“Pope Francis’ convictions are the convictions of the gospel”,
a new Maltese bishop has said.
“Francis is the best, most beautiful and best expression of the gospel”
Father Anton Teuma was named by Pope Francis June 17 as the new Bishop of Gozo, the second-largest island in the Maltese archipelago.
The bishop-elect spoke June 28 on the Maltese program In Depth, and was specifically asked how he personally felt about Pope Francis’ forthright views on topics such as immigration, racism, homosexuality and the environment, which although anchored in the tradition, have sometimes raised the ire of more conservative Catholics.
“Pope Francis’s convictions are the convictions of the gospel”, the new bishop affirmed emphatically.
He added that the present pontiff “is the best, most beautiful and best expression of the gospel we can have in time, therefore I will follow his footsteps”.
“If we bind Christ to the structure of the Church,
we would be impoverishing him”
As examples of how ‘Franciscan’ priorities might play out in his future episcopal ministry, Teuma first echoed Pope Francis’ conviction that the Church must fling open its doors to let Jesus out into the world, rather than wait for the Lord to knock to enter.
Asked whether the Church is still relevant in Maltese and wider society today, Teuma answered by saying that “the message of Jesus Christ as well as the Gospel is fundamental not for the Church but for its people”.
“If we bind him to the structure of the Church, we would be impoverishing Jesus Christ and doing him a great disservice because he did not come for a structure, he came for man”, the Bishop-elect insisted.
A pledge “to listen to others as this is the policy of God”
As for evangelisation, too, Teuma said he intended to follow in the pope’s mould by focusing not so much on the priest or bishop personally as the stopgap to growing secularisation but instead on the minister’s ability to facilitate a personal encounter between Jesus and those Catholics considering abandoning the faith.
Rather than convincing the wavering Catholic to stay, “my job is to introduce them [to Jesus] or to create a context that makes it easier for them to meet”, the new bishop explained.
Another leaf Teuma said he intends to take from Pope Francis’ book is that of collegiality and subsidiarity. That cooperation could first be felt at a local level, the new bishop said, by providing more priests from Gozo – where there are more vocations – to work on Malta – where there are fewer.
One more way in which the new bishop plans on emulating Pope Francis is in the latter’s strict ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to clerical sex abusers, telling In Depth “”we have very clear directives from the Holy See on such matters. We acknowledge the fact that if we are in doubt, each and every case has to be thoroughly investigated. It has always been very clear and categorical in this regard”.
But in the meantime, Teuma said as he gets to know his new diocese he is setting as a “very important” goal that of “listen[ing] to others as this is the policy of God”.
“First and foremost, my plan is to hear with great attention my fellow priests and continue working on what was built by previous bishops”, the Gozo Bishop-elect pledged, adding that consultations with laypeople in the diocese are an important priority for him as well.
A “down to earth” welder and electrician
who prefers the word “we” to “I”
Teuma, 56-years-old and a priest for 32, has most recently served as parish priest of Xaghra, episcopal delegate for the family and head of the John Paul II Family Institute of Gozo.
He holds a doctorate in science of education from the Pontifical Salesian University., has ministered in Rome as a parish vicar, as a spiritual father at the Pontifical Roman Seminary and as the head and spiritual assistant of the Eucharistic Communities of the diocese of Rome, and has also served as the head of Gozo’s major seminary.
Teuma has been described by people who know him as “down to earth”. A quality of his that comes, perhaps, from training for the welder’s and electrician’s licences he obtained while studying for the priesthood, and a facet of his personality that was amply on display during his mid-June presentation to the media, when he repeatedly spoke of the need to work “collectively” and said he does not like the word “I”, preferring instead the “we” that reflects the strength of the community.