Bishop Nikol Joseph Cauchi +
Bishop Emeritus of Gozo
|2 Mar 1929||Born||Gharb|
|29 Mar 1952||23.1||Ordained Priest||Priest of Gozo, Malta|
|24 Feb 1967||38.0||Appointed||Auxiliary Bishop of Gozo, Malta|
|24 Feb 1967||38.0||Appointed||Titular Bishop of Vicus Augusti|
|9 Apr 1967||38.1||Ordained Bishop||Titular Bishop of Vicus Augusti|
|20 Jul 1972||43.4||Appointed||Bishop of Gozo, Malta|
|10 Sep 1972||43.5||Installed||Bishop of Gozo, Malta|
|26 Nov 2005||76.7||Retired||Bishop of Gozo, Malta|
|15 Nov 2010||81.7||Died||Bishop Emeritus of Gozo, Malta|
|Episcopal Lineage / Apostolic Succession:
Born in Gharb in 1929, Nikol Cauchi was ordained priest in
1952. He became parish priest of Fontana in 1956 and also held the Chair of
philosophy and sociology at the Gozo Seminary, where he also taught Italian.
He became auxiliary Bishop to Mgr Giuseppe Pace in 1967 and effectively took over the running of the diocese well before Mgr Pace passed away in 1972, and he formally took over on 20th July 1972
Mgr Cauchi was widely respected as a preacher and communicator and he was at much at ease with priests as he was with infants and other leaders of society.
He was cast in the international media spotlight in the summer of 2000 during the controversy surrounding the fate of two Siamese twins whose parents, from Xaghra, contested - in line with Church teaching - a decision by the English Court of Appeal to separate the two - since this would automatically lead to the death of one of them.
Mgr Cauchi remained popular even after his retirement through his regular participation in radio programmes, where he welcomed questions by listeners.
In his farewell message in January 2006, when he handed the
reins of the diocese to Mgr Grech, Mgr Cauchi told the faithful:
"I promise you that I will keep thinking of you and praying for you till the day I die."
And he kept his promise.
Mgr Grech said that when he spoke with him, four days before his hospitalisation, Mgr Cauchi continued to show keen interest in the affairs of the diocese and was also looking forward to his own projects, including the publication of books.
In his message, Mgr Cauchi also asked for forgiveness 'for so many failings'.
He told his listeners: "Don't look at the Church with bodily eyes but with eyes of faith. Remember that there are two elements to the Church: the human element - it is made up of human beings and people are fragile since they can make mistakes and have shortcomings. But we believe, because it has been revealed to us, that in Church there is also a divine element... Be prepared even to make certain sacrifices for the Church. Work for the Church to grow and become stronger."
Those who knew him well will remember him for his deep knowledge of Church and current affairs, his love for literature, and his insatiable humour. He also had a good hand at playing the guitar.
Mgr Cauchi died at Mater Dei hospital on Monday 15th November
Interview on The Sunday Times on the occasion of his 80th birthday
Sunday, 1st March 2009
There is only one thing more difficult than interviewing an adversary; and that's interviewing a close friend. I have been as far as the missions in Brazil with Bishop Nikol Cauchi and as near as the promenade in Marsalforn. We have talked about most things not just under the sun, but in the rain and during the course of thunderstorms - literal and metaphorical. The exercise is harder still when that person is about to turn 80 since the overriding inclination is to turn to tribute. But that can wait till tomorrow.
The cauldron of an interview was the first place I met Mgr Cauchi. In the summer of 2000, the Church in Gozo was caught up in a controversy surrounding the fate of two Siamese twins whose parents, from Xaghra, were contesting a decision by the English Court of Appeal to separate the two - since this would automatically lead to the death of one of them. The case went global, with everyman and his dog from the four corners of the earth wading in with an opinion.
Since his viewpoint seemed from media reports to be dogmatic and predictable, I went to the Curia in Victoria with a set of questions to explore, or rather expose it. During my two-hour wait in one of the bare offices - which are trumped for their austerity only by the dingy rooms he calls home in the Gozo Seminary - his PRO approached me a few times asking if the bishop could see the questions. My answer remained as stale as the flaking paint on the wall.
That interview had got off to a stern start, and to make matters worse for me he quickly went in a completely different direction to what I had been expecting. Not satisfied with that, after about 20 minutes of slugging it out he cracked a joke; then another one, prompting me to think a little despairingly to myself (or "between me and me" as he often says in jest): "The so-and-so is actually enjoying this."
We probably both collected a few bruises in that hour, but the respect he gained from me can best be equated to the kind a boxer feels after 12 rounds with an opponent. Not as much as for what he said - defending the line of the Church is sometimes no mean feat and even in the most torrid circumstances, boy does he defend it - as for the way he said it. He's usually a straight talker. And a deceptively cultured one too. The vowels he learnt to pronounce in the depths of Gharb, where he grew up, do not sound like they can be illuminated by Latin maxims and quotes from all Shakespeare's works. But they inevitably are.
Yet his words are not always eloquent. There are times, in fact, when his mouth has landed him in trouble. The US Embassy had complained to the Vatican when he said on television shortly after the September 11 attack in 2001 that the Americans' policies had more or less provoked it, though a few years later others were having the courage to say it too. And there were periods when he came under heavy fire from parishioners in Gozo and members of the clergy for stands he took with regard to certain feasts. He has gone on record referring to extreme parochialism as the "pigeon brain" mentality. That's hardly cultured language, but the truth does not always have to be.
So when Mgr Cauchi made the journey from his beloved Gozo - he rarely leaves the tiny island these days - to The Times' offices, I tried to prick him with a topic that has caused him most concern, particularly as Mgr Anton Gouder had told a seminar just a few days earlier that "pique, fanaticism and anti-social behaviour" surpassed everything else on feast days.
"I think he's got a point," Mgr Cauchi says. "The Church's internal feasts are conducted in the way and with the dignity that they should be. But the external ones have taken on a Carnival atmosphere. These kinds of things need to be cut out. And this requires teamwork as everyone has their own area of responsibility. It's pointless blaming the bishop by saying he doesn't create rules, because there are rules."
He accepts the suggestion that the bishop is in charge, and says that he should take steps to ensure certain things do not occur. "But if you don't have any co-operation nothing will happen - especially from those who are in charge of the band clubs, since they organise the external feasts, and from the police. When the police grant a permit for a march, they attach certain conditions stating things like 'participants cannot insult others or use obscene language'. And more often than not these words can be heard and no one says anything to them... if the police were more attentive certain things wouldn't happen."
When it is put to him that everybody, Church included, seems to be passing the buck, he reiterates the need for everyone to fulfil their respective duties. He also refuses to accept that he failed in almost 40 years as Bishop of Gozo to solve the notorious problems on his home patch in Victoria.
"A number were resolved. That does not mean I wasn't criticised but at least things changed, and changed for the better... An element of competition is good, even mild envy, but then it gets out of hand... I had always hoped that culture, education and open-mindedness would prevail and that the two band clubs would invite one another to their premises and do certain things together. Certain parishes have done this in Malta. But I miscalculated as I thought it could happen in 20 years. We probably need double or triple that, though I'm still hopeful."
Mgr Cauchi was born at the family home in Gharb on March 2, 1929. The first of five children, he was named Nikol (though always referred to as Kollinu or Kol) after his grandfather, a blacksmith. Given that his father was a sacristan at the village church and that two of his uncles were clergymen, it was no surprise that he chose to become a priest.
After his ordination in 1952, he studied sociology and philosophy in Rome before being appointed parish priest in Fontana. It was something of a surprise when he was named as the Apostolic Administrator for Gozo in 1967 - a bombastic title, as Prince Philip once referred to it, which meant he was effectively in charge of the diocese - before taking over as Bishop of Gozo from the ailing Bishop Joseph Pace in 1972. He held the position until stepping down in January 2006 and since then has kept his hands full with writing, teaching and broadcasting.
The number of vocations has dropped considerably since his days as a seminarian, especially in recent years. Many argue the decline is irreversible because the Church has failed to adapt to changing times. But Mgr Cauchi refuses to accept this.
"There are ups and downs... I think we're stricter today when it comes to who to accept, particularly with regard to academic requirements. But I don't think that's the biggest difficulty. Today people have more choices and there are more distractions. There has been a profound change in parents' mentality too. Whereas before they were pleased when their son told them he wanted to be a priest, today a lot of them say, 'but your friends have gone to University, or are earning money' - so today's youngsters need to be heroes in a sense and take this decision with open eyes, knowing the sacrifices they have to make."
The pressures on the Church have increased too. Issues that were not even on the radar in 1952, certainly not in the Maltese context, are now in the central sphere of the political arena. Things have changed so much that some people are suggesting that clergymen should stay out of a debate on divorce. There is no way Mgr Cauchi will agree with this.
"The Church doesn't just have a right to speak, but a duty. Not to impose its views, but to teach and speak clearly. Then whoever wants to listen listens, and who doesn't, doesn't. But then those who don't listen shouldn't go around boasting they are good Catholics. Divorce causes moral disorder because it goes against God's laws and it also causes social disorder. One argument is that we should introduce it because other countries have done so. But the point is if it is a good thing, we should introduce it; if not, we should avoid it."
Would he at least concede there could be some good from divorce because it allows separated people to remarry? "We need to look at the issue in general, not just at what happens in specific cases," is his vague reply. "If you ask divorcees whether they would be pleased if everyone got divorced, they would say 'no'." But then, it is put to him, if you ask a lot of separated people if they would like to remarry, a lot of them would say 'yes' - and they can't in Malta. "There's another road - that's maybe more difficult. They can remarry if they get an annulment. And in some cases, admittedly few, couples have a tug of war and then after being reconciled find a way to start afresh."
Although he refuses to accept that annulments are being used as an excuse for divorce, he does say that they are being used as an alternative - evidenced by a fact he states himself that the Church authorities cannot keep up with the number of requests. But, typically of a bishop, particularly one that has studied philosophy, he draws a distinction: "There's a huge difference between divorce and annulment. It's one thing when you have a valid marriage which is going to be broken; and another when you have a marriage that wasn't valid because there was a defect from the start... I fear that the more we introduce a divorce mentality, the more marriages we'll have that are lame."
In taking a decision over whether to introduce divorce, he appeals to parliamentarians to ask themselves what their conscience is telling them. Though he adds a qualifier: "If your conscience is well formed by Christian teaching, it will tell you divorce is harmful to society and you shouldn't co-operate. The principle of co-operation is very important. If I help a person do something good, I share some of the credit. If I help him do something bad, like stealing, then I must share some of the blame."
Yet when asked if an MP or ordinary citizen would be committing a sin - an assertion made by Mgr Gouder - if they vote in favour of divorce, the bishop encapsulates himself in a philosophical shell: "What is a sin? Because this is important too. The Church's language is one thing, and common language is another. Three things are required in theology: that you know what you're doing; that you are acting of your own free will; and that the act is serious."
After we circle the issue a few times - Mgr Cauchi will not yield to a request for a 'yes' or 'no' answer - he says that "divorce, and assistance to bring this about, is something that one must account for before God. It's certainly not something which promotes Christian way of life. On the contrary". This brings us to the issue of whether a true Catholic is able to take a decision that conflicts with the Church's teaching - as Cherie Blair said she did when she opted to take the contraceptive pill - after clearing it with their own conscience. His reply is once again less than straightforward: "If we have faith and believe in Christ's teachings and in the Church, we need to illuminate our conscience with these teachings. It's not a case of 'because that's how I feel'... who's not Christian or Catholic isn't guided by the Church and just uses reason. Reason will get you quite far, but Catholics also thank God for the guidelines that have been provided..." He disagrees that this approach is likely to leave people perplexed: "It's not too confusing. Catechism talks about the law of God, about marriage, about divorce. It talks about everything. But it seems that certain things aren't clear in people's minds."
Mgr Cauchi is more categorical, however, about the case in Italy of Eluana Englaro, who was died last month following a 17-year coma after doctors controversially removed her feeding tubes, despite a last ditch attempt by its Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, to persuade the nation's president to sign a decree overturning a court decision that allowed her to die.
"The Italian government missed the bus. They should have passed a law in parliament earlier (to ensure she would have been kept alive). And in the meantime they should have had a moratorium... they rushed into it"
Unlike Mr Berlusconi, however, the bishop believes Italian President Georgio Napolitano acted correctly when he refused the Italian Prime Minister's request. "He couldn't do otherwise in this case because he acted according to the Constitution - no less, no more... I can't get into Mr Napolitano's conscience, but I think that whoever is President needs to do everything he can to safeguard the provisions of the Constitution...However, I think the parliament and Prime Minister could have ensured there was a moratorium in the meantime before any steps were taken."
But when asked whether he believes the Italian doctors are culpable or not, the bishop refrains from offering a clear opinion: "The principle is this: No one is obliged to use extraordinary means. This is relative since extraordinary means in Uganda or Africa might be ordinary here or in Europe... Culpability is something a person must establish before God because it could be that a person is not adequately informed about a situation, or there could be pressure which means he had no alternative."
However, he leaves one in no doubt at his revulsion over what took place. "This is a case of moral and social disorder. Imagine a case where there was an authority that could condemn an innocent person to death... there's a big movement at the moment, and I agree with it, to eradicate the death penalty - and that's imposed on people who are culpable. The irony is that while on one hand people want eradicate the death penalty, they want to impose a death sentence on those who are innocent."
There is an argument, of course, that Ms Englaro expressed a wish to die in this case, but Mgr Cauchi is unconvinced. "I don't know how true that is... I don't know how a 20 year old in the prime of her life would start thinking in those terms, because she couldn't have known what was coming. I'm 80 and perhaps even I have not yet started making all my final preparations."
His last statement is unlikely to be true. If there is something one cannot say about him, it is that he is unprepared. Just ask any interviewer, particularly this one.