by Jonathan Petre and Our Malta Correspondent A TEMPORARY truce in the bitter war between the Catholic Church and the Government in Malta over Church schools allowed nearly 20,000 Maltese children to return to their
ms on Monday. classroo
• Al! 72 church schools opened after the Government had granted operating licences to the eight largest Catholic schools originally threatened with closure. The Church has agreed to undertake free education in its schools for a year while a long term solution is sought.
. The agreement was announced by the Bishops of Malta and Gozo in a brief statement late last week, and confirmed by Deputy Prime Minister Carmello Misfud Bonnici over the weekend. Archbishop Mercierca had approached the Government with a new set of proposals in a letter dated November 14, which was forwarded through Malta's ambassador to the Vatican, Dr Paul Farrugia.
In the letter the Archbishop said the Church was prepared to come to a compromise on the two issues in dispute — the ownership of Church property and free education in Church schools — if the schools would be reopened.
The conditions of the new agreement are: that tuition in Church schools would be free; that the bishops would agree to talks with the Government during this scholastic year; that all efforts would be made to reach an agreement on a common entrance exam for all Malta's secondary schools; that entrance to schools would be fair and not discriminatory between the social classes.
The ease with which a compromise has been reached has surprised some observers because of the bitterness that has marked relations between the Church and Government until now. Up to the last minute Dr Mifsud Bonnici continued to stress that he would never negotiate with the Catholic Church. Sources believe that Dom Mintoff had not told Dr Bonnici of his negotiations with the Church.
However, tensions remained high following a bomb attack at the apostolic nunciature on the evening of the schools' opening. There were no casualties.
It was also revealed at the weekend that during the last scholastic year church schools had made a deficit of £330,000. Church spokesmen said that if staff had been paid on a par with staff in state schools on the island. the figure would have been more like El million.
The Church has reserved the right to seek funds directly from parents of children attending its schools.