Sunday, April 3, 2011

Church still to give its account to God and the people – Lawrence Grech
by Annaliza Borg

The first anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Malta will be marked in two weeks’ time, yet Lawrence Grech, one of a number of alleged victims of abuse by priests who grew up at St Joseph Home in Santa Venera, said that no progress towards any form of reconciliation has since been made by the Church.

The fact that up until last Monday (the last time the alleged victims came face-to-face with them at court) the priests were still wearing clerical garb is very disturbing for the alleged victims, who want the ugly chapter in their lives closed once and for all.

“The church cannot remain silent for any longer and must give its account to God and to the people,” Mr Grech told The Malta Independent on Sunday earlier this week.

He considers the church’s failure to act means it is also part of the abuse. “It is an accomplice,” he said, “What is the point of protecting these people?”, pointing out that even the public at large is awaiting the outcome.

On 27 January, seven of the alleged victims addressed an urgent appeal to Pope Benedict XVI, asking that the priests accused of abusing them be dealt with by the clerical authorities.

They complained that they remained in the dark as to whether it is the Archdiocese of Malta or the Vatican that is to have the final say on the priests’ future as far as their clerical standing is concerned. Three months later, nothing has changed, Mr Grech pointed out.

“The church had promised to establish a tribunal and close the case within a few months but there have been no developments,” he explained, his disappointment obvious.

Mgr Charles Scicluna − the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican − concluded his investigations in September and sent his findings to the Archdiocese. In the meantime, the Archdiocese’s response team had investigated the allegations and, helped by Mgr Scicluna’s findings, had reached the conclusion that the allegations were well-founded. Towards the end of October, all the alleged victims received a letter from Fr Louis Mallia, superior-general of the Missionary Society of St Paul (MSSP), telling them their cases against Fr Charles Pulis, Fr Conrad Sciberras and Bro Joseph Bonnett were to be sent to the Vatican for adjudication.

The church has remained silent ever since the group of men first spoke about their case, eight years ago.

Mr Grech fears that the church is doing its best to control the damage, but warned he is not giving up. It may also be that the church is worried that more cases will come to light if it takes action, or that new avenues for victims to sue for damages will be opened.

The church may also be waiting for the criminal court case to be concluded and judgement to be passed before taking any action, Mr Grech noted.

The court proceedings have speeded up considerably in the past year. The compilation of evidence has been closed, the prosecution and the defence counsel will be presenting their final submissions in June and judgement is expected six weeks later, on 2 August.

Although in January, a Constitutional case was filed by lawyer Gianella Caruana Curran who is defending the priests, claiming that “media over-exposure” has breached their right to a fair hearing, the court presiding over the criminal case decided not to suspend the hearing while the Constitutional case is ongoing.

While the first case is finally nearing conclusion, witnesses are expected to testify before the Constitutional Court in its next sitting.

Mr Grech said sadly that he and the other alleged victims had not fallen out with the Church because the Church had brought them up, but its authorities and priests have nonetheless become their enemies.

He pointed out that an Open Day had recently been held at St Joseph Home where they had grown up, but none of them had been invited to it.

“Even unofficially, no priest has ever asked for me or communicated with me, although they know where I live,” said Mr Grech. “I would ask if these people are truly practising God’s preaching.”

He acknowledges that everyone can regret something they have done, but believes people should ultimately face up to their responsibilities.

He has not simply decided to take action and hopefully see the perpetrators of his abuse brought to justice just for himself, as he is in the meantime wanting to help others.

Mr Grech believes that the abuse problem is enormous, and while giving snippets of what he went through, says he wants to stop these things from continuing to happen.

Describing his own children as angels, Mr Grech adds: “I don’t want to be selfish and just look after my children, when other angels like them are being abused”.

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