Bishops canceled pope visit schedule because nuncio wanted ‘retirement gift’

Malta’s Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Alessandro D’Errico, has rejected the wish of Malta’s church authorities and other senior clerics to postpone Pope Francis’ recent visit to Malta and instead backed the government’s insistence on organizing the visit just a week after the election, senior church sources told The Shift.

According to the sources, despite objections from senior Curia officials, including Archbishop Charles Scicluna, that the papal visit should be postponed for a few months, the Italian nuncio, who coordinated the visit with the government, insisted on the date “because it coincided with his retirement from the Vatican diplomatic corps”.

“Nobody really wanted this visit to take place just a week after the elections, because spiritually it made no sense. Even the Maltese curia asked for a postponement for a few months, but the Vatican decided otherwise, because the Bishop D’Errico was adamant that the visit would go ahead as planned,” the sources said.

D’Errico, titular bishop, who spent his entire 45-year professional life in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps, retired on the 70and anniversary, a day after Pope Francis’ two-day visit to the island.

The apostolic nuncio – the Vatican’s ambassador to Malta – was posted to the island by Pope Francis in 2017 and had built a reputation for closeness to the government. He worked hard, through his contacts in Rome, to organize the papal visit to the island, much of it serving as a photo opportunity for politicians and their families.

The Apostolic Nuncio warmly greets former minister Carmelo Abela and his wife

Various church officials who spoke to The Shift said a postponement would have made much more sense, as the country would have “healed” from the “natural division” that an election normally brings and the church would have had ample time to make the necessary spiritual preparations for such an important occasion.

D’Errico, however, refused to consider delaying the event because he viewed the visit “as a form of blessing to his personal diplomatic career as ambassador to the Holy See”, the sources added.

Papal costs reach 4 million euros

The Shift is informed that Pope Francis’ two-day visit to Malta cost around €4 million, although the taxpayer did not pay the full amount: €3 million was covered by the state Maltese, while 1 million euros was provided by the Curia from church funds.

The government has been criticized for wasting taxpayers’ money during the visit on unnecessary spending such as building a Provisional ramp of €50,000 to the port of Gozo to allow the pope to visit the island for less than two hours by catamaran.

Pope Francis in his Fiat shipped to Malta from Rome

Sources said some of the funds used by the curia could also have been used more wisely, saying thousands of euros had been spent shipping the Pope’s Fiat Cinquecento to Malta from Rome, instead of procuring the same model from Maltese car importers, while the nuncio used part of the funds to ‘renovate’ his villa in Tal-Virtu so that ‘it could accommodate the Pope for one night’.

Questions sent by The Shift to the Curia went unanswered. Instead, a spokesperson for the archdiocese said that “any inquiries regarding the vehicles used by the Holy See delegation, or regarding the mandate of the apostolic nuncio, should be addressed to the nunciature and/or the office of the press of the Holy See”.

During his visit to Malta, Pope Francis urged the Maltese authorities to fight corruption and land speculation and warned against “false prosperity” driven by profit.

The Pope’s speech against corruption was censored by public broadcaster PBS.

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