The ongoing negotiations between the church and the government relating to a possible revision of the 1991 deal that transferred church property to the state, started on the church’s initiative due to “new realities facing the country”, according to Foreign Minister Ian Borg.
The Shift reported that the two sides were engaged in new discussions as of February, but there were no details available as everything was being kept under wraps.
“The Church, through the Apostolic Nuncio, asked for discussions to be held on a possible additional protocol on the property deal signed in 1991,” the Foreign Minister told PN MP Chris Said, earlier this week following a parliamentary question.
When asked to elaborate on the nature and scope of these discussions, the minister said, “The aim is to find solutions to various pending and difficult issues emanating from the implementation of the 1991 deal.”
“After 30 years from its ratification, there is a need to consider the new realities currently facing the country,” he added.
The Shift asked Archbishop Charles Scicluna for more information on the discussions, but no answer was received.
Questions sent to the Archbishop’s Curia on whether the church is asking for more monetary compensation now that the 30-year time limit of the original deal has passed were ignored despite reminders.
The church and government agreement dates from 1991 and entered into force in 1993. It involved 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.
According to a clause in the agreement, the compensation given to the church from the sale of ‘its’ property would have to be revised after 30 years, in 2023.
The sources said Scicluna is trying to convince the government to give additional compensation from properties sold through the Joint Office to reflect the high prices in the current property market.
Malta has witnessed a significant increase in real estate prices over the last decades. For example, a property worth €100,000 in 1993 could today be worth almost €650,000, a 6.5-fold increase according to online property value calculators consulted by The Shift.
The sources added that the government has so far resisted the archbishop’s demands but is prolonging the discussions to avoid open confrontation with the church authorities.
Sources close to the church told The Shift that the archbishop is leading the discussions with the Apostolic Nuncio Savio Hon Tai-Fai and the Gozo Bishop Anton Teuma also taking part.
In the meantime, the government is funding the church to the tune of millions of euros for church-related projects, including restoring religious properties such as churches and running various church services and institutions like elderly care homes.
The church also received significant government help to cover the salaries and expenses of priests during the pandemic, when churches were closed and donations from churchgoers dwindled.