A victim of clerical abuse said his surprise meeting with Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Malta in 2010 together with his apology had restored victims' faith in the church.

“At the time, many of us had lost our faith completely but that changed during our personal meetings with Pope Benedict,” Grech told Times of Malta on Sunday.

“Those few moments that we spent with him in private restored our faith. It was a very powerful and emotional meeting.”

Pope Benedict, who spent almost eight years leading the Catholic Church before he resigned in 2013, died on Saturday at the age of 95.

As crowds visited St Peter’s Basilica to express their sorrow at the news of his death, for many Maltese the highlight of his papacy was his 27-hour visit to the island on April 17 and 18, 2010.

But, for Grech, the two-day visit had a more profound meaning and was an experience that altered his life and that of the other men.

Grech spent his childhood in orphanages and claimed he had been abused by two priests in an orphanage in Santa Venera. At the time 10 men had come forward making such claims. Now, at 50, Grech recalls how the meeting was a “complete surprise”.

“We all knew he was coming but we didn’t know about the meeting until 6am that morning,” he said.

Grech described how the victims were surrounded by security men and police officers as they made their way to visit Pope Benedict at the Apostolic Nunciature in Rabat.

“It was all a bit dramatic, like we were in a movie, with security, the police and even helicopters,” he said.

“While we were treated like VIPs, at first we were not looking forward to the meeting, following the bad experience we had with the Church but that all changed when we met him.”

He recalls Benedict XVI was very emotional during the meeting.

He remembers how, during the few minutes he had with the pope alone, Benedict held his hands together, squeezing them tightly.

“The pope said he was embarrassed because of what happened to us and apologised for what the priest who was meant to take care of me did to me. At that moment, I knew he truly met us to apologise.”

The unscheduled meeting took place shortly after the mass at the Floriana granaries. Days before Benedict’s visit, Grech had called on him to issue an apology to local victims of child abuse.

Grech was one of 10 who testified behind closed doors in a case against three priests who were facing charges of child abuse. Back in 2010, the proceedings had been ongoing for seven years.

Reacting to the court case, Grech said that, following complications and delays, he decided to drop the case. In the meantime, he is working on a biography about his experiences at the orphanage.

“It’s important that this story does not remain under wraps. I want the truth out there,” he said, adding that he hopes the publication will be out by August.



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