Courtesy Reuters

Malta: Church and State

THE bitter conflict between Church and State raging for some time past in the Maltese Islands, and not yet settled, is closely connected with the language problem in this small but important British colony. Maltese -- a Levantine dialect -- is the language of the middle and lower classes; Italian is spoken, with a limited vocabulary and a peculiar intonation, by the upper class, about one-sixth of the population. English is the official language of the administration, but Italian is that of record in the law courts; that is, the inhabitants of Malta, 86 percent of whom cannot understand Italian, are liable to be tried in that language by Italian-speaking juries. This language problem has been present ever since the British title to Malta was confirmed by the Treaty of Paris of 1814, and various schemes of instruction to overcome it have met with scant success. In the 1880's the battle was drawn between the party led by Sir Gerald Strickland (now Lord Strickland), which opposed the spread of the Italian language, and the Mizzi party, which wanted to insure the predominance of the Italian language. These battle lines have come down to the present day, when the coalition government (the Constitutional and Labor parties) favors a policy of developing Maltese nationality along the lines of British Imperial citizenship, with English culture, standards and ideals, while the opposition (the Nationalist Party) represents the Italian-speaking elements.

The occasion of the present conflict between Church and State was a dispute over ecclesiastical discipline. Father Carta, head of the Franciscan order in Malta, attempted to remove Father Guido Micallef from the island for disciplinary reasons. Lord Strickland, the Prime Minister, intervened. Lord Strickland, himself a Roman Catholic, was born in Malta of English and Italian parents; he returned to Malta in 1921 and reëntered local politics after a distinguished career in the British Colonial Service, in the course of which he was Governor of Tasmania, Western Australia and New South Wales. In regard to the proposed [i] requesting His Majesty's Government to invite the Vatican to send a fully authorized representative to Malta to inquire into the case.

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