Negotiations between the government and the church over future compensation for church property transferred to the state some 30 years ago have been ongoing for several months but have been kept under wraps, with the church refusing to answer questions on the details.
The negotiations, led by Malta’s Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Prime Minister Robert Abela, started in February, but little progress has been achieved so far, according to sources who spoke to The Shift.
The Apostolic Nuncio and the Gozo Bishop have also been roped into these discussions with Foreign Minister Ian Borg.
An agreement between Maltese ecclesiastical authorities and the government was signed in 1991 and entered into force in 1993. It regarded the transfer of all property and land owned by the church, with some exceptions, such as property the church has in Sliema’s Tower Road, to the government, to be used for social and other purposes.
In return, the state covered the cost of running church schools (€108 million in 2023), a significant compensation in government-issued stock to 99 ecclesiastical entities, and a mechanism whereby the state passes part of the proceedings from the eventual sale of property back to the church.
The latter mechanism, including the amount of compensation, ended in 2023 – after 30 years, and is now the subject of ongoing negotiations.
The Shift asked the Archbishop’s Curia to confirm whether negotiations were underway and what stage they were at, but no response was received.
They also did not respond to questions on what the church aims to gain from the negotiations and whether it includes a request for tens of millions of euros in additional compensation from the state in line with the increase in real estate value since 1993.
Sources close to the negotiations told The Shift that Archbishop Scicluna is sending clear messages to the government that he wants a substantial increase in compensation paid by the government on the sale of property that used to belong to the church.
However, the government is resisting Scicluna’s demands while prolonging discussions to “keep the church on its side and avoid the Archbishop criticising the government”.
It is estimated that through this deal, some 38,000 properties were passed to the government by the church. However, 30 years later, the process of registration and ratification of all these properties is far from concluded, and thousands of properties and parcels of land are still without an ownership title.
During the past years, mainly since Robert Abela took the reins of the Labour Party, the church has clinched several deals with the government, benefitting from millions of euros.
These included funds to restore churches and other properties, facilities and services and pay the salaries of ecclesiastical personnel during the pandemic.
A champion of social issues upon his appointment in 2015, Archbishop Charles Jude Scicluna has lately been criticised for his change of tone, which includes less criticism of corruption, sleaze, rampant nepotism, the exploitation of foreign workers and increasing poverty, among others.