A Catholic priest in Malta is under fire for what his archbishop called “inflammatory and hurtful comments” against gay people.
In a post on Facebook, Father David Muscat said that being gay is worse than being “possessed”. He was forced by the archdiocese of Malta to delete the post, which had caused uproar in the European island nation.
In a televised homily on Thursday night, Archbishop Charles Scicluna apologized in the name of the Church, while the archdiocese released a statement saying that a formal warning against the priest had been issued. He was also instructed to stop using hurtful language against any group or individual.
It said the archbishop also reminded Muscat that in accordance with Catholic teaching, members of the clergy are required to display respect, compassion and sensitivity to people from all walks of life.
Muscat, a priest from Mosta, had made the Facebook post about murder suspect, Abner Aquilina, with the priest speculating on the possibility that the assailant was gay or bisexual, or possessed by the devil. Muscat said that being gay was worse than being possessed.
Paulina Dembska’s lifeless body was found in a public park in the early hours of Sunday morning. The Polish national had been raped and strangled and had no known link to Aquilina, who is the prime suspect in the crime but has not yet been charged.
The Times of Malta reported that Aquilina, 20, attended a ceremony by a controversial Evangelical group called River of Love the night before Dembska was killed. Members of the group have since been called in for police questioning. Aquilina told the police that he was possessed by the devil at the time of the attack.
Malta’s Equality Minister Owen and Inclusivity Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli joined activists in a call to police to take action against the priest for inciting hate speech.
Scicluna said Thursday that he was shocked by the remarks by the priest, saying that “these were not words of love but stones thrown by a heart that has to learn to love more, as Jesus did. God loves you for who you are… Those who say they love God, but hate their brother, are liars.”
“I want to apologize on behalf of the Church to all those who were hurt by these harsh words, and their mothers and fathers who also feel betrayed by the church they love,” the archbishop said. adding he would take action to prevent a repetition.
Earlier, Scicluna had said he was shocked by the post made by Muscat and that many had phoned him to complain and express their disgust about what was written “about our brothers, the gay people.”
According to the Times of Malta, Muscat is no stranger to controversy. In November 2019, he raised another storm over anti-migrant rhetoric and was reprimanded by Scicluna.
At the time, he had likened the influx of foreigners in Malta to an “invasion” and had repeatedly stoked fears that foreigners would soon outnumber Maltese.
Earlier that summer, Muscat was seen on camera praising Nazi sympathizer Normal Lowell, who has been convicted of inciting racial hatred. The priest praised the extremist, saying that Lowell has “sowed a seed that will bear fruit in the future.”
Scicluna at the time had said on Twitter that the Church dissociated itself from Muscat’s views, but he was allowed to remain in ministry.