A group of clerical child abuse victims could only get a fair shot at life and start afresh if they received financial compensation, their lawyer Patrick Valentino insisted yesterday.

These victims were placed in the Church’s care for character formation, but instead they were scarred for life

“I know it may look bad, but only a financial sum can really change their lives and start to balance things out after all the suffering they have endured,” he said.

However, he would not state what sum the victims are seeking, saying only that figures were never discussed and the men had agreed to build on any offer made by the Church.

He said the victims were expecting compensation in light of several meetings between the Curia and the men’s lawyer, where “nothing was ruled out”.

Dr Valentino said that since the Church had refused to offer compensation, the victims had no choice but to institute legal proceedings against the Church, the Missionary Society of St Paul and the two priests convicted of abuse.

Addressing a press conference outside the Curia in Floriana yesterday morning, Dr Valentino said the victims were “disappointed, surprised and disgusted” by the stand taken by the Church last week, claiming it hid behind legal arguments and ignored the moral issue at stake.

“These victims were placed in the Church’s care for character formation, but instead they were scarred for life,” he said.

When the Church first reacted to the sentencing of the two priest-abusers Charles Pulis (now sacked from the clerical state) and Fr Godwin Scerri, it acknowledged responsibility and asked the victims and Maltese society for forgiveness.

In a press release issued last month, the Church had also apologised because its investigation had taken several years.

However, last Thursday the Church said that after consulting lawyers it could not accept legal responsibility for the abuse though it was prepared to offer victims help in the form of psychiatrists, social workers and psychologists.

Dr Valentino said it was contradictory for the Church to ask for forgiveness, offer psychological help, but then say it is not legally obliged to pay compensation. The abusers, he said, took a vow of poverty and could therefore not provide compensation themselves.

Dr Valentino was also critical that the Church was once again referring to “alleged” abuse, despite the convictions and defrocking of one of the priests involved.

Dr Valentino said that while the victims wanted closure, the Church’s refusal to offer compensation meant the issue would have to be reopened in court.

The Church, he said, was likely to argue that many of the incidents were time-barred but this argument holds no water for the victims, who were abused as teenagers.

He said some had been certified as unable to work, while others could not enjoy their family life and had never washed their kids for fear that they might abuse them. “These things are not time-barred,” he said.

Dr Valentino said that in several almost identical cases, the Church in other counties reached out-of-court settlements because they acknowledged their moral responsibility towards the victims.

Archbishop Paul Cremona declined to comment on the case yesterday. Approached following a Caritas seminar, his spokesman swiftly intervened and said there was “nothing to add” to the statements issued. Any questions, he said, could be sent by e-mail. Before yesterday’s morning’s news conference, some of the victims appeared in front of the Curia carrying posters criticising the Church. When Dr Valentino arrived for the news conference, he told the victims to remove the posters and asked the press not to publish photos of the protest.

The abuse took place at the St Joseph’s Home in Sta Venera when the 11 victims, now adults, were teenagers.

The two convicted priests, sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment and currently on bail, are appealing against the court decision.