A group of Gozitans, supported by activists, staged a protest in front of the Curia’s headquarters in Floriana earlier this morning urging Archbishop Charles Scicluna to reverse the Church’s decision to award control of a medieval foundation, the Abbazia di Sant’ Antonio deli Navarra, to a group of businessmen claiming ownership of large tracts of land in Qala and Nadur.
The plan to seize land left in the custody of the Abbazia in order to sell it off for development traces its roots back to 1992, following a claim made in court by Richard Stagno Navarra who said he was the direct descendant of Cosmana Navarra, the 17th-century noblewoman who had founded the Abbazia in 1675 as part of her will.
Stagno Navarra was already working with former magistrate Dennis Montebello as well as lawyer Carmelo Galea. The trio had already opened up companies that were designed to siphon land away from the Abbazia and into private hands.
“This is land that the Archbishop handed to these speculators on a silver platter without any questions asked. It is particularly shocking that, last month, the Archbishop admitted in court that when he recognised Stagno Navarra as the descendant of Cosmana, he did not verify this and took him at his word,” Moviment Graffitti activist Andre’ Callus said.
“The consequences of the Archbishop’s decision, which opened up the doors to speculative development and threats at the stroke of a pen, are enormous and horrible. The residents and the environment surrounding them have both been tossed to the wolves,” he added.
The Shift had originally exposed the deal on 7 February of this year when an elderly couple from Nadur were asked to fork out €50,000 to the medieval foundation that essentially claimed ownership of the land they were living on. The situation being faced by the couple had led to mass panic at the land registry, with hundreds of residents attempting to verify whether their land had been claimed or not.
The Archbishop had renounced his veto on emphyteutical land transfers vested in him by the contract of the foundation.
Several residents from Qala and Nadur, most embroiled in disputes with the foundation for the past four years, voiced their anger and frustration, accusing the Church of having sold them out to favour the interests of a web of businessmen and lawyers who had taken over the foundation from the Church in 2017.
The residents demanded that the Archbishop remove the Rector presently in charge of the Abbazia, that the land that was already sold off for development should be returned to the Abbazia and that the contracts signed by the Archbishop which led to the Abbazia’s change of ownership be rescinded.
One resident named Maria accused the Archbishop of taking a decision that sent around 60 families directly affected by the land grab “back to feudal times”, going as far as to quote the Archbishop directly when he had penned an opinion piece advocating against “tarnishing the beauty of our country for a few bucks”.
“In fact, the Archbishop, for a few bucks, gave up a case the Curia had won so certain people could gain personally from it, instead of giving it back to the people living on it. I hope that the Archbishop is examining his own conscience and fixing the damage he caused us morally, physically and emotionally,” Maria said before breaking into tears.
“We are shocked and disappointed by how we were treated by the so-called spiritual shepherd who is supposed to have duties relating to his followers. Is it possible that the Archbishop didn’t think of the families who would be affected by this? People who were threatened and told to leave their houses?” another resident, Gordon, told the protesters.
Tony Cassar, a Nadur resident affected by the land grab who is also doubling up as a paralegal assisting other residents scrambling to protect their homes, also called out Archbishop Scicluna, telling him that he “should be ashamed”.
“The Archbishop negotiated with these people in a way that turned what was meant to be a sacred will into a commercial agreement,” he added, referring to how the foundation was originally set up as a vehicle for charitable deeds, including clauses that safeguarded land from being sold off in piecemeal fashion as is being done by the Abbazia’s current administration.
Read the details of the investigation here.