Pope Francis on Saturday, December 7th delivered a private audience to outgoing Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, disregarding a plea to cancel the meeting with a premier engulfed in crisis over an investigation into a murdered journalist, AFP reported.
The Pope met Muscat and his wife and family on Saturday morning, the Vatican said, in an audience that had been scheduled.
According to local media sources, the media will also not be allowed to cover the audience. “This is no longer an official visit. Not even the ambassador can be there,” the source said. “There will be no meeting with the Vatican Foreign Minister either,” the Independent reported.
The Maltese premier stated that he would step down next January after mass protests following a much-criticised investigation into the 2017 murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist and mother of three described as a "one-woman WikiLeaks."
The victim had been known for exposing corruption in the government by politicians and other business elites. She was later blown up in a car bomb attack near her home in October 2017.
Maltese academics have unanimously sent the pope a letter, asking Francis to call off his visit, fearing it might be slammed as "propaganda exercise" for the prime minister, which came only a few days before Muscat's decision to step down.
They said it would be "totally unwise and pastorally undesirable" for the audience at the Vatican to take place "given the serious and grave nature of the accusations and allegations which are plaguing" the government in Valletta.
The Argentine pontiff has expressed his sadness with the news of the journalist’s death, depicted in a rare formal note of condolences, which are usually kept for special personnel, like the deaths of prominent world leaders, rather than private citizens, AFP reported.