“It was like a prison, trying to get permission to watch the Champions League final made me feel like I was asking permission to visit a prostitute.”
It’s been ten years since sports journalist Cristian Muscat left the Archbishop’s Seminary, but he still harbours some strong emotions about the place and still feels hurt by the way he was treated towards the end.
He’s now opened up to TVM show Populin and Lovin Malta about this six-year episode in his life, a large chunk of his youth.
Cristian said it all started when he went to Youth Fellowship and prayer group meetings as a teenager and “got it into his head” that he wanted to become a priest.
He had some positive experiences, particularly the voluntary work he got to conduct with minor prisoners and domestic violence victims.
However, overall the Seminary left him with a bad taste in the mouth.
“It was like a prison,” he explained bluntly. “We lived there from Monday to Sunday, although we were allowed to visit our family during certain hours on Sunday and on special occasions. We were only allowed to sleep at home on very special occasions, such as if one of our sisters got married.”
“There were very strict curfews in place. For example, if you assisted at a wedding in the morning you would have to return to the Seminary by 10:30pm or you’d find the gates locked. I ended up sleeping inside my car once.”
“It’s to prepare you for a life of sacrifice but I was a bit rebellious.”
This life of sacrifice among seminarians meant they weren’t allowed to have a TV set in their rooms although they were allowed to access the Internet. There was a TV set in the common room but they could only watch it till 10.15pm.
An avid AC Milan fan, Cristian was frustrated that no other seminarians shared his passion, saying he felt like a “stranger”.
When AC Milan qualified to the Champions League final, Cristian had to struggle to obtain permission to watch it.
“The idea was that they wanted the community to be gathered together, but I needed to get so many permits and was asked so many questions about this game that I felt like I was asking permission to go to a prostitute.”
Once, then-President George Abela paid the Seminary a visit and took questions rom the seminarians, but the Rector demanded that he see the questions in advance.
“We couldn’t ask annoying questions… we’re talking about youths who are now parish priests.”
During his fourth year, the Seminary ‘gap year’, Cristian got to experience life outside the priesthood and had his first taste of sports journalism. When he returned to the Seminary, he asked if he could continue working in this field but was told he couldn’t.
While on his gap year, he also encountered a particularly disturbing experience when he travelled to Istanbul with a priest.
“He took me to a hotel room with a double bed and kissed me on the cheek, but I immediately changed my hotel. When I reported this to the Church authorities, they said I was over 18 years old so it was fine.”
He now believes that most priests don’t adhere to their vow of celibacy, arguing such a sacrifice is “humanely impossible” to follow.
“It can’t be that men dont have relationships and I challenge all priests to be sincere with themselves and admit whether they’ve had a relationship. I don’t believe that they’re celibate because it is humanely impossible.”
In his sixth year, Cristian was suddenly called in by the Rector, who informed him the priesthood wasn’t for him and showed him the door, something he believes boiled down to his relatively rebellious attitude.
And while Cristian is glad with how his life turned out since then, he remains hurt at the manner in which he was told to leave.
“I spent my youth at the Seminary and the Rector just closed the door on me,” he said. “I felt like a neglected dog, I climbed onto the seminary roof and had suicidal thoughts. However, I heard a voice from God telling me my life is just beginning.”
“I felt so bad that I couldn’t even drive but thankfully I found my mother in front of the Seminary. She felt that something had happened to me, so she drove there and took me back home.”
“I had to start my life from scratch and it hurt me that there wasn’t any follow-up by the Seminary to help me adapt.”
Despite his bitter departure from the Seminary, Cristian remains a devout Catholic who goes to Mass everyday.
“I encourage people to seek God, because it is in Him that you can find true happiness. Priests are human but God is God and He can fill you with happiness.”