One small step for man, one giant leap for transgender persons. On 21st October, Pope Francis and Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, who heads the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a statement saying that it is permissible for trans Catholics to be baptised and serve as godparents. The change includes trans adults who have undergone gender-transition surgery. The statement was in reaction to a ruling by the US national conference of Catholic bishops rejecting the concept of gender transition, leaving many transgender Catholics feeling excluded.
“It is a major step for trans inclusion … it is big and good news,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, which advocates for greater LGBTQ acceptance in the Church in the United States. DeBernardo views this as a reversal of a 2015 Vatican decision to bar a trans man in Spain from becoming a godparent.
Mind you, there is a condition. The document specifies that the change only applies “if it does not cause scandal or ‘disorientation’ among other Catholics”.
One could describe the change as a small step for man and a giant leap for transgender person. It certainly means that the Catholic Church can — and does — change its mind about certain practices and policies, though it is disappointing that the document maintained a ban on same-sex couples serving as godparents.
Strangely, in Malta the statement was only picked up by LovinMalta and The Independent. There was no comment by the Church in Malta. Will it follow, or is it perhaps afraid that, if it does so, it might imperil the Pope’s life? After all, there are even some cardinals who see the Pope as an existential threat to the Faith.
Wait, I am not referring to Zaccaria Mouhib, the Italian rapper of Moroccan descent, but to a new phenomenon. Baby gangs, which as one might expect, appared first in the United States and then grew rapidly in Latin America and Europe, have also come to Malta. They join the list of Firsts or Almost-firsts in Malta, mostly of the negative type. The baby gangs are nothing but criminal organisations and, like them, have a vertical structure where the leader directs the group to obtain the best “results”.
These baby gants set out to terrorise, harass, or intimidate people – most of all elderly and vulnerable ones – in the streets, carry out thefts from physical persons or properties, vandalise public property, traffick drugs, and even dabble in extortion. They consist of teenagers and children as young as 12. When they are tired of beating the living daylights out of other people, they also fight each other. Anybody who watched the film West Side Story knows what it is like, though there is nothing musical about it.
We have had several instances of these gangs causing mayhem in Valletta and Sliema. As usual, the Police initially closed their eyes, then responded but always arrived on the scene when the gangs had moved on, and presumably are now engaged in deep thought about how to tackle them. Hopefully, they will not sleep over it.
I am, of course, amused by some of the reactions to this phenomenon. Ms Maria Pisani, a Youth and Community Studies lecturer, told Malta Today that “this is nothing new”. Are we supposed to be consoled? She looks at it as “a product of the broader social environment, rather than as an example of moral deprivation or some kind of psychological disorder in young people.”
MUT President Marco Bonnici says that, post-Covid, educators have seen higher levels of anxiety and frustration among students. No doubt, there are a multitude of reasons – the stress of sitting for exams (though most of them are being eliminated), the hassle in driving to school (rather than walking, like I used to do), the wait in receiving the four-weekly stipend varying between €107 and €375 (rather than the tliet ħabbiet enjoyed by the luckiest children in the 1960s), the psychological challenge of living with parents who don’t understand you or simply ignore you, the tepid reaction to your Instagram posts, the frustration in your boyfriend or girfriend refusing to have sex the day after you first met or, on a more serious note, the climate changes and environmental degradation that are eroding our hopes for the future.
I don’t want to trivialise the issues faced by children and young people. I would also agree with Ms Pisani that there shouldn’t be knee-jerk reactions to the Baby Gangs. But I would appeal to the adults and the authorities to engage with youth in a real way to understand what is bugging them and hopefully try to alleviate the growing problem before it explodes in our faces.
This one is not about being the best in Europe. Well, almost. According to a Google ranking of the most hygienic toilets in European cities by UK bathroom supplier Showers to You, the city “built by gentlemen for gentlemen” ranks third … third worst, that is. The Times of Malta reported that the most popular public bathroom in Valletta is that at the Lower Barakka Gardens, though even this received certain negative comments.
Showers to You analysed 8,000 on-line toilet reviews, 53 of which were about Valletta public toilets. One out of every eight reviews for Valletta described the bathrooms as dirty, rating them an average of 3.16 out of 5 stars. There was only one 5-star review, though the reviewer added that “it saved my life”, indicating that the five stars were not for the hygiene but because he badly needed a crap. If it’s any consolation, Riga and Madrid fared worse than Malta.
While we’re at it, I wonder what the reviews would have been had other cities in Malta been included. From my experience, bar a few toilets where the attendant seems to take a personal pride in having a clean toilet and one where you find the toilet paper and can wash your hands afterwards, the rest are a disaster. Not to mention that having one toilet in certain towns where thousands of locals and tourists assemble, is a non-starter.
Gen Z open house
A new study conducted by KPMG reveals a stark reality – young, single individuals with an average income cannot afford 95% of properties on the market in Malta. This finding foretells a housing affordability crisis, especially where the younger demographic and those with lower incomes are concerned.
The study highlighted that single buyers in their late 20s with an average income of €21,000 can only afford a property worth a maximum of €171,000. However, only 5.2% of finished apartments fall within this price range. This means that a significant portion of the population, particularly young, single individuals, are being priced out of the housing market.
But according to KPMG’s Nimrah Khatoon the affordability crisis isn’t limited to single individuals. Perhaps obviously, young couples working in elementary jobs cannot afford over 60% of properties. Even more alarming, this figure rises to 96% for couples on the minimum wage. Dual-income households on this wage struggle to find affordable housing.
This is not surprising, when one learns that prorperty prices in Malta have shot up by 40% since 2017, growing at a rate of just under 6% each year. Based on some 19,000 properties, the median price of apartments has risen from €200,000 six years ago to €280,000 this year. But if one looks at the 2013 price, today’s apartment costs twice as much. A penthouse will set you back €369,800 in 2023, some €70,000 more than it would have back in 2017, when the median price was just under €300,000. The price of a maisonette has risen by roughly €100,000 since 2017, going from just over €200,000 six years ago to €310,000 today. If you are looking for something the price of which has decreased, then you could consider a terraced house – for that you would have to fork out a “bargain” €600,000 today, an almost 8% decrease.
The recent Budget includes a raft of measures to make housing more affordable. The Stamp Duty for first-time and second-time buyers has been reduced from 8% to 5%, while the slashed stamp duty rate of 1.5% on the first €200,000 of a property’s value will remain in effect. First-time buyers purchasing UCA property in Gozo will see their cash grant of €30,000 increase to €40,000, though the removal of the previous tax incentive will effectively see the stamp duty rise back up to 5%.
The first-time buyers’ scheme, where €10,000 is granted to successful applicants after acquiring their property over a 10-year period, has been extended with the government allocating a further €2.2m to the scheme.
Tax benefits and VAT refund measures pertaining to vacant and UCA properties have also been extended. Properties built over 20 years ago and vacant for seven years are not subject to property tax and capital gains tax on the first €750,000 of property transactions. Furthermore, VAT refunds on renovations and restorations have also been extended, with property owners receiving a refund of up to €54,000 on the first €300,000 spent.
Lastly, social housing benefits are set to increase, with the single-person allowance rising to €4,200 from €3,600. Similarly, families with one child will also see their housing allowance increase by €600, going from €4,800 to €5,400, whilst families with at least two children will see their allowances increase from €5,000 to €6,000.
Is it enough? Probably not. The momentum of improvements in incentives and assistance will need to be kept in future budgets.
Main photo credit: ANTONIO DENTI / REUTERS