Nuns at a Church-run orphanage subjected children to sexual abuse and regular beatings, survivors testified in court on Monday.

The court heard testimony of two women who were raised decades ago at the Lourdes Home in Għajnsielem which is run by the Dominican Sisters.

Nuns there beat them for no reason, locked them up alone for days and forced them to live in fear, the women recounted.

One of the witnesses told the court that the nuns did not bother to tell her that her biological mother was dead until two years after her death.

The witnesses were testifying in a constitutional case they have filed, seeking compensation from the state for their ordeal.

Carmen Muscat, who is now 51, told the court that she was placed in the orphanage as a young child. As she grew older, one of the nuns, “Sister Josephine”, took her to see a priest in a private part of the building. “They would force me to touch myself,” she testified. Muscat also recalled a priest exposing himself to her during confession.

A 'monster'

Another survivor, Rosanne Saliba, told the court that the abuse began when she turned six years old.

“My life turned from heaven to hell,” Saliba recalled, describing Sister Josephine as “a monster”.

Going to school was a chance to “rest a little from the abuse” as Sister Josephine would make her clean the bathroom at 5.30am and then be waiting for the children as they returned from school to beat them.

The nun would “lose herself” when she raged, grabbing children by the hair and beating them “as hard as she could,” the witness testified.

Saliba told the court that Sister Josephine had once locked her in a room for three days after discovering that she had confided in someone about a beating.

She also recalled a priest exposing himself to her during confession, as happened to the other witness.

The priest had forced her to touch his genitals, she testified, and tried to touch her.

Saliba also recounted how she only learnt that her biological mother had died by chance.

One of the nuns asked her why her mother had not called her in a long time. Saliba told her she did not know.

“She went to ask Mother Superior and when she returned, she told me ‘your mother has been dead for two years,’” the witness told the court.

Documents destroyed

Spiteri, Muscat and others have been fighting to expose how she and other children were treated at the home for decades.

In the early 2000s, Spiteri was denied access to her medical file by Gozitan health authorities. She then traced details of her siblings, who the nuns never told her about.

Muscat told the court that she had spoken to the Gozo Bishop in 2020 and learnt that files and documents related to her time at the home had been destroyed.

Abuse at the Għajnsielem home is alleged to have stretched for decades.

The Church first acknowledged it in 1999, when it set up a commission which concluded allegations were unfounded.

Claims then came to public attention in 2006, when survivors ranging in age from their 20s to 40s described horrific abuse on the TV show Bondi+.

One man recalled being force-fed and then made to eat his own vomit; another said a nun had placed a hot iron on his hand.

A second Church commission to investigate abuse claims found evidence of “inadmissible behaviour involving minors” at the home. The Gozo Bishop at the time, Mario Grech, had issued a statement asking survivors for forgiveness and ordered that the commission’s recommendations be implemented.

In 2011, police launched a probe into the Lourdes Home and two of its nuns, Sr Josephine Anne Sultana and vicar general Sr Dorothy Mizzi, in connection with an abuse claim filed by a boy dating back five years prior.

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