vassallo announced that he will be standing down over plans to allow couples to divorce.
Let me explain. It may surprise some of you to learn that in Malta, a member of the Commonwealth and an EU state, divorce is still illegal. And this isn’t one of those outdated laws that they somehow never got around to changing, like cab drivers not being able to pick up people infected with plague. Malta was a British colony until 1964, and though divorce has been allowed for an elite few in British law for centuries, and for all citizens since 1857, banning divorce is something the Maltese people chose to do during the 1960s, by omitting it from their new constitution entirely. In the deeply Catholic nations of the Mediterranean this was relatively common at the time. Divorce was still illegal in countries like Italy, Portugal and Spain, and even in the Republic of Ireland. But these places all legalised divorce in the period between 1971 and 1994. Somehow Malta has found itself one of only two countries left in the world where divorce is still illegal, along with the Philippines.
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